Poet with Chutzpah: Jake Marmer

This week’s Poet with Chutzpah coined the phrase “Talmudic jazz poetry” (Google it if you don’t believe me). Jake Marmer combines poetry, music, performance and a passion for Judaism into his own “existentialist dancehall, talmudic jazz poetry, personalized bop apocalypse.” It’s pretty wild.
Does he have chutzpah? Jake would say no, but….

I’m into Cosmic chutzpah – poet being the challenger of metaphysical suppositions, religious/ritualistic grounds, perceptions of life, myths. Turning them out. Inventing new ones. But interpersonal chutzpah – no thanks. Makes me think of some hairy-sweaty Israeli dude at shuk who steps on your foot and then asks you what time it is.

Watch Jake Marmer and “Identity Crisis” – httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi79GH6Xbtw

His poetry is powerful, tangible,and musical. It feels like jazz without instruments. So I asked Jake, Do you hear musical instruments when you speak or slam poetry?

Yeah, literally. I often perform with musicians. [My band] Frantic Turtle aside, I’ve been playing with various jazz people. And listening to jazz influenced my work in a big way. In terms of the form, content, imagery. I have a piece where I’m describing myself as “a voice // with a saxophone accent”. Walter Pater said that all art aspires to the condition of music. Going beyond the meaning of the words and into the meaning of their musicality. I’m very into that.

So why not just write jazz, I wondered. Why write poetry at all?

I ask myself this question all the time. I really have no idea – it excites me, shakes me up, I feel extremely alive writing and performing. Feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing in this world. Sometimes I think it’s all an ego thing, which then makes me want to drop it altogether. But then other times I think it’s the most spiritually sincere expression I’m capable of, the space to ask the ultimate questions – lift the veil, you know.

Watch Jake Marmer’s “Existential Treatise (On Joy and Prayer)” – httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cq-Fvp309M

When he’s not performing in New York or Jerusalem, with his band Frantic Turtle, Mima’amakim collective, and various hip downtown characters, Jake is finishing up his Ph.D in Comparative Literature, and working at Random House Publishing . He’s also the poetry columnist for the Forward.
The list of different things this poet manages to do on a daily basis wowed me, so I wondered, How is being a Poet like working for Random House?

Poets need day jobs. Williams Carlos Williams was a doctor, Wallace Stevens sold insurance. Such is life. Random House is cool – it’s nice to be around books all day. The poetry they publish is not exactly up my alley – it’s more traditional, established authors, usually older, some of whom I revere, but ultimately am more interested in experimental work that’s either performed live or is released from small presses. There definitely moments when I’m going a little schizophrenic b/e these two parts of my life feel so disparate, but most of the time, it all somehow coheres.

Check out Jake’s work and schedule of upcoming shows on his blog, Jake Marmer’s Bop Apocalypse. And If you haven’t checked the other kick-ass Jewish poets we’ve profiled this month, read and watch them now – Yael Miriam and Matthue Roth.