ROBERT KELLY Engages
Uncreated Mirror by Tamas Panitz
(Lunar Chandelier Collective, 2016)
KABBALAH AND THE YOUNG POET
Preface to Uncreated Mirror of Tamas Panitz
In any patriarchy, every innovation spiritual or mechanical comes to serve the patriarchy.
So, in every patriarchy, the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, in Her mercy, sees to it that visionary souls speak out some other way, Way, path to liberate us from the deadening power of popes and sanhedrins and ayatollahs who freeze the soul into unquestioning obedience to sharia, halakha, canon law.
The voice of the poet (Blake’s term) has been over millennia one of the strongest adits of such wisdom—yet poetry too comes to subserve the patriarchy — the way the beauty of the Odyssey makes all too clear the hideous brutality of the Iliad — the text that Germany imposed on the modern world as the great classic of antiquity — not the girlish, playful, tricksterish Odysseus, but the sulking proud testosterone-toxic Akhilles.
But poetry keeps rising from the stifling boys club atmosphere of (still!) colleges and universities, rises and breaks conventions. Finding its way. Finding the Way.
Every people has its Holy Spirit, and we do well to linger fondly in the indigo light of each our own traditions, as I, from Irish and English stock, would linger in the gift of Brigid and Merlin. I am not a Jew, and have no right to the Kabbalah, though I claim a right to make myself available to wisdom.
Interesting how the rabbis (the misnagdim, enemies of enthusiasm and vision) rule that only men may study Kabbalah, and then only after thirty — by which age they are married and full of responsibilities and possessions, have bought into the patriarchy, in fact, and are afraid of the antinomian biases of the secret wisdom of the alphabet. No more adolescent revolt left in them, no more urgent animal of poiesis.
So we look to the young poet, always the young poet, who half-hates the establishment he half-hopes to enter and conquer. Rimbaud. Nouveau. Ducasse. And Pound tearing up the syllabus all over Europe as he walked his way through Provence into the poetry we call Modern.
I am permitted, though, to urge on poets an appetite to explore their own blood’s old sagesse— and thus beg young poets who are Jewish (in the sort-of way that anybody is anything these days, forgive me o Flemish great-grandmother) that they enroll in the Celestial Academy and follow through the jungle of the alphabet’s Hebrew radicals to learn the testimony of their own exact intersection point of time, tradition, eternity, energy, protest, damnation, salvation—everything we mean by truth.
I am not a Jew, so cannot have Kabbalah. Alas. My heart is circumcised and yearns for such mysteries, and the maidens who bear them to us. But they smile at me and turn away, murmuring an English word, or scratching some Celtic ogham in the turf.
But I have, we all have, the alphabet. And while I don’t have a right to the Hebrew words the alphabet encodes/decodes, I have a right to the letters themselves, which by now are as Egyptian as Phoenician, Slavic as Goidelic.
Because they speak the innate mantric energy of the body itself. The alphabet speaks the body. That’s where language comes from, the body, the sounds the body makes to say its mind, and that’s what the phonemes of any language tell us. Beth doesn’t look like B or like Birka, but that voiced labial plosive says the same in any language that uses it.
Hence the sacred monosyllables of the proto-language hypothesis.
But to Kabbalah itself come the amazing new poets of this time, Ian Dreiblatt and Alana Siegel and Billie Chernicoff and before us now the texts of of Tamas Panitz.
Panitz, born in Budapest, a youngster in Maryland, has grown through an energetic devotion to poetry almost unprecedented in my experience to a ranging, singing, endlessly investigative probing of myth and history, as they bear in on the love of this person, this moment, this car on its way to the sea, this sea.
More than any poet I know of his generation he reminds me of the great ones of the inquiring muse — Duncan, Olson, Blaser, Lansing, all who used music to chisel open the stone gates of the past, or charm our socks off with the tenderfoot language of the present.
And in these ventures he has dared to strive with Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions, with the muscular integument below the Sunday School topics of Genesis. He knows that language is not just now, and not just him. But knows too that it is only through the rapt engagement of the living body now with the whole thundering archive of written texts that the poem can come into meaningful being.
Because Kabbalah is written. That is the obvious mystery. We receive from the written word the energy of the spoken whisper behind it.
Panitz has Judaism in his line, but also that archaic Rajasthani dialect that crept into Europe and lingers, summoning music (Liszt, Bartok, Kodaly) and thrilling countless children by the hope —and sometimes the reality— of a flight from the patriarchal, away from settlement and into endless pilgrimage: the language of the Roma, who were once thought of as Egyptians and are still called Gypsies.
Roma, Kabbalah, Ezra Pound, Magyarul, all language and music, deep scholarship, the Chinese researches of Joseph Needham, the sonorous mysteries of Thomas Vaughan, the enigmas of the inexhaustible Athanasius Kircher— all these rattle and rumble through Panitz’s work, and thank heaven they do:
he writes long. He gives the language space to think, he takes our time and plays with it, nothing is too obvious for song, nothing too arcane. Shameless puns, breathtaking turns of scholarly connectingness—and all the while, it is a man in our midst, caring, worrying, beset with desires and refusals. Like everybody else. And that’s why poetry works, because it’s written in the sacred language of Everybody Else.
For we too have our own lower-case kabbalah, our intimate receivings.
Robert Kelly, currently the first Poet Laureate of Dutchess County, is the author of many books of poetry, fiction, and essays. His most recent publications are A Voice Full of Cities: Collected Essays; Uncertainties; Opening the Seals; The Hexagon and Heart Thread and The Secret Name of Now. His website is http://rk-ology.com/ and his blog is http://rk-ology.blogspot.com/ . He teaches in the Written Arts Program at Bard College, and is married to the translator Charlotte Mandell.
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