The Worst Jewish Poet

worstjewishpoet

Meet the winner of the bad poetry contest—who couldn’t be prouder.

“If your bad Jewish poetry can make us cringe, we want to read it.”
That was the teaser run by the staff of My Jewish Learning for entries in their Bad Poetry Contest this year. From around the country, horrible poems came sailing over the Internet, but there was one poem—one wonderfully terrible poem—that caught the judges’ eye and won the award. The proud author of that bad creation is Yonah Lavery from Canada. Below are both her poem and her response to this dubious recognition.

Bashert

I first saw you, baby, in Mea Sharim.
Your lovely eyes downcast, your shtreimel agleam,
Your luscious lips let loose a horrible scream
And you pointed at me. I thought it was a dream,
And was all in a tizz when you threw the first stone,
Since this loving act prompted me to atone
For my bared lower shins, not okay in this zone.
You broke my heart, baby, and my collar bone.
You shouted “Zonah!” and I reached my nirvana.
Oh beautiful creature, sweeter than Tropicana,
Your judgment so harsh, your skin smooth as banana,
The comeliest student of Meir Kahane!

Our interview with Yonah:

Let’s start with the obvious: How does it feel to win first prize in the Bad Poetry Contest, and did you tell others about your dubious honor?

Did I tell anyone? I told everyone! In fact, I thought about making business cards with “Worst Jewish Poet” on them. Yesterday I told a good friend of mine, a 90-year-old woman who used to be my landlady.
“Guess what, Miriam? I wrote the worst Jewish poem!”
“The worst Jewish poem? You?! You are writing a Jewish poem?”
To my amazement, she started hugging me and weeping tears of joy.
“I am so proud of you! And now I have somebody to talk to!”
I was confused at her reaction but happy for the hugs, until she asked,
“But tell me—when did you learn to speak Jewish?”
I felt so guilty that I’d given her false hope for a fellow Yiddish-speaker that I started learning Yiddish from her right away.

What inspired you to write your winning poem “Bashert”?

For a long time, I have harbored hope of someday rhyming “Tropicana” with “Meir Kahane.” Now that dream has been fulfilled.

How long did it take to write “Bashert,” and is it easier writing good poetry or bad poetry?

Writing “Bashert” cost my employer two hours of precious productivity.

Speaking of which, do you write poetry and have you been published before?

I do write poetry, all of it terrible. Most recently I read it at an academic conference, but these days most of my creative energy goes into visual art (see below!).

What do you do when you’re not writing poetry?

My biggest creative project at the moment is making a comix version of Masechet Berachot, which is a tractate of the Talmud. It’s better than it sounds, and can be read at www.talmudcomics.net.

You won an ipod shuffle filled with poetry as your prize. Do you have a new favorite you can share?

This is a hard question. “Lines From My Grandfather’s Journal” by Leonard Cohen from The Spice-box of Earth is still the poem that speaks most to me. At five pages it’s a bit long to share, but here is a quote:

Night, my old night. The same in every city, beside every
lake. It ambushes a thicket of thrushes. It feeds on the
houses and fields. It consumes my journals of poems. […]

About the Author

Yonah Lavery
Yonah Lavery lives in Toronto and has created a whole series of comix based on (and generally pretty faithful to) Tractate Brachot. In other words, Yonah bases her characters characters’ dialog directly on an English translation of the talmudic text. How’s that for a challenge?

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