The 50 poems in this book were inspired by the author’s two trips to Spain, in search of voices and traces of medieval and modern Jewish Spain. The voices encountered include those of poets, philosophers, mystics, religious figures, and royalty—men and women, mostly Jewish but also Christian and Muslim. Aside from the author of Souls, all of these people obviously are dead, but though dead, their souls are still expressing themselves, to us, to one another, to friends and enemies, to God, in anger, sorrow, nostalgia, cynicism, bitterness, wistfulness, and more—the gamut of human emotions. These are the souls in the garden, an image taken from the wonderful Zohar: The Book of Splendor, the most important book of Jewish mysticism.
Although the period and setting are mostly medieval Spain, unfortunately the themes of persecution, lament, xenophobia, and expulsion are as relevant today as they were in the past. Additionally, the traumas of the period have been passed down over the years to the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, many of whom are living in the American Southwest.
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2019 Publication Date/Temescal Canyon Press/ISBN 978-9969332-2-3
$18 + sales tax + postage
The author has degrees in music, creative writing, and Jewish studies and has been writing poetry since 1964. After a long career in book publishing, he taught creative writing at the University of Denver and the Boulder Jewish Day School. He now leads occasional writing workshops for adults on Jewish incantation bowls, ethical wills, and liturgical poetry. His work has appeared in Beatitude, HaLapid, Jewish Currents, Kansas Quarterly, Midstream, Numinous, Partisan Review, X-Peri, and the Boulder Jewish News, among other print and online publications. He has published three previous books–Here I Seek You: Jewish Poems for Shabbat, Holy Days, and Everydays (2016); Chance Music: Prose Poems 1974 to 1982 (2012), and The House (2008)—and hosts two web sites: www.medievalhebrewpoetry.org and this site, henryrasof.com. A more complete author bio, c.v., and list of publications can be found by clicking the previous links.
“Henry Rasof is the heir to the Jewish poets of medieval Spain. His new tour de force, Souls in the Garden, is a sort of poetic itinerary through Spain, where the author communes with the medieval Spanish Jews, and particularly with his predecessors, the Jewish poets. He is often entertaining, sometimes deeply moving, and always enlightening. By engaging with these departed souls, he breathes new life into them and into their poetry.”
–Joseph Davis, Associate Professor of Jewish Thought, Gratz College
“Souls in the Garden is Henry Rasof’s personal tribute to the heritage of medieval Spanish Jewry and a love song to Spain itself, couched in deeply felt and ingeniously crafted English verse. The author has read widely among the poets, philosophers, commentators, and mystics of medieval Spain and has forged out of their their stories and their works a literary work that gives voice to his own Jewish soul.”
–Raymond P. Scheindlin, Emeritus Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature, Jewish Theological Seminary
“Henry Rasof’s poetry is both spiritual and inspirational.”
–Hayim Y. Sheynin, Ph.D.
“Souls in the Garden is a . . . time traveler’s glimpse into another era, haunted by the fires of the Spanish Inquisition. Concurrently, it peers into the very soul of man.“
–Corinne Brown, in HaLapid (vol. XLVI/XLVII, No. 27 & 28, Autumn/Winter 2019), a publication of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies.
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