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Leah Halk

It was perhaps on the rainiest day of the summer that I met Leah Falk outside of the Harvard Science building. There were children playing in the fountain. The heat brought on a storm. Leah had spent the day at Singing Beach and had been burdened by a shard of glass or a bee sting sunk in the sole of her foot. The rain had no effect on her reading nor did the pain in her foot. We found a quiet corner and she read for The Ottoman Estate.

She has written beautifully about her formation;

How was I formed? Head first; then by the walls of my parents’ house; by the wheels of small vehicles running over my body; by paintings of toast and jam; by my mother’s hand cupping my waist; by the words of songs I would not sing in the synagogue; by the sun that burned me; by liner notes of my parents’ records; here by a birch, black squirrel, an empty trail, then only by distance. What shape does distance make? An asterisk; lines crossing and stretching blindly. Like the beach, formed every day by the ocean.

Re-formed, we are not necessarily reformed. Hunks of clay thrown on a wheel. When I was fifteen, a rabbi lectured me on the distinction between Reform (the branch of Judaism) and the word “reformed,” which I had confused in an essay. Reform referred to constant change, as aware of its own wake as a curve on a graph, whereas a former drunk or heathen was reformed, the old parts cut away, in order never to look back.

I have my doubts about the preservation of the spirit of Reform in the eponymous denomination of Judaism. But if the definition can be extended, there are some moments in my life as a reader and writer of poetry that I would like to include in a curve of Reform. I remember the mysterious emergence of sounds, with no past of their own. This led me into the hyperactive, nonsensical arms of Gregory Corso, the yelp of Ginsberg, and the little-brother aping of them both by the young Bob Dylan. Later, when I learned to sit quietly with poetry—with poems of Etheridge Knight, E.E. Cummings, Jane Cooper, Lucille Clifton and Robert Frost—I knew nothing except to wait for the moment of revelation at the poem’s end, by which I measured the poet’s worth and took my own emotional temperature.

I cannot pretend not to also be reformed—to have moments to which I’d rather not return. One of these is a period during which I held my body’s response to poems beneath the surface of the text. I felt the push to be a critic with my eye only, so imagined away the necessity of my body to poetry. But later in college I was fortunate to study with excellent teachers who at last introduced me to form and criticism not as traps but as topographical maps, surfaces over which one could travel at leisure.

She Reads Her poems:

Theories of Wormholes

Borders

Covenant

Fidelity

Selection Theory

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