Thursday, October 14, 2010

Three more poems

Prayer 1, George Herbert (Protestant poem)
I have to admit that I put a lot of pressure on myself when it came to designing this poem. It had to be awesome. Of course, pressure like this immediately sucks your creative abilities dry. My first thought was to have a praying figure in the shape of a P, like in Celtic manuscripts and such. Then I tried to unite ALL of the imagery into a single cohesive image- obviously this was impossible. Then I thought about picking out a single image to illustrate (the “sinner’s tow’r”, the “bird of Paradise”, the “plummet sounding heaven and earth”…). Nothing satisfied me, though. I did figure out three things- I wanted the paper to be white, the text to be black, and the image to be red (there was enough red imagery for it to make sense, plus red just makes sense in general, and the combination of the three colors can be found in some Bibles where Jesus’ words are printed in red). After talking with B* about it, I decided that the praying figure was actually quite appropriate. It seems obvious and derivative at first, but the simplicity of the figure balances beautifully with the rich images in the poem, which never really mentions getting on your knees.  

*Bart, you have been a life-saver throughout this whole project! From editing help to thoughtful and good advice about design and layout, as well as whole-hearted encouragement…I am so blessed :)

Kapparah, Ralph Angel (the Jewish poem)
This was a tricky one. I emailed the poet to get some direction, but he emailed me back saying that he trusted my instincts and I should just go with whatever the poem made me feel. I was flattered, but it wasn’t terribly helpful. So I did a bit of thinking and research. First, one of my biggest fears with this project in general is that I'll accidentally do something along the lines of putting a peace symbol on the Christian poems- so close, and yet so far (and also obviously un-researched). I felt that the image should reflect several different aspects of the poem- 1- definitely the Kapparah ritual; 2- the Temple; 3- a sense of dispersing/converging. So the image is actually an aerial map of Jerusalem, with the darker spot (right of center) being the location of the Temple. But the red ink also makes it look like streams of blood, which presumably there were during the Kapparah sacrifices (and sacrifices in general). Bart pointed out that it looks like a heart/blood veins, which I think also works. A lot of the language in the poem made me think of the passage of time and distance, which also sort of fits with the map idea- leaving and returning.

Printing this poem was a bit of a challenge- I felt I was taking some risks in the layout, and what if it didn’t turn out quite right? With the text off-center, and the text/image unit being slightly off-center (but still maintaining visual balance), and the image so red that it could easily overpower the text…I was nervous. But B thinks it works, and now I felt reassured, too.

After printing, I also emailed my dear Marli, who has some really cool thoughts that I want to share:
My thoughts are... well, to start with, Kapparah is a ritual which asks for atonement of sins. It's on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. By its nature (being a part of the service) it is beautiful - Yom Kippur is one of, if not the most beautiful holiday, but it's also one of, if not the most, saddest. Yom Kippur is very grey in that respect... beautiful service, including the kol nidre (which you can hear as a cello solo here), and asking for mercy and blessings throughout the year on a personal as well as a humanity-wide level, and yet, being multifaceted, it's also very black and white. There are sins. We have committed them. We must ask forgiveness of the people we have wronged, and then we can put ourselves before God, as it is ordained, and we follow a specific service to ask for redemption.

My immediate reaction to the poem was (and is again now) that there's a lot of imagery, and it doesn't seem to line up to a specific thought. It's speaking both to specific events and to a vast, overall... something.

"we'd have to undo even the hours of this room" - it seems like he's saying we'd have to take away the time spent here, but usually that refers to regrets, and he says "to make ugly" as if to say the thing is currently beautiful. So, maybe he's not talking about the sins, so much as the life we live? To take that away, we'd have to actually remove the events which have created us. This is an idea that's very important to the Jewish people, as there have been so many times when another nation has tried to wipe them out, and it is only the stories and histories being passed down which has counteracted that.
"the unsaid will flop like a fish" - no absolutes. Another big theme in Judaism - everything is up for discussion. There are wrong and right answers, but those are for God to determine. For ourselves, we can only question.
"a view much like our own" - tying the past back into the present, into what we see and feel, and how much that is exactly what our ancestors saw and felt.
The second verse seems to be describing what actually is the case, though he uses the conditional, which seems to imply it isn't currently. More specifically, he's describing what religious Jews actually do: "fail, and study constantly, and know by heart the volumes of our mingled vast migrations." And then the last part "we were holy places there," I can only assume refers to the old temple.

So the overall impression I get is likening the old temple (destroyed back in BC) to the current way of life. When the old temple existed, atonement was sought there through animal sacrifices. Since the destruction of the old temple there are no more animal sacrifices, and it has changed everything about atonement - particularly Kapparah. So I get an image of likening our modern way of life (where we do not all "study constantly and know by heart the volumes of our mingled vast migrations") to the days of the temple and the Kapparah that was.

Truly the Sea was Divided, various – based on Exodus 15 (the Coptic poem)
The last poem! The imagery was pretty straight-forward to figure out, although originally I had wanted the text to be yellow-orange (because of the part about the sun shining on the hidden earth), but that was vetoed pretty early on. Burgundy/red was suggested instead, which also makes a lot of sense, since the Red Sea was the one Moses parted, and it’s never specifically mentioned. A bright, turquoise-y blue seemed appropriate for the image of stylized waves, with beams of light shining through.

Printing was the hard part, specifically, printing the image. It was so large that I had to constantly re-ink the press (after about every 4 prints, and then multiply that by 110+ pieces of paper) and the extra minutes needed to allow the ink to distribute evenly on the rollers and on and on. Plus the paper had just enough of a texture to not print perfectly evenly, which was extremely aggravating. Anyway, it took about six hours. But at last I finished and, exhausted, drove home. That evening I showed B, and he thought they looked great. And then he noticed a problem. At the bottom, where it was supposed to say “this poem is…based on Exodus 15”, I had typeset “this poem is…based on Exobus 15”. Ouch. One stinking little letter- and a b instead of a d on top of it all- and now I had to endure another day like that one, at my own expense. Ok, so I maybe hadn’t proofread that part as carefully as I should have, but couldn’t God give me a break? I mean, c’mon! I admit it, I was mad.

Feeling dejected, I bought new paper (with a smooth texture this time) fixed the typo and got set to do the whole thing over again. Just to be extra-safe, I went through the whole poem word by word- I felt paranoid, I guess. I paused at one word, which was unfamiliar to me and therefore should probably be double-checked on the computer: “Theokotos”, the Greek title of Mary. Turns out, the correct spelling is “Theotokos”- I had had another spelling error. Suddenly, I was feeling very blessed.

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