I began writing poetry in 1964 as a college undergraduate; juggled writing and music until 1971, when I got a B.A. in music from UCLA; and continued juggling until 1975, when I entered the creative-writing program at Brooklyn College, studying with John Ashbery and Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and obtaining an M.F.A. in 1977. While at Brooklyn College I also took an electronic-music course with composer Jacob Druckman.
My first publication was the March 1968 issue of Beatitude, after that publishing in literary magazines and giving readings in New York, New Jersey, and California until 1982, after which I continued writing but not publishing or reading. During this time I also organized a series of sound-poetry readings in New York City; helped edit Junction, the Brooklyn College graduate-student literary magazine; The Modularist Review, another literary magazine; and two chapbooks in the Wooden Needle Press imprint of The Modularist Review.
From 1974 to 2002 I worked in book publishing, from 1982 as an acquisitions editor, first of nonfiction books for children and adults and then of reference books for students and general readers.
In 2002 I returned to school once again, this time in Jewish studies, receiving an M.A. from Gratz College in Elkins Park, PA, creating as a master’s project a web site on medieval Hebrew poetry, which was refurbished in 2014.
In 2008 I began publishing again, in print and online, and giving an occasional reading.
With the desire to share what little I know about publishing and writing, I have taught in adult-ed programs, community colleges, synagogues, Jewish community centers, and public and Jewish schools. Most recently I taught a graduate creative nonfiction course at University College, University of Denver, and “Jewish” creative writing to elementary-school children at the now-defunct Boulder Jewish Day School, in Colorado.
Although I was born Jewish, am Ashkenazi, and had no religious education as a child, I never would have dreamed that in my 60s I would get a master’s degree in Jewish studies, create a web site about medieval Jewish poetry, write a series of poems about medieval Spanish (Sefardic) Jews, and write a series of Jewish liturgical poems. Similarly, although I have been exploring non-Jewish spiritual traditions for many years, I never thought I’d write a poetic essay about an Indian Sufi, or attempt to translate a Sanskrit devotional song, or write poems about the Carmelite mystics Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross.
How to explain the diversity of my passions and interests? In the following I made an attempt:
The Incompletely Worked-Out journey of My Soul and Soles
My soul’s journey began in ancient Israel.
Sometime between ancient times and 1492—perhaps after the Exile—my soul went to Spain.
In the 16th century or earlier—before, during, or after the Inquisition and the expulsion, killing, and forced conversions of Spanish Jews—my soul went to India, perhaps Chennai, formerly Madras, in South India.
From India, my soul went back to Israel, where it met and mixed with the souls of Ashkenazi Jews.
Then, in 1946, just before the end of British rule in Israel and India and their independence, that soul came to the US, where it was born into a human body to Beatrice and Bernard Rasof, Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European ancestry.
That would seem to explain my strong Jewish identity, mixed with an almost instinctual love of Indian religion and philosophy, food, music, and literature; in addition to a love of flamenco; an affinity with Spanish-Jewish poets like Yehudah Halevi, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Shmuel Hanagid, and Abraham and Moses ibn Ezra; an affinity with Spanish poets like Gabriel García Lorca and Spanish religious figures like Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross (both having some Jewish ancestry); and a twenty-year project of writing and publishing poems about Jewish Spain.
Whether this satisfactorily answers the question, I do not know.
Today (1) much of my writing explores religion, philosophy, and mysticism, and (2) I continue to experiment, this time with traditional non-Western genres, including ghazals (Iran, Pakistan, and India), fados (Portugal), kritis (South India), and haiku (Japan). Sometimes I combine something from (1) with something from (2)–for example, writing a fado about the medieval kabbalist Moses de León or a Jewish liturgical poem in the form of a ghazal.
These surprises give me hope that even after writing for fifty years I am still capable of surprising myself. Yes, there are some common threads over the years, but woven into the tapestry are threads whose colors, textures, and shapes seem to have emerged out of thin air. Such surprises cannot be planned, or even hoped for. Rather, they seem to be gifts–you have some children when you are young, raise them, then have some unplanned children later in life, which brings along surprising new joys. Whether you believe the gifts have welled up from your own psyche, were given by the grace of God or your muse, or were simply happenstance–how we reinvent ourselves does not matter; that we do, as creative human beings, does.
Go to My Work to find representative samples of my work and to learn more about my background and my approach to writing.