Ellen Braunstein | Special to WJW
University professors, National Poetry Slam champions and the co-chairs of OutWrite Festival, D.C.’s annual LGBTQ+ literary festival — several Jewish writers among them — are part of a literary project that presents one original l love poem a day during Gay Pride month.
The LGBTQ+ video project, posted at pridepoems.com, is the brainchild of Kim Roberts, a poet and literary editor, and Jon Gann, a filmmaker and founder of the DC Shorts Film Festival.
“Judaism is a theme that comes up regularly in my own writing,” said Roberts, who has been published in Tikkun and other Jewish publications. “I would say Jewish identity is a crucial part of how I interpret the world and understand myself.”
Gann grew up at Shaare Tefila in Olney and was active in USY, BBYO and Jewish camp. “I had the whole Jewish youth experience,” he said.
On Tuesday, Yermiyahu Ahron Taub’s recited poem, “Smoke From Mirrors/Ruins Under the Roller Coaster” went live. Taub, 54, of D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood, came into the DC Queer Pride Poem-a-Day project by way of Roberts, with whom he co-edited a Jewish issue of “Beltway Poetry” in 2019.
He writes poetry in English and Yiddish. Two books of his fiction and six volumes of his poetry are published. Three books are translated from Yiddish. Taub authored the short story collection, “Prodigal Children in the House of G-d” which explores themes of family, society and exile from his haredi Orthodox community.
He describes his Pride Month entry as a “love poem gone awry.” “Smoke from Mirrors/Ruins at the End of the Roller Coaster” centers on the Jewishly connected Coney Island “with its sounds and smells and textures that are both terrifying and redemptive, but also imprisoning. I’m getting lost in all of that,” he said.
Roberts, 54, called the DC Queer Pride Poem-a-Day project a “significant snapshot of some of the most exciting queer poets active in Washington’s literary community right now.” A grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities funded the project.
The poets range in age from their 20s to their early 80s. Their charming, often poignant love poems are less than a minute to six minutes long. Each recited poem includes text and an author’s biography. The poems will be archived for viewing after Gay Pride month.
The poets created their own video, which Gann, 56, lightly edited for uniformity. “I thought this would be an interesting project because there is usually a lot of activities during Gay Pride month, but not a lot of artistic activities,” said Gann, who lives in the Gallery Place/Penn Quarter neighborhood.
Roberts suggested that the theme be love as an “antidote to the pandemic. Something that would be hopeful and good news rather than all of us being tired about not having enough connection.”
Roberts, of D.C.’s Park View neighborhood, comes well credentialed for the poetry project. She earned a B.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Arizona. She has published five books of poems; anthologies of early D.C. poets and a book of literary walking tours of D.C. Roberts founded the “Beltway Poetry” quarterly and served as editor from 2000 to 2019.
Roberts’ poem will appear on the last day of the month for the gay pride project. It revolves around her love for her girlfriend, Tracey. Passion and desire fill this intensely personal poem.
Roberts said she begins a poem simply with an image or particular line. “I find that if I know too much about what I want to write about in advance, it tends to lay a little flat on the page. I try not to sit down knowing too much. If I discover something about what the poem is about as I am writing, the reader will mirror that sense of discovery.”
Taub, a literary award-winning writer, grew up in the yeshivah world in Philadelphia, where Yiddish and rabbinic Hebrew were part of his “linguistic cosmos,” he said.
He began writing poetry as a graduate student of history at Emory University in Atlanta.
“I decided that I wanted to pursue different kinds of writing that weren’t so empirically based, where every footnote is being checked and every source document consulted.
Something that came from deeper within and drew upon my spiritual life, my emotional life. I wanted to explore tradition and culture in ways that were both epic and grand, but also intimate. Poetry gave me a way of exploring a deeper sense of self that I wasn’t able to access in other kinds of writing.”
Explore the poetry online at www.pridepoems.com