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Janet R. Kirchheimer
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Dave, Thank you so your kind comments. You are correct - "without our memories we cannot have a full identity." I am honored that I am an inspiration to you. It means so much to me. May we keep discovering our selves (I believe we have more than one), and may we continue to live in truth and authenticity.
Thank you Raquel for your kind comments about my blog posts and the progress reel. Your thoughts that "poetry and the humanity it expresses and brings us" to is beautiful. I do hope I will be able to share BE•HOLD updates on the site.
Joseph Brodsky in his 1987 Nobel Lecture stated, “There are, as we know, three modes of cognition: analytical, intuitive, and the mode that was known to the biblical prophets: revelation. What distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature is that it uses all three of them at once (gravitating primarily toward the second and the third). For all three of them are given in the language; and there are times when, by no means of a single word, a single rhyme, the writer of a poem manages to find himself where no one has even been before him, perhaps than he himself would have wished to go. The one who writes a poem writes it above all because verse writing is an extraordinary accelerator of consciousness, of thinking, of comprehending the universe.” The director, Richard Kroehling, and I want viewers of BE•HOLD to see how the weaving of film and poetry can be an accelerator of consciousness and a way to comprehend a world in which there is the persistent presence of genocide. I believe in poetry and what it can do. It is behind so much of the philosophy of my life and teaching. I’ve seen people’s lives change because of it. We envision BE•HOLD as a cinematic film where each poem has its own style, its own visual island. Capturing a wide range of experiences, including the horrors, the beauty, the incomprehensible, the struggle, and even some small moments of transcendence, we will take viewers to a parallel world where those lost still walk. Through the power of movie making, we will pull the audience into this deeply examined and re-created world so their lives will resonate with the poet’s, allowing viewers to engage with history through a vibrant and contemporary lens. In BE•HOLD, language itself becomes a character. Modeled loosely on the PBS series, “The United States of Poetry,” the film is designed as a poetic anthology like Wim Wender’s dance anthology film “Pina.” Shifting focus to the interior states of each work, poems lift off from the page to the screen. Viewers will follow each performer into a time when good and evil, life and death walked the razor’s edge. It is our hope that new personal meanings for the audience will emerge out of the juxtaposition of the poems, the unique approach to each piece, the performances, cinematography, art direction, music and uses of sound and silence. In BE•HOLD, language itself becomes a character. Creating a strong social media presence that will tap into the innate collectivity of the web, we want to create a community. We want to foster conversation. Facilitating exchanges between filmmakers, poets, survivors, their descendants, educators, students and visitors, we will also encourage and solicit work from writers and filmmakers. Wilfred Owen wrote of his WWI poetry: “My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you Maureen for your comments. We had a successful campaign on Indiegogo to raise enough funds to produce the progress reel, which I am linking on today's post. We are still accepting contributions to help complete production. For anyone who is interested in contributing and becoming part of the BE•HOLD community, please email me at All contributions are tax deductible. Again, thank you for your interest in BE•HOLD.
Julie, I hit the post button in error. It is performance, not in the sense of a slam poetry performance, but performance where poets are not standing in front of a lectern reading.
Thank you Julie. I will email you. It is a "performance documentary" and the project is not completed yet.
Thank you Stacey for your kind comment. I so appreciate it.
Thank you Jacob for your comment. Yes, it is spelled Meijesweeshuis (I don't have an umlaut in the comments section). I wrote a German spelling, and didn't catch it. Thank you for correcting me. I was in Amsterdam in 2007, and went to the weeshuis. It is now an apartment building. I spoke with the man who let me into the building and told him my mother was there. He told he could barely believe that I would come to see it. Have you been?
Novelist and survivor Aharon Appelfeld stated, “After the death of the last witnesses, the remembrance of the Holocaust must not be entrusted to historians alone. Now comes the hour of artistic creation.” I am working with director Richard Kroehling to make BE•HOLD, a cinematic film that explores poetry written about the Holocaust. We showcase poems by survivors, their descendants, and modern poets, both Jews and non-Jews, encountering and struggling with the Shoah and its aftereffects. The poems are presented by poets, survivors, actors and people from all walks of life, creating a deep well of voices responding to evil. My parents were born in Germany. When he was sixteen, my father was arrested on Kristallnacht (two days of rioting sanctioned by the Nazi government on November 9 and 10, 1938) and sent to Dachau. In 1936, my mother was six years old when she was backed up against a wall at school, and kids threw rocks at her because she refused to say “Heil Hitler.” Her parents got her out to a Jewish girls’ orphanage in Amsterdam, the Israelitisch Meijesweishaus. There were one hundred and four girls. Four survived. My mother came to America with her parents and an older sister. My father’s parents, his older sister and younger brother were murdered in Auschwitz. My parents lost over ninety-five percent of their extended families in concentration camps. I want to make BE•HOLD to honor my family, those who survived and those who did not, and to honor all the murdered, the survivors, their descendents, and those who fought against the Nazis. The team making the film is Richard Kroehling, an Emmy Award winning director who filmed “A. Einstein: How I See the World” with William Hurt for PBS, and Lisa Rinzler, a multi-award winning cinematographer who has worked with Wim Wenders and Martin Scorcese. I met Richard at a conference less than three months after my father died, and we talked about our mutual love of poetry. Two weeks later, we decided to make BE•HOLD. We talked for almost a year, discussing our vision, poems and poets we wished to film and ways to raise funds. I was observing the traditional Jewish year of mourning for my father, and many times this film felt as if it were a gift from him. It gave me a goal, something to focus on. Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “Poetry the shortest distance between two humans.” To shorten that distance between what can be spoken and what cannot is another reason we want to make BE•HOLD. Richard and I are driven by the possibilities of expanding the limits of what is purely literary and purely visual, and we believe that the language of poetry and the language of cinema can be brought together for profound and powerful results. We watched them collide and were there to capture on film what happened. During each filming, a poetic moment took over and the result was different than what we had planned for and was always more than... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Judith, thank you for your kind comments. Gardening and poetry do go together, don't they! They are both about the cycles of life. I am glad you like the idea of an author posting for five days - it gives the reader a chance to know the author more. I'm posting again tomorrow and Friday.
Thank you Chaya. You are correct, the Shoah comes back in the small moments - the moments that seem so innocuous but are so loaded with meaning.
When I started writing poetry, I was consumed by words. I had dreams, saw myself plucking them from the air. Poems were coming faster than I could write them down. The stories I heard from my parents about the Holocaust had been pent up for years and now had an outlet. Sometimes I was working on three to five poems a week. Poetry was everywhere. My father spoke poetry to me. One evening during the summer about ten years ago, I called home and asked how the gladiola plants were doing. He said, “Some are coming, some are going.” That line is in a poem called The Nature of Things. Another time, we were working in the garden planting carrot seeds, and my father told me, “Stay in the middle of the row, don’t go too far to the left or too far to the right.” His words are part of Planting. My mother spoke poetry, too. One day as we sat at the kitchen table, she told me of seeing the statue of the Lorelei for the first time and sang me her song, something every German schoolchild learned, “I do not know what it should mean that I am so sad, a legend from old days past that will not go out from my mind.” The Way to a Visa contains her words and song. Another place I found poetic inspiration was in the Hebrew Bible. During 2006-2007, I received a Drisha Institute for Jewish Education Arts Fellowship and studied biblical Hebrew grammar. I became a grammar geek, memorizing verb declensions, learning the roots of words and how most often each contained more than one meaning, finding similar words in cognate languages, and diving deeper into Biblical text and interpretation. During the year, my poetry began moving in a new direction. I was writing with biblical cadences and playing with words and definitions from the BDB, the Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. I would spend time reading entries and using the words to inspire poems. It was my own personal workshop. After writing for about fifteen years, studying the craft of poetry, reading as many books as I could, taking workshops, sending out submissions, getting rejections and acceptances, my book How to Spot One of Us came out in November 2007. Poems about my family and the Holocaust and what it means to be the daughter of survivors, it was published by Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, where I’m a teaching fellow. I started out wanting to write my family stories. Now I had a book. And what has happened since is such an honor. I am able to combine my love of teaching Jewish wisdom with poetry. I’ve spoken to survivors and their descendents, and taught teens and adults, many of whom have no direct connection to the Holocaust. We discuss and learn about the Shoah through poetry. I am always asked by teenagers why is it important to still remember an... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Sally, thank you for your comments. Yes, the things of our loved ones take on more meaning after they are gone. My father has given me an amazing toolbox filled with much wisdom, love and kindness.
Thank you Chaya for your comments. It means so much to me that you are getting hooked on my writing.
Teacher and philosopher Adin Steinsaltz writes in his book, My Rebbe, about a holy person, “…we see the connection with the beyond or hear it more in the spaces between sentences….As they speak we understand that there is more above the line and below the line or between the lines.” Poetry and holiness are intertwined. Poetry lives in those spaces between the lines: in the layout on the page, the white spaces, whether it is formal or free verse, what the poet says, hints at, doesn’t say, the grammar and punctuation, the connotation(s) of each word, and so much more. It’s what makes me come alive when I write and edit. There’s that initial impulse, a word or line pops into my head or something startles me and lurks until I write about it. Like the time I was sitting on the M104 bus going down Broadway and saw a man with one leg shorter than the other, wearing a black leather shoe with a tall heel to make up the difference. I started writing about the man and the wife who loves him, makes his breakfast and kisses him goodbye each morning as he goes to work. I missed my stop. It’s only in the last months that I feel poetry lurking. My father died three years ago, and I wrote four new poems during the first year. Then I stopped. I couldn’t and didn’t want to write anymore; I just wanted to be quiet. I didn’t want to talk most of the time, never mind try to write. Then I stopped thinking about it, stopped caring about it. I kept in mind something my poetry teacher, Mary Stewart Hammond, said when I told her I couldn’t write. “Sometimes you need to live your life, not write about it.” I no longer worried about what something meant. I was still noticing connections, but I let them fall away. Recently, I watched an interview with Sarah McLachlan where she talked about losing her father in 2010 and releasing her new album in 2014. "I don't think anybody gets to this point in their life unscathed," McLachlan said. "I'm 46 years old and this is the time when parents die, when big changes happen." "When you were dealing with all that, where were you musically?" asked [the interviewer]. "Nowhere"…."I would play music, but I didn't have it in me to write anything," she said…."My father passed away almost four years ago, and it kind of took that long for me to recognize what I'd lost and what that meant to me moving forward, but also what he'd given me." I know exactly what she was feeling. After my father’s death, it was not a time for writing; it was a time for grieving, for mourning, for reflecting. At first, I didn’t care if my poetry came back. But after two years, I thought it might actually be gone. I tried to write a few times, but I had no inspiration. A... Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you so much Lisa for your kind words about my essay. There is so much going on in the world now and as you said, the list of suffering is endless. Poetry is important. I was thinking today about "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. Her poem has made such a difference. And yes, poetry can speak the truth. Go poetry! Janet R. Kirchheimer
My father hangs upside down on a pipe that separates our street from the next. All of his change falls from his pockets. I am eight years old. The kids in the neighborhood have fathers in their late twenties, and mine is in his early forties. He waves to me. He looks so young. From an early age I knew we were different, outsiders. Not only was he the oldest father on the street, we were the only Jewish family, my parents the only immigrants, the only Holocaust survivors. Maybe this was good training for being a poet. Or maybe it was my love of reading, escaping into the words and worlds of others, my shyness, or just the way I came into the world. My poetic journey started when I was eight and wrote my first poem about love, and then it took a detour for many years. In my teens, I wanted to be a short story or essay writer, to write about the Holocaust. In my twenties, I worked for General Electric. In my thirties, I felt a strong desire to write again and signed up for a creative writing class with Elizabeth Ayres at NYU. In one class, she gave an assignment to write about a door and a woman. The student next to me wrote for what seemed like an hour and could have started a novel. I wrote that the woman went through the door. She came out on the other side. Elizabeth said I should try poetry. About four months later, I was in a workshop with Mary Stewart Hammond. Eliza Griswold in an interview in Poets and Writers in 2007 said, “What poetry allows for is dealing with ambiguity, which is impossible to deal with in a nonfiction article. Or, at least, I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. There are paradoxes that are essential to understand what’s going on. There are experiences that there’s no other language for, no other place for.” Ambiguity, according to one definition, is an attribute of any concept, idea, statement or claim whose meaning, intention or interpretation cannot be definitively resolved according to a rule or process consisting of a finite number of steps. Another: ambiguity is something that does not have a single, clear meaning. The Holocaust and its aftereffects can in no way be resolved according to a rule or process, and it never can have a single meaning. When I first started writing, I thought fiction or essay would be the best way to write about the Shoah. But I couldn’t make up details, and in essay I couldn’t find a way to write what I wanted to say. Once I was in a poetry workshop, I realized I needed to write my truth. Poetry was the only way I could write about the Shoah and my family. For all the stories I have heard from my parents, I always knew much could never be spoken. Poetry was the way to... Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Aug 7, 2014