I am excited to be starting a new season, Fall, my favorite season. It is said that every poet has a favorite month. October was Jack Kerouac’s. For me, it is the season. Even though a friend once said, “Spring is my favorite season, except for Summer,” for me Fall is the season that is filled with new beginnings and renewed buoyancy. It is the season in which classes start again and people migrate back to the city from the country. It is the season of cold evenings and Friday night plans. I actually like the days getting dark earlier and the rhythm of the leaves falling, a dance that will finally end when all the leaves are down, and the trees go to sleep for the winter.
It is also Rosh Hashanah. I feel a resonance with the energies that have to do with understanding among peoples, repentance, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. As described in Wikipedia, today should be, literally, “a day of shouting or raising a noise” or, and this I like even better, a Feast of Trumpets. In addition it cites, “three important stages as the spiritual order of the Ten Days of Repentance (the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) unfolds: On Rosh Hashanah Jewish tradition maintains that God opens the books of judgment of creation and all mankind starting from each individual person, so that what is decreed is first written in those books, hence the emphasis on the ‘ketivah’ (‘writing’). The judgment is then pending and prayers and repentance are required. Then on Yom Kippur, the judgment is ‘sealed’ or confirmed (i.e. by the Heavenly Court), hence the emphasis is on the word ‘chatimah’ (‘sealed’). But the Heavenly verdict is still not final because there is still an additional hope that until Sukkot concludes God will deliver a final, merciful judgment, hence the use of ‘gmar’ (‘end’) that is ‘tov’ (‘good’).” In my own interpretation, I take this to mean that the writing that we, as poets, do must be held accountable to the highest judgment and that it must contain within it, not necessarily expressed literally or rationally, our most profound beliefs. Again, in my own interpretation, I take this whole period to mean that, through self-reflection, we must make every attempt to be not simply tolerant but actually open to others, particularly those whose opinions and beliefs may be most alien to us.
And that thought reminds me of someone who embodied those principles. Born the daughter of a rabbi in Kiel, Germany, she immigrated to New York City at the age of three and lived an exemplary life devoted to the arts and freedom of expression and thought. She once told me it was important to engage those on the opposite end of the political spectrum; otherwise, we would never have a chance of convincing them. No one could accuse her, however, of compromising. Her adult life and art practice were devoted to the core principles of Anarchism. I am speaking of Judith Malina, one of the great heroes of contemporary theater and poetry presentation and a remarkable poet herself, whom we lost this year. Judith, first with her husband, Julian Beck, and later with partner Hanon Reznikov, and most recently with Brad Burgess, founded and fired The Living Theatre, legendary not only for its social activism, street theater, audience participation, and full nudity, but also for its productions of poet’s theater, including a 1952 production of John Ashbery’s The Heroes and later productions of plays by Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara, as well as for the poetry readings it hosted by such luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, Gregory Corso, and Ray Bremser, not to mention Charles Mingus with Kenneth Patchen. In the rare Homage To Frank O’Hara (Big Sky 11/12), on page 71, one can find reproduced two photographs of O’Hara. In the first, he sits at a simple wooden table, with a jug of water, reading from a sheaf of papers at a benefit reading for Yugen magaine. In the second, he stands in front of two paintings installed for a reading of writers from Daisy Aldan’s Folder magazine. Both readings took place at the Living Theatre in 1959.
So with that, I begin — the week, the season, and the continual renewal each of us must undertake if we are to aspire to being human in the deepest sense of the word. And make no mistake, poetry is at the core of that effort — for all of us.