2: Poem excerpt, Samuel Roth’s “Kol Nidre,” 1918.
Samuel Roth (1894-1974) is most famous as a disreputable publisher and plaintiff in the Roth v. United States (1957) Supreme Court ruling on freedom of sexual expression. In his early years, he was an editor, poet, and bookseller, writing alongside and publishing poets such as Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky. His poem “Kol Nidre,” appeared in Poetry, the prestigious modern journal edited by Harriet Monroe. It is about the experience of hearing the Kol Nidre prayer and the series of associations the poet experiences, including a sense of communal guilt and despair.
Suggested Activity: Ask your students to rewrite the questions Roth asks about Kol Nidre in this stanza in their own words. What are the existential or theological concerns that Kol Nidre produces for Roth? Then, invite your students to compose their own poem that consists of a series of questions in response to Kol Nidre. They can model it on Roth’s stanza, using some of the same sentence constructions if they wish.
Ask your students how interpreting the prayer through questions rather than statements shapes their experience of the prayer itself.
Source: Samuel Roth, “Kol Nidre,” Poetry, June 1918, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?volume=12&issue=3....