I’ve never attended a Jewish funeral or ‘memorial’ service that has started with a secular poem and included the universal Lord’s Prayer along with the more familiar liturgy associated with such occasions.
But this, I must suppose, is what you get when you employ the likes of Rachel Barenblat, an American ‘trans-denominational’ rabbi, who is also a successful poet and blogs as the ‘velveteen rabbi’.
I found her and the material while researching for items related to Raymond Carver, the American short-story writer and poet, whose stunning and controversially edited four-hander What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (originally Beginners) forms the central storyline of the Oscar winning film Birdman.
As a kid I was advised that it was the only prayer from Christian sources (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) that I may recite because it does not refer to anything specifically Christian.
Its words are very beautiful, so I am not surprised that a Jewish singer like Barbra Streisand has recorded a musical Christmas version for her legion of fans.
However, even as a non-religious person who considers herself open-minded, I have been disgusted beyond measure to see it parodied and profaned twice by contributors to a UK-based poetry website site, with the full complicity of the site-owner. Doubtless, those involved consider themselves super cool and smart. I just see their antics as sacrilegious and more evidence of the irredeemable vulgarity and degradation of British culture. Ugh!
Now to work!
For long periods of his life, Raymond Carver behaved very badly. His descent into alcoholism almost killed him; he acted violently towards his first wife, Maryann Burk and described his children as an "oppressive and often malevolent" influence who "were eating me alive"…
His daily life informed much of his fictional output and to read the words of ‘Terri’ in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is to understand Maryann, who continued to love Carver despite everything.
While his domestic turmoil continued to escalate, Carver first became a modern short story pioneer and then moved toward poetry. This is where current flash story writers must feel a strong empathy as many of us also try our hands at verse because of the effort taken to use an ever-increasing distillation of language.
So I end where Rabbi Rachel Barenblat begins her strange English language trans-denominational ‘memorial’ service with Carver’s Late Fragment. The poem also opens Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, viewing which was surely among the weirdest and most frustrating 119 minutes of cinema I have ever spent.
“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth”.
© Natalie Wood (02 June 2015)