Sunday, July 13, 2014

Studying A Talmudic Text Together: The Poet Admiel Kosman


In graduate school at the University of Iowa I was an assistant editor for Modern Poetry in Translation, a magazine edited by the poet and translator Daniel Weissbort. One of my responsibilities was to find appropriate Hebrew poems which Daniel and I could translate together. Daniel didn't know Hebrew, so I chose the poems, did the literal translation and then we worked on the final version together. When he came back from the Second International Poets Festival in Jerusalem, Daniel told me that he had met a young religious Jewish poet who, according to him, was “quite eccentric.” Apparently the young poet suggested that they would study a Talmudic text together. Although Daniel loved working together on translation, he was baffled by this suggestion. He did not understand that it was an offer of friendship and a way of  exchanging ideas.

Daniel showed  me the books which the young poet had given him as a gift.  I have never heard of Admiel Kosman before, but the moment I read his poems we knew that we found a treasure.

Today Admiel Kosman is a professor of Religious and Jewish Studies at Potsdam University in Germany and the academic director of Abraham Geiger Reform Rabbinical Seminary.

Here are two poems by Admiel  Kosman  from Modern Poetry in Translation which Daniel and I translated together.


For my son Abraham, one year old


From here into the light, without gripping the doorframe and


back at the moonlike pallor of your father, making music

alone inside the curtained darkness.

Out, into the light, my son!

Be strong. Be modest. May the kingdom of evil

dry and flake off like plaster in your days.  


Wanted a quiet place where the soul may rest

just for a few minutes.

Wanted a place to plant my feet

just for a few minutes.

 Wanted flowers, a leaf, a stalk, a bush that will not strike camp

and move off when she comes. Just for a few minutes.
Wanted just one word, clean, pleasant, warm, a bench

a shelter, for someone, for kin, a dovelike child, my soul

that left the ark for a few minutes at dawn

and since then has found no footing anywhere.

(Basic training camp 1989)

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