Quick, Do Your Verse!


In Jewish tradition, Passover is known as the time of freedom. In some Jewish circles this year, it will be the holiday of free verse.

Two prominent Jewish poets will compose original works, on a Pesach theme, on the Internet, on deadline, as part of QuickMuse.com, a Web site that describes itself as “a cutting contest, a linguistic jam session, a series of on-the-fly compositions.”

The poetry by Richard Chess (associate professor of literature and language at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and director of the school’s Center for Jewish Studies) and Marge Piercy (author of 17 novels, 17 books of poetry and the recently published “Pesach for the Rest of Us: Making the Passover Seder Your Own”) will be posted online on April 2, the day of the first seder. The date also coincides with the start of National Poetry Month.

This week QuickMuse sent Chess and Piercy an original paragraph with a Passover theme written by Rabbi Mordecai Finley, a Los Angeles educator best known as the spiritual leader of playwright David Mamet. Each poet then has 15 minutes to write a poem in reaction to the rabbi’s words.

They can choose any style and any length they want, says Ken Gordon, founder of QuickMuse and editor of Jbooks.com, an online Jewish magazine.

Participants in past verse-offs tend to write short, Gordon says. “There’s only so much you can do” in the literary equivalent of speed chess. Don’t look for rhymes for maror or charoset. “They tend to stay away from rhyme. These are poets,” he says. “Their rules follow their muse. They can do anything.”

Online readers of the finished products can follow the creative process in real time over 15 minutes, keystroke for keystroke, word for word, line by line.

“The idea is to see what these very skilled poets’ first thoughts are,” Gordon says.

This is QuickMuse’s first Jewish theme, and Chess and Piercy readily agreed to participate, Gordon says. “They both have very strong Jewish themes” in their work.