Aaron Roller is an edi­tor of Mimaa­makim, a jour­nal of Jew­ish reli­gious poet­ry and art. Their new issue was just released. He will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

The very notion of cre­at­ing one mag­a­zine to house Jew­ish poet­ry” doesn’t seem to make any sense. Jews wrote poet­ry in medieval Spain. Oth­er Jews wrote Yid­dish poet­ry as the Enlight­en­ment made its way to East­ern Europe. There were poets among the ear­ly Zion­ists, just as there were among ear­ly Jew­ish immi­grants liv­ing in New York’s Low­er East Side.

What jus­ti­fies group­ing these seem­ing­ly dis­parate poets togeth­er? They wrote in dif­fer­ent lan­guages, in dif­fer­ent forms about dif­fer­ent top­ics. They range from the the great­est defend­ers of faith to those who strug­gled with belief to those who gave up on G‑d completely.

So what is Jew­ish poetry?

While not every poem writ­ten by some­one who’s born a Jew counts as Jew­ish poet­ry, there is a larg­er con­ver­sa­tion link­ing Jew­ish poets beyond a mere acci­dent of birth. An aware­ness of Jew­ish­ness (whether man­i­fest­ed as pride, guilt or piety), a ques­tion­ing of what it means to be Jew­ish, a feel­ing of inter­con­nect­ed­ness with oth­er Jews through­out both time and space and the will­ing­ness to employ (or inabil­i­ty to avoid) Jew­ish ref­er­ences (whether Bib­li­callitur­gi­cal or philo­soph­i­cal) all mark a Jew­ish poet.

Con­sid­er Allen Gins­berg, one of the most famous Amer­i­can poets of the last cen­tu­ry, and a Jew more like­ly to chant Hare Krish­na” than She­ma Yis­roel.” And yet, when faced with the death of his moth­er, Gins­burg respond­ed with a poem enti­tled Kad­dish.” Ginsberg’s Kad­dish” jumps between frag­men­tary rec­ol­lec­tions of his mother’s life as a Jew­ish girl on the Low­er East Side (“… I walk toward the Low­er East Side — where you walked 50 years ago, lit­tle girl”), his own over­heat­ed expe­ri­ence (“I’ve been up all night, talk­ing, talk­ing, read­ing the Kad­dish aloud, lis­ten­ing to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phono­graph”) and an appeal to G‑d (“Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some of my Time, now giv­en to Noth­ing – to praise Thee – But Death”).

By attempt­ing to make sense of the tra­di­tion­al prayer of mourn­ing and put it into his own terms, Gins­berg enters the con­ver­sa­tion of oth­er writ­ers (and mourn­ers) who have tried to under­stand the Kad­dish (oth­er Amer­i­can poets who have writ­ten poems called Kad­dish” include Charles Reznikoff and David Igna­tow). By rec­ol­lect­ing his mother’s life, Gins­berg is plac­ing her — and, by exten­sion, him­self — with­in the larg­er Jew­ish experience.

What we’ve tried to do with Mima’amakim is to show you the vari­ety, the strength and the diver­si­ty of Jew­ish poet­ry today. The new issue include poems and sto­ries in three lan­guages, and writ­ing and art from writ­ers from four con­ti­nents, and of all dif­fer­ent ages and reli­gious backgrounds.

The new issue of Mimaa­makim is now avail­able. Come back all week to read Aaron Roller’s blog posts on the Vis­it­ing Scribe.