Reading From the Dream, Carol Rose’s most recent collection of poetry, led me to my bookshelf, where her first collection, Behind the Blue Gate, was safely stored. This shelf is home to books that have particularly impressed me, and which I may want to read again, as well as those that have been written by friends. Rose’s falls into both groups, and From the Dream will soon be joining its older sister.
In looking back at Behind the Blue Gate (Beach Holme Publishing, 1997), I not only enjoyed it on its own merit, but enjoyed comparing its themes and style with From the Dream (Albion-Andalus Inc., 2013). While both collections were obviously written by the same intelligent and caring person, the effects of time and experience were evident, and there is a difference in tone: the latter seems more accepting of the way of the world. My first thought was that, perhaps having grandchildren – which Rose now does aplenty – required a person to be more optimistic.
“I am not sure if it is about being a grandparent, or about living longer and suffering the losses and demise that come with age while, at the same time, learning to treasure what we have at this very moment (including partners, children, grandchildren and friends). From the Dream seems to investigate these ideas, even the humorous poems,” said Rose in an email interview, giving as an example the poem “singin like he used to,” about attending a Bob Dylan concert as an older person, which “has us reluctantly ‘aging before our very eyes,’ while still being able to laugh at the life we are blessed to continue living.”
She agreed that the poems in From the Dream are less confrontational or cynical than those in Behind the Blue Gate. “Particularly,” she noted, “when it comes to poems about women in the Bible or women in Judaism.”
Rose was quite involved in the Jewish feminist movement (from the early 1970s) and, she said, “I think that my writing was driven by a desire to create a new myth or a new narrative, or perhaps a more inclusive midrash.
“Just as there were women who were lobbying for political change, or women who were trying to create new rituals – and I was part of that effort, as well – there were also many women who were trying to create woman-centred interpretations of biblical teachings. We realized that women had only heard about biblical matriarchs (or even about Lilith) through the teachings of their rabbis or preachers. I wondered (along with many others, in various faith communities) what would happen if women began telling these same stories – but from their own point of view. To that end, I wrote some midrashic poems, including some that can be found in ‘The Crones’ section of Behind the Blue Gate.
“In those years, I was not only reading and studying the material, I was teaching and running workshops on women and spirituality, so it was very ‘alive’ in my thinking. I am not teaching that material as much, now, and there are certainly wonderful contemporary midrashic materials (by and about women) that have appeared in the last 15-20 years, so I no longer feel that same urgency.
“What I feel most drawn to, these days,” she said, “are women’s rituals, women’s dreams, women’s experience of the Holy, the angelic, and women’s encounters with Mystery – in nature, and in the lives of their family and friends. From the Dream, especially the section called ‘Shivering in the Silence,’ explores some of these ideas.”
From the Dream includes work from the mid-1990s through to recent years. When asked about the process for deciding what was to be included, Rose said, “As you know, it can take many years for a collection of poems to become a book. In the selection, many individual poems are left behind. As the new work began to emerge, I noticed that several of the earlier poems were still very much alive. From the Dream plucked them up and wove them into its theme of memory and loss. My friend, poet Di Brandt, once said that we are ‘always writing the same poem.’ I don’t know that I agree with her entirely, but I do believe that we strive to write ourselves out of pain and uncertainty, and that some of the earlier poems seemed to help me understand what it was that I was still wrestling with.”
The idea of “wrestling” in this context brings to mind Jacob’s struggle with God, and many of the poems in both From the Dream and Behind the Blue Gate are inspired by Jewish texts and beliefs, in which Rose is steeped. But her work is by no means parochial, and reflects a broad understanding of and empathy for humanity, beyond the religious, geographic, relational and other boundaries by which we separate ourselves from each other.
Born in New York City, Rose has lived in various places, and currently divides her time between Winnipeg, St. Louis and Jerusalem. Among her academic credentials are a bachelor’s in religious studies from the University of Manitoba and a master’s in theology from the University of Winnipeg, as well as graduate work in cross-cultural and international education. For several years, she has taught imagery and, according to her bio, “she also uses imagery work in a private counseling practice she shares with her husband, Dr. Neal Rose,” who also happens to be a rabbi.
“In terms of spirituality,” she told the Independent, “I suppose I would say that my frame is Jewish mysticism, that I believe that the world was created out of the word (or words); that we are part of ongoing revelation, believing that we can receive or grasp truth (sometimes with the help of a presence, a friend, an angel or a loved one); that we are loved and capable of loving; that the dead live on, that their presence (in our memory or awareness) urges us to live justly; that the created world is a gift, that we take only what we need and that we respect the cycles of time, celebrate the Sabbath, eat permitted food with awareness, offer thanksgiving, extend our hands and hearts to others. I think both books convey these sentiments.”
She explained imagery work as “similar to what we have come to know as ‘visualization,’ though my teacher (psychologist and wise woman Colette Aboulker-Muscat) preferred to call it ‘imagery’ because she believed that we can access information through any of our senses.
“When the mind is brought to stillness, through a brief breathing exercise and a directed intention (know as kavanah), we can gain a deeper connection to intuition and/or inspirational thinking. Clearly, as a writer, quieting the mind and sitting in stillness is a useful technique. But imagery work is much more complex; it is a system based on liturgical, biblical and mystical teachings that can help us contact our innermost thoughts and feelings. Using this technique can offer us healing, increased creativity and a sense of wholeness. I generally teach this method in small groups, on retreats, or as a spiritual director, with individuals of all faiths.”
In addition to being a teacher and a multiple-award-winning writer whose poetry and essays have been published in several journals and anthologies, Rose is also an editor. She knows well the power and weakness of words, and even deals with them explicitly in her work, such as in the poem “etching images,” which forms part of the “Shivering in the Silence,” section of From the Dream.
“Ah, the limitations of language,” she acknowledged. “Yes, this is a constant tug of war! How to express what one sees, senses, feels or understands? How, especially, in those moments of enormous insight, or of injustice and deep suffering, or of great love and amazing beauty? (Is it any wonder that some midrashim describe Moses as a ‘stutterer’ or a man ‘slow of speech’?) How can words capture numinous experiences? And yet, for the poet this becomes the challenge.
“Certainly, the closer we come to describing what we think, feel, understand or experience, the better we are able to communicate with others – the closer we come to the medieval notion of what it means to be human: m’daber, the one who speaks.”