Yetzirah 2024 Jewish Poetry Conference
- Conference Overview
- Generative Workshops
- Application Timeline
- Application Categories: Contributors, Scholars, & Fellows
- Submitting Your Application
- COVID Policies
- Frequently Asked Questions
CONFERENCE OVERVIEW (back to top)
Yetzirah’s second Jewish Poetry Conference will be held July 1-7, 2024, in the mountains of Western North Carolina, in partnership with the University of North Carolina—Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies. Our time together will consist of a mix of generative workshops focused around Jewish questions and themes, discussion panels, craft talks, readings with Faculty and our Fellows, Scholars, and Contributors, as well as many shared meals and celebrations.
It is our aim that the conference will function as an egalitarian community, supporting writers at all levels of their careers. To this end:
- All workshops will be generative, allowing writers of different experience to share the same creative space
- To keep this gathering both intimate and manageable, all interested participants will be required to apply, and the number of participants will be limited to 36:
- CONTRIBUTORS—15 open opportunities, for poets with some history of publication
- SCHOLARS—9 poets earlier in their careers, who’ve published up to one full-length collection (the funding for Scholars covers tuition)
- FELLOWS—12 poets who’ve published at least two full-length collections (the funding for Fellows covers tuition, room, & board)
- Eleanor Wilner will offer a keynote address and give a featured reading and interview.
- Alicia Ostriker will offer a limited number of manuscript evaluations.
- Rodger Kamenetz will offer morning gratitude practices and a limited number of manuscript evaluations (more details on this TBA).
- Afternoon events and evening readings will be open to the community and welcoming to poetry lovers of all traditions, offering an opportunity for local residents to hear work from some of the prominent Jewish poets of our time.
- These readings will also be livestreamed and recorded.
While our inaugural cohort of 36 was certainly more than enough (dayenu!), for this second conference we’re booking a discounted block of rooms at the Four Points by Sheraton in downtown Asheville, which will be for additional poets and poetry lovers of all traditions interested in joining us for our public talks, readings, and Shabbat services on Friday and Saturday, and have a conference events pass available for purchase.
If you will not be applying to join us on-campus and are only interested in attending the public conference events, you can book your room here for duration of the conference or for select days. If you do so, please email Danny Kraft, [email protected], to help us better ascertain if we need to reserve more rooms. Thanks!
Find a provisional schedule here.
GENERATIVE WORKSHOPS (back to top)
Our generative workshops will be led by Dan Bellm, Jessica Greenbaum, and Dana Levin. Participants will be divided into three workshop cohorts, which will attend a different class each day of the conference, allowing participants to work with all three of our faculty.
DAN BELLM: OLD AND NEW: POETRY AND MIDRASH
I’m a man with none of the answers and all of the questions.—Yehuda Amichai
Don’t translate what I said, but what I meant to say.—Jorge Luis Borges
Midrash is an ancient form of Biblical interpretation, imaginatively explaining or expanding a sacred text beyond its apparent or literal meaning. Like poetry, midrash thrives on anomaly, ambiguity, the play of words. In modern usage, midrash refers to the practice of making meaning from the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and other Biblical texts: we re-imagine familiar stories, we contemplate their strangeness, we tell the untold parts. Which was created first, for example: heaven or earth? (The first two chapters of Genesis appear to contradict each other on this point.) Why does the Torah begin with the second letter of the alphabet (bet), and not the first (aleph)? Where is Sarah in the story of Abraham’s binding of their son Isaac? (There is no mention of her at all.)
In this workshop we’ll try our hand at developing and writing our own midrashim— commentaries, interpretations, legends—in response to a portion of the Torah. We’ll study a few Biblical passages, look at how other writers (ancient and modern) have responded to these texts, and ask midrashic questions of our own. Our aim will be to write freely, adventurously, getting the start of something new, or rather, something old-and-new.
JESSICA GREENBAUM: Synchronized, and Watching: A Jewish Ethos of Writing about the Earth
This generative workshop recognizes our fundamental partnership, through Jewish values, with poems about nature. Beginning with Torah’s instruction to “Turn it, and turn it again” we locate that shared Jewish/poetic scrim of close observation within the earth’s turning orbit. We will look at the living armature of havdalah—the power of separation in poems and in nature—and Pirke Avot’s urgent encouragement, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it,” which speaks to the exigency of responding to our frightening, flooding, drought- and fire-filled time. How might these ancient teachings deepen our experience of Judaism, of reading and writing—and of nature?
DANA LEVIN: Raising Sparks: Breaking, Finding, Gathering, Mending Poems
In the sixteenth century, Rabbi Isaac Luria transformed Kabbalistic teaching by extolling the necessity of “raising sparks”: nitzotzot, the lit shards from the broken vessels of the Tree of Life, which shattered when the light of I AM lasered through them to ignite Creation (the vessels couldn’t withstand the pure power of God’s presence; leave it to Jews to view the world as a work-place accident!) Luria taught that holy sparks adhered, hidden, to everything; a person’s primary task was to find the hidden sparks in self and world and raise them back up to God: tikkun, the act of mending. In this workshop, we’ll look at poems by Louise Glück, Paul Celan, and Arthur Sze as exemplars of breaking and mending, of gathering shards, finding the hidden, and raising sparks—then, we’ll begin to do this re/generative work ourselves.
ELIGIBILITY (back to top)
Regardless of your religious practice or lack thereof, of whether you think of yourself or your writing as “Jewish enough,” applications are open to anyone who self-identifies as a Jewish poet and feels that such a gathering would be meaningful to them and to their poetry. In addition, we require the following:
- All applicants must be 21 years of age or older by the start of the Conference in July 2024
- To cultivate community, all applicants will be required to stay on campus (though apartments will be shared, all rooms will be single-occupancy, with accessible accommodations available)
- We also ask that participants attend all official events, unless their health requires otherwise
- All applicants will need to show proof of COVID vaccination and at least one booster, as well as a negative test taken within 24-hours before the first day of the conference
- All participants will agree to take a COVID test if requested due to possible exposure (tests will be provided). More extensive COVID policies can be found below
- The non-refundable application fee is $20 (this can be waived if this fee is a hardship).
- Fellows receive free tuition, room, & board, which covers breakfasts and lunches and two shared on-campus dinners. They are responsible for their travel and four dinners off-campus.
- Scholars receive free tuition. They are responsible for room & board ($700), which covers breakfasts and lunches and two shared on-campus dinners, travel, and four dinners off-campus.
- Contributors are responsible for tuition ($800), room & board ($700), which covers breakfasts and lunches and two shared on-campus dinners, travel, and four dinners off-campus.
- An in-person pass for all public events will be available for $108.
- If you will not be applying to join us on-campus and are only interested in attending the public conference events, you can book your room here for duration of the conference or for select days ($164/night, for a total of $1,111.92 if you stay July 1-7). If you do so, please email Danny Kraft, [email protected], to help us better ascertain if we need to reserve more rooms.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, up to $5,000 of need-based funds will be available for accepted participants through The Miles and Mimi Coon Scholarship Fund.
APPLICATION TIMELINE (back to top)
February 1, 2024: Application period opens for all prospective participants
*To aid in the ease of our considerations, we ask that you apply as early as possible within the given application window.
For all applicants:
March 1, 2024: Application deadline
April 15, 2024: Notifications sent to all applicants
April 29, 2024: Registration deadline (a deposit of $200 will be due at this time. This will go toward Scholar’s room & board. It will be returned Fellows after the conference.)
*a waitlist of Scholars, Fellows, & Contributors will be created if an opportunity becomes available
**applicants whom we are not able to accommodate as a Scholar or a Fellow will, if they are interested, be considered for a Contributor slot
APPLICATION CATEGORIES: CONTRIBUTORS, SCHOLARS, & FELLOWS (back to top)
Applicants who wish to join the Yetzirah Summer Conference as Contributors should have a deep love of and commitment to poetry and interest in engaging further with its intersections with Jewish culture and tradition. Some record of publication, as well as previous experience attending generative creative writing workshops is recommended but not required.
- Fees: $1,500 tuition, which includes room & board (breakfasts, lunches, and two shared dinners)
Applicants who wish to join the Yetzirah Summer Conference as Scholars may have published up to one full-length collection of poetry.
Competitive applicants will have published, since January 1, 2016, (not including self-published work):
- at least 20 or more individual poems or pages of poetry that appear in at least five literary journals, anthologies, or publications that regularly include poetry as a portion of their format.
- Up to 16 pages of that poetry may be from a single volume of poetry that is fewer than 48 pages (e.g. a chapbook)
We believe people of any age can be an “emerging” poet and welcome writers who fulfill the above requirements, young and old, to apply for this fellowship.
- Fees: $700 for room & board only (funding for Scholars covers the full $800 tuition )
- In addition to waived tuition, each Scholar will be paired with a Conference Fellow to receive mentorship that includes a manuscript evaluation (of no more than 10 pages)
Applicants who wish to join the Yetzirah Summer Conference as established poets should have published at least two full-length collections by a nationally-distributed press and have a strong record of publication.
- Fellows receive free tuition, room, & board. In exchange, fellows will be expected to do no more than two of the following (with individual preferences respected as much as possible):
- Be part of a discussion panel
- Give a craft talk
- Give a subject-based talk
- Act as a mentor for an emerging writer (all formal mentorship will be confined to the duration of the conference, and will include a 5-page manuscript consultation)
- Give a reading
SUBMITTING YOUR APPLICATION (back to top)
- Once you’ve downloaded and completed your application, save the document with the following naming convention:
First Initial Last Name.Type of Applicant.Application
Example file name: JJacobs.Contributor.Application or JJacobs.Fellow.Application
2. Create a 5-page writing sample (12-point font, 1-inch margins) containing no more than one poem per page.
The poems can be published or unpublished. If a poem has been published previously, please indicate the publication details at the top of the page. Poems will be read for their craft, not for their engagement (or lack thereof) with Jewish themes, and the poem’s publication history will count neither for nor against your application.
Save your writing sample with the following naming convention:
First Initial Last Name.Type of Applicant.Sample
Example file name: JJacobs.Contributor.Sample
As we want our conference to be as accessible and welcoming as possible, if this fee would be a hardship for you, we’ve also provided an option for a fee-free submission at the link above. This will, of course, play no part in our consideration of applications.
4. Finally, in a single email, please send your completed application and writing sample as attachments to Danny Kraft, [email protected]
COVID POLICIES & PRACTICES (back to top)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (back to top)
Q: I was a participant at last year’s inaugural conference. Can I still apply?
A: Though this policy will likely change in subsequent years, for now we welcome everyone to apply (or reapply)!
Q: Who will be reading my application?
A: Yetzirah’s Board of Directors will be considering applications, and each application will be read by at least two people.
Q: What factors will be a part of evaluation applications?
A: First and foremost, we’ll be looking at the strength of the writing sample submitted. We will then take into consideration the overall needs and balance of the conference, including mentorship roles, discussion panels, etc.
Q: Do I need to have an MFA to be considered for a fellowship?
Q: If I apply to be a Scholar or a Fellow and am not accepted, can I still apply as a Contributor?
A: On the application form, you can select if you’d also like to be considered as a Contributor. No further application is necessary.
Q: With different types of participants, will the conference feel hierarchical?
A: Though participants will be tasked with different responsibilities, all 36 of our participants will be treated as equal members of our community. As our conference continues, we hope that one year’s Contributor will be the next year’s Scholar; one year’s Scholar, the next year’s Fellow; and so on, creating an experience that supports Jewish poets at all stages of their career.
Q: Can I receive feedback on my application?
A: Unfortunately, because Yetzirah is a small nonprofit with a limited staff, we are unable to provide feedback on individual applications.
Q: Can I apply if I live outside of the U.S.?
A: Yes! We welcome anyone who identifies as a Jewish poet.
Q: What is campus housing like?
A: Yetzirah participants will be housed in one of the newest dorms on campus. Apartments will have between 3-5 participants with shared bathrooms and a kitchen (there will be a refrigerator, but little to no cookware), with all rooms single-occupancy. Bed linens and towels will be provided.
Q: Is UNCA accessible?
A: Accessible housing will be available and all classrooms, event spaces, and common rooms will be wheelchair-accessible. You can visit UNCA’s Office of Academic Accessibility to learn more. And if you have specific concerns or questions, please contact us at [email protected].
Q: Will kosher food be available on campus?
A: Lunches will be held in the Highsmith Union Food Court. Food certified kosher will not be available there but a-la carte vegetarian and vegan meals will always be available. For dinners we provide, we will do our best to honor our participants’ dietary needs. We will be happy to order kosher food delivery on request or to receive others’ kosher food delivery, and will have at least one kashered microwave available.
Q: The conference goes from Tuesday to Sunday. How will Shabbat be observed?
A: All classes and afternoon events will conclude before sundown and all participants will be invited to attend a shared Shabbat dinner. On Saturday, sabbath observances will be based on the practices and needs of our participants. Asheville is home to Chabad-Lubavitch WNC, Congregation Beth Israel, and Congregation Beth HaTephila. For our more secular participants, Saturday will be a day open to explore Asheville and its beautiful surroundings. On Saturday evening, we will all gather back together for a closing Havdalah bonfire.
Q: Can my family join me on campus for the conference?
A: Friends and family are welcome at all events open to the public, which at this point are the evening readings. We are still considering possibly making some afternoon events open to the public. Unfortunately, given the shared apartments available, we are unable to offer on-campus accommodations to anyone other than Conference participants.
Q: I was invited to attend the Conference as a Scholar or Fellow; can I definitely give a reading?
A: Yes! We have create a schedule in which all of our community will have a designated time in which to share their work.
Other questions? Please email Danny Kraft, [email protected].