On Hebrew psalms and English poems

I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been doing #NachYomi, studying one chapter from the Prophets and Writing sections of the TaNaCh (Hebrew Bible) a day. Right now, we’re in the middle of the Book of Psalms (known in Hebrew as Sefer Tehilim), and as each psalm is written in verse, I’m learning a lot about poetry as we march to the end of the Book (we have about 2 and a half weeks left).

A translation of Psalm 23–probably the most famous psalm to English-speakers

Incidentally, April was National Poetry Month, and I wrote a poem for every day of the celebration. I felt inspired to do so after a spree of poetry reading. Then I spent a chunk of May revising some my April poems. (I actually submitted one of them yesterday. I felt very brave.)

Anyway, I’ve noticed some interested contrasts and comparisons between Hebrew poetry and English poetry, and I thought it might be interesting to explore them.

One trend you see in Hebrew poems is manipulating a particular aspect of the Hebrew language–many conceptually-related words will derive from the same two or three letter root (called a shoresh). A common example is the following: chai, which means “live,” shares a root (chet-yud) with chayim, meaning “life;” chayot, which means “wild animals;” and mechaye, which means “revive.” Additionally, one way to emphasize a word in Hebrew is to double it. Me’od me’od, for example, means not just “a lot” but “very, very much,” and mot yamut means not just “will die” but “will surely die.”

In English poetry, and writing in general, we are discouraged from having the same word appear multiple times, close together, in the same text. Occasionally, it’s used for effect, but it’s one of those things writers usually edit out.

However, in Hebrew, you might see the same word appear several times in just one psalm, if not in its identical form, in a related term which shares the same shoresh. This happens throughout the Book of Psalms, such as in:

  • Psalm 150, which contains 13 words based on the root hey-lamed (“praise”) in just 6 lines.
  • Psalm 130, which contains such lines as verse 5 קִוִּ֣יתִי יְ֭הֹוָה קִוְּתָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י וְֽלִדְבָר֥וֹ הוֹחָֽלְתִּי׃ (“I look hopefully to the LORD; my soul hopes for Him, and I await His word.”) which repeats the root koof-vav, for “hope” just two words apart, heightening the affect.

It’s not just Biblical era poetry which does this, but many Hebrew-language modern poems, as well. The entire phenomenon makes me wonder how much the actual construction of the English language affects poetry written in English.

Noticing the repetitions in Hebrew poems has not led me to introduce them into my English-language creations. However, it has helped me see how a deep theme, image, or symbol, when worked throughout a poem, creates impressions in the reader which enhance both the meaning and the beauty of the text.

If you have thoughts about Hebrew poems, poetry in general, or psalms (from a writerly perspective), I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Exciting news for my fellow female Orthodox writers!

On May 3rd and 4th, JWWS–the Jewish Women’s Writers’ Summit–will be taking place. JWWS is an online two-day event for frum women interested in all things writing, reading, publishing and networking. The seminar is now in its 10th year, its second online.  

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It includes presentations by leading names in the industry (see the schedule here), ways to book a private time with different publishers (see that here ), tons of inspiration, writing tips, networking, and valuable information. And this year I’m also presenting!

Come join this incredible event with me. You will get so much out of this unique writers’ summit–I know I will. And I’d love to see your face on my Zoom on May 3rd!

My Coronavirus Diary, Part 2

man using laptop on table against white background

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I got several positive comments on the first part of my quarantine diary, so here are some more glimpses of life in the Klempner household while under Safer at Home orders here in L.A. Continue reading

Finally Turning the Corner on Seasonal Doldrums and Lots of Publishing News

person writing calligraphy style quote on table

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The last week of February, I had one of those nice “published four times in one week” moments last week. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s nice when it does. If you haven’t caught them up, I’ve got the links all lined up for you! Continue reading

Video #1: So, you’ve told me you want to write a picture book…

One of the things I’ve been hoping to do this year (and I’m talking 5779, not 2019) is make some videos about writing. I finally took the plunge after receiving a number of phone calls, PMs, and other queries about what it takes to write a picture book.

In this 9 minute (or so) video, you’ll hear:

7 & 1/2 minutes answering the following very basic questions:
1) Should you write a picture book at all? What kind of person does well writing araizy cover picture book?
2) What is the very first step you should take?
3) Should I self-publish or traditionally publish?
4) Does it matter if you are “naturally gifted” at writing?

And then you’ll receive about a minute & 1/2 of resources for learning to write a picture book which will all cost you less than hiring me. (Even if you’ll need to hire a coach or editor later, you will save yourself a bundle by doing what is recommended in the second half of the video FIRST.)

If you’ve got questions, post them in the comments. I’ll either answer them there, refer you to a better resource, or make another video in reply.

 

First post of 2019: What’s ahead

I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to make any resolutions–I don’t really celebrate secular New Year’s Eve. But something that happened that made me reconsider. Continue reading