Ariel Resnikoff: A new poem from 'Avoidances,' with author’s note & commentary

[Ariel Resnikoff is best known at this point for his translations from the Yiddish poetry of Mikhl Likht & others, but with “Avoidances” he clearly sets out as a composer of poems in his own right & in a line as well with other poets with whom he shares a lineage or name.  His Likht translations & his writings on Likht & Zukofsky have appeared several times on Poems and Poetics, & he has been resident since last September in the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, where his good works continue. (J.R.)] 


Teachings of the Magic Kohl-Rabi

: Aleph 


No place




psephos matter—


ambient                      constant         

              tentative        suspension


—a substance fixed. For       


fluent thought

it orders 

chaos into things


the magic Kohl-Rabi speaks:


 ex       |           peri      |           ment


from danger in

-to experience.


& the question of not

whether it is 

or isn’t 

but if you can see by it.


The glowing speech made

a sea


-faring people

go blind


from  Ellis Island  

to Palestine   


out of necessity


by law of broken mirror 

made all things true


we can-not read



: Beys

Still or text

or local

or imported


four or five 

oil sketches

on paper

leaving Athens. Those



of reproductions

were the “tr” b/w

ship & water


‘s language




fat chance.

My avoidance

says the Kohl

shall be 


the cut.

: Giml

4 breads,

4 ways  

                  I’m fed 


                        -- the thick, coarse

lower stuff

in upper foods called 

forward --  

                        thinner than



Grinded ash (from gold)

thrown in 


w/ holy 



my body 


drunk on bullion  



5 Prepositions 

1 present aim

‘s to avoid

the fork’s






what it asks








things it forgets

in memory


basic utterance


2 actions

in circle I



by hand



my mouth &


doubled me


3 me’s

I I am am  




stabbed on the gold

-en prongs 


my presence



4 lives tell

in skin






asking, demanding



5 gates

from simple

to most

vague statements



a past


body for




exits on




[AUTHOR'S NOTE.  The title of the cycle, Avoidances, has multiple connotations across English-Yinglish-Yiddish-Hebrew. In English, "avoiding" solidity, conclusion, paraphrase; producing meaning which does not close on itself but opens outward onto multiple potentials; the avoid-dance of never settling on both feet at once for very long. In this way, I'm interested also in a legacy of nomadic poetry, both modern Jewish & pre-islamic Qasida, which is always on the move, tho not linearly, but, rather, by a process of encircling. In Hebrew "Avoda"; in Yinglish & Yiddish, "Avoyda": understood in modern terms as "work" either in the external world or on the internal self; in the ancient context, Avo(y)da as sacrifice, a ceremony of giving away something precious to God. Also associated with "avo(y)da-zara" or idol worship: sacrifice to the wrong source. Avoidances as a process of vast & contradictory containment, multilingual meaning, which is constantly pivoting toward plurality.


The Magic Kohl-Rabi, whose teachings begin the cycle & reappear thru-out,  also crosses a number of language/meaning boundaries. From a Germanic standpoint, a "Cabbage-Turnip" vegetable; From a Hebraic vantage, the Kohl (=voice) of the Rabi (=Rabbi, sage, elder). The idea of playing on the name came first from my glee at stumbling upon the kabbalistically-infused artichoke & emerald lettuces of Duncan's "What Do I Know of the Old Lore." I find something extremely exciting & powerful in Duncan's ability to attach spiritual/mythic potency to things as banal, but also, as essential, as garden vegetables.  The Kohlrabi is a favorite among the group of poets I spent time with in Israel/Palestine, especially the American Hebrew poet, Harold Schimmel, who ceremoniously prepares & eats it daily & would often comment to me about its unique characteristics. The most important aspect of the Kohlrabi for Schimmel (who, at times, speaks thru the MK"R in the poems) is that the vegetable is a root that takes on visible scars when it is cut from the ground. Its skin tells a story then, (the first taste is with your eyes!) of a cut, thru the strange & beautiful scarring patterns that manifest. The poems in Avoidances are all dealing in some way with the implications of "cutting" -- from place, history, language, etc. -- & the multifarious ways these cuttings become scarred (or scored). The Magic Kohl-Rabi is the muse of the cut: not a singular voice but a constellation of teachings which speaks to the poetics & aesthetics of dis-location. (A.R.)]