Kaddish (poem)

Kaddish (poem)

Kaddish is a poem by Beat writer Allen Ginsberg about the death of his mother Naomi in 1956. After her death, a rabbi would not allow the traditional Kaddish to be read with Ginsberg's Christian and Atheist friends, so he rebelled and wrote a kaddish of his own. It was begun in the Beat Hotel in Paris in December 1957, completed in New York in 1959, and published by City Lights Books in 1961 as the lead in the collection Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-1960 . It is often considered one of Ginsberg's finest poems, and some scholars hold that it is his best .

The title Kaddish refers to the mourning prayer or blessing in Judaism. This long poem was Ginsberg's attempt to mourn his mother, Naomi, but also reflects his sense of loss at his estrangement from his born religion. The traditional Kaddish contains no references to death, whereas Ginsberg's poem is riddled with thoughts and questionings of death.

Ginsberg wrote a screenplay based on the poem. Robert Frank was to direct it, but money could not be raised for the project. In 1972, Robert Kalfin readapted the screenplay for the stage and produced it at the Chelsea Theater Center in the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The play explored Naomi Ginsberg's schizophrenic collapse and made use of innovative video for flashback scenes. There is a detailed description of this production and of behind-the-scenes incidents surrounding it in Davi Napoleon's chronicle of the Chelsea, Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater. It was also staged in the Habima theater in Israel, translated by Nathan Zach and starring Yoram Khatav as Allen and Gila Almagor as Naomi.


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