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Issues of the Day Striving for Transcendence in Two Poems

At a poetry workshop held yesterday in Jerusalem, a group of  fellow poets and poet appreciators gathered to hear four presentations. The diverse subjects discussed included “Writing in the Persona of Another “ (given by Andrea Moriah),  “The Use of Color in Poetry” (presented by the workshop’s moderator, Joanna Chen), and “The Poetry of Denise Levertov and Mary Oliver” (offered  by Ruth Fogelman). The insights I gained were many.


I  gave a presentation entitled “Striving for Transcendence in Two Poems.” The two poems are mine. Transcendent meaning is what I strive for when I write verse.


The terms transcendence is used in various ways, both in literature and philosophy. In literary usage, it is found in poetic traditions as far ranging as Jewish piuttim and the Psalms, the Vedas, Native American writings, Sufi literature as well as the European and north American movements of Romanticism and nineteenth century New England transcendentalism.


I use the term transcendence to refer  to enhanced meaning, significance that extends beyond what the words describe on the page denote. In my poetry of this type, the textual descriptions I present suggest a message relating to matters “out there” and “greater than I,” that is, matters  transcendent.


I refer to two senses of transcendent meaning: the first is attributed to phenomena fixed in this world, the world of human relations, emotions and conduct in our daily lives. This applies to the sphere of ethics and morality, justice and right action. In my work, social and political issues are often the focus of my poems that strive for transcendence in this sense.

But I also use transcendence in another sense.  In these poems I endeavor to present a window through which cosmic and existential truths might be intuited. I seek to describe existence as having a transcendent meaning that begins with the seemingly infinitesimally small and insignificant me and somehow connects to the ultimate unity, the Great Being, the creative force that is all encompassing, energy, mass and feeling. 


As profoundly secluded as the existentialists suggest we, as individuals, are, implicit in my poems of this kind is my conviction that in our  individuality we are also part of a oneness to which we relate and which relates to us. Ultimately, for all the travail of early existence, we are never really alone. As in the Jewish teaching, we come and we return -- in my interpretation to the Great Spirit that is enduring and which can be sensed but not known.  


This striving for meaning beyond is what my poetry is about.


The workshop was sponsored by Voices, English-language poets based  in Israel but now with affiliates elsewhere. The event was conducted at David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem,  where I direct the Text and Publishing Studies program. The two poems I read are “Bialik Hall, Writers House,” and “The Conjugality of Hydrogen and Oxygen,” both of which will be published shortly. 

Text and Publishing Studies program, David Yellin College of Education 

Voices, English-language poets 


Photo by Roni Portuguez

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved