Welcome to “Elliott Tries To Take On The Psalms!”
Even though I’ve been developing liturgy for a feminist havurah for two years now, I’ve shied away from trying to write psalms. The theology and language of the originals didn’t appeal to me, nor did the form. Then I took on psalms as a topic for my MFA program, under mentor Alicia Ostriker, and kicked open the door of my resistance. I dove into Robert Alter’s amazing and brilliant book The Art of Hebrew Poetry, and suddenly the psalms were alive. Not that they started speaking the words of my heart, but their form/style as a way to address my world became potentially powerful tools.
The first set of serious psalms I took on were the songs of ascent, reimagined as commentary and protest about mountain-top removal. You can find these on their own tab on the home page of this blog or here:Psalms of Ascent
I’m now working on creating psalms and written prayers ((piyyutim)) that can be used in services, or for personal prayers. This is new for me, and I struggle with the whole process, since I have no fixed sense of who or what I might be praying to, or for what end. But the form and the language themselves are powerful, so, for me, the “praying” might actually be the writing, when I definitely connect to something deeper, some force of creativity that is from within me but also a current that sweeps me up and carries me along when I’m not too afraid to jump in.
The two piyyutim I’ve created so far are mosaics — words and images from many different sources woven into prayer poems. For each piece I’ve written a linking lines or words, or altered an image to make it fit the the new piece, but most of the words are from others, across time, language, and culture, so that Rumi, great Spanish poet Antonio Machado, Sappho, and Joni Mitchell, for example, speak back and forth to each other about rivers. I’m posting two versions of these piyyutim, one that is just the prayer poem and one that is annotated with all of sources listed so you can see the original sources.
Look for more in the near future. I’ve been saving favorite lines from poems for years, and this mosaic approach is a great way to fuse those with my own creativity.