Monday, 1 June 2015

Poetic Slivers from a Dreary Slice of Life

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.


Rabbi Rachel BarenblatBut 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.

Barenblat was ordained in 2011 via the Jewish Renewal movement by ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal and received a second ordination the next year as a mashpi'ah ruchanit (spiritual director).

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.

Before I look at Carver’s work here, I must observe that Barenblat’s compilation is the third inappropriate use of The Lord’s Prayer I’ve seen in the past ten days. The Lord's Prayer

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!

Raymond.CarverFor 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.

“Late Fragment

“And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth”.

© Natalie Wood (02 June 2015)