KlezKanada Poetry Retreat: August 18-24, 2014

Three Millennia of Poetic Subversion


Artwork by Adeena Karasick and Blaine Speigel

Explore the hidden secrets of the letters
Tap into the power of ancestral culture
Hone your interlingual dexterity
Prepare to be amazed

For the third successful year, internationally acclaimed poets and performers, Adeena Karasick and Jake Marmer will be returning to host 4 days of lectures, discussions, master classes on writing and performance. The theme of the KlezKanada Festival this year is the “Yene Velt” – the dark side of the Ashkenazi mythic lore – dybbuks, ghosts, hallucinations, various spirits and undead elements. The Poetry Retreat will echo this theme presenting our own set of entrances into and encounters with the “other side”. If Kabbalists claimed that the greatest light is concealed in the deepest darkness, it is our assertion that poetry, too, finds its beginnings and motion in just such paradoxes and reversals.

Throughout the week, we will discuss the role of ghosts, golems, dybbuks and specters in and through writing: with topics ranging from golem creation through language as outlined in the Sefer Yetzirah to Humour Noir; Revelation and Nihilism, Révenance and the Poetics of Hauntology.

The KlezKanada Poetry Retreat, 2013

The KlezKanada Poetry Retreat, 2013

The Jew in Me is the Ghost of Me: From Babylonian to Beat Talmud, Sefer Yetzirah, Jerome Rothenberg, David Meltzer and Jack Hirschman 
“The Jew in me is the ghost of me,” wrote Beat poetry icon David Meltzer in his shamanic cycle Golem-Wheel. This session will explore the explicit encounter with the Supernatural in traditional Jewish texts as well as the revelatory, radical, irreverent, contemporary poetics of mysticism explored by David Meltzer, Jerome Rothenberg and Jack Hirschman. We will also investigate the relationship of spirit, body, and language, and attempt to give a new life to the ancient practice of creating a Golem through letter combinations.

Humour Noir: Tristan Tzara, Franz Kafka and Lenny Bruce
Humour Noir or even sarcasm may not be a strictly Jewish phenomenon but to a Talmudic mindset, trained to answer every question with a barrage of other questions, loopholes, and ellipses, it is a way of addressing and probing the world’s utmost darkness. Freud thought that gallows humor erupts when “the ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality”; we’d like to add that a poet employing humor noir is herself a provocateur, triumphing over oppressive realities, structures, limits, in ways that are impassioned, engaged, enraged, outrageous, obsessive, dominating, shticky and sometimes treif… are you ready?

Between Revelation and Nihilism: Walter Benjamin, Gertrude Stein, and Charles Bernstein
Gershom Scholem famously wrote about mystical themes that “walk a fine line between revelation and nihilism.” It is our belief that experimental, avant-garde poetry places itself in just such an encounter. We will explore some recent approaches to experimentalism, including the ghostly practice of erasure, in which shadows and specters of language emerge and recede through veiling, unveiling and révenance (returning).

Poetics of Hauntology: Reznikoff, Rukeyser, Agamben, Morrison
Through the transmigration of language, data, mappings, lineages, what can emerge? In this session, poets will ravenously invade, possess, feed-off each other. Investigating practices of intervention and translation, we will explore text as a spectral dance of flickering signifiers, establishing not an ontology but a hauntology, a written and performed space where language emerges as a congregation of disembodied voices.

From the Anti-Semitic to the Semiotic: Amiri Baraka and Ezra Pound, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Paul de Man
Can you be a Jewish poet and read Ezra Pound? What about Amiri Baraka’s poetry of late 1960’s? For Jewish poets, one of the truest, and most difficult encounters with darkness is finding language to speak and think about sublime poetry written by those who have reviled us – casually or continually. There’s no easy answer to this dilemma, but perhaps it is within the space of poetry that the most potent and compelling responses can emerge.

Participants will have the opportunity to engage in both solo and multi-vocal performance and work with musicians, dancers, experimenting across all disciplines. Last year, the works of our students were published in the Forward here and here - a tradition we certainly hope to continue, expanding to features in other publications as well.


Imagine, by Bob Smolkin

Imagine, by Bob Smolkin

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  • Lines on a Map of Jewish Poetry

    by eBenBrandeis

    Lines map a consciousness continent
    and shorelines of oceans of memory

    Lines bent and hammered to chain link
    writers ink helix twine melody

    Worry lines lifted from foreheads
    of a line of illustrious ancestors

    Lines made from letters and ladders
    document sightline interpreters

    Lines made of train lines – bread lines – bloodlines -
    fine lines – crossed lines – bottom lines –

    Lines in the sand of our templeless land –
    green line – red lines – borderlines

    My punch line’s a knot in a rhymed thread of thought
    lines filled with argument, sentiment,

    ancestry, progeny, prophecy, poetry,
    lines of a mapmaking instrument.
  • from Dreams that Follow the Mouth

    by Amelia Cohen-Levy

    The mouth opens.

    At the doctor’s office, it says—I am muddled.

    And one doctor asks—are you meditating?

    And another asks—are you running?

    Another asks—are you eating kale?

    Another asks—should we raise your dosage? More Lamictal? More Zoloft?

    Another asks—do you shower in the morning using lavender body wash instead of hard soap?

    Another—do you begin washing at your arms or your belly or your clavicle?

    Another—are you dreaming of Lindsay Lohan? Of Mount Horeb? Of a goose down snowfall while eating pate in a corner café with green and beige wicker chairs?
  • from “Politics – through the tied tongue of Gherasim”

    Raphaël Sigal

    Politics. Po, po, polit- polite.
    light, light, light

    TENDEeeeeeeer skin, skin, skin

    skinny, sweety, chickeny baby

    Chicken, baby, politics.

    Politics, politics, politics.

    Tics, tics, tics, chicks,

    chic, chic, shiksa,

    — sh, sh. shut.

    shut. Chut… chut…
  • At KlezKanada last year…

    Since I left the Laurentian Poetry Retreat last August, I have been haunted. I keep thinking I hear the cry of a loon, or one of the many accordions and violins I saw that week. At 3:30 every afternoon, I get this irresistible itch to swim in a perfectly cool mountain lake. And every time I see a pen, or piece of paper, or bar napkin, I am compelled to write a poem. It was the time I spent at camp--reading, discussing, collaborating--that renewed my writing. Having those few days to dedicate to my craft made it all the easier to work it back into my day-to-day life. Working alongside Jake, Adeena, and the other artists (poets and musicians alike) was inspiring and invigorating. I'm already planning my next visit! Not many programs offer scholarships to those who aren't current students, but I was grateful for KlezKanada's thoughtful foresight in establishing their scholarship program--the very thing that allowed me to attend!
    Amelia Cohen-Levy, MFA

    Adeena and Jake’s poetry workshops created a community of poets, and nurtured poems about music and spirituality. One of my favorite workshops included a look at Talmudic literary devices within poems. I continue to meditate on this kind of poetic translation. I loved my time at Klez Kanada. The opportunity to study in the Laurentian mountains with a diverse group of artists – from poets to dancers to musicians – was truly exceptional.
    Francine Rubin, MFA

    The (almost new poetry retreat) led by Jake and Adeena was an immensely satisfying experience, and I am grateful to have been able to participate in it. KlezKanada puts a lot of effort in replacing Klezmer in its cultural context. It seems that for everybody at KlezKanada, Klezmer without strong theoretical, historical, geographical, cultural, and even religious understanding is completely unproductive, if not meaningless. All that relates also to poetry, and this cultural rooting of poetry is exactly what Jake and Adeena put at the core of their workshop, with a warm, challenging and uncompromising mentorship.
    Raphaël Sigal

    At KlezKanada last year I rediscovered bits of myself to which I had not been attending. The festival reminded me of how much I need joy and of how I am most joyful when creating and sharing artistic expression, engaging in community, and surrounding myself with others’ humor and intellect and music and ideas. In particular, it was such a gift to have a week of space to pursue the study and creation of Jewish poetry (and to discuss what exactly Jewish poetry is) with excellent and supportive teachers and peers.
    Molly Moses

    Klezmer music and Yiddish song ringing in my ears. KlezKanada = phenomenal. — Dara Rosenblatt, Scholarship Student