ovember is poetry month in Teaneck.
That is to say, the November brothers, poets both, are in town.
Yehoshua November, whose second book of poetry, “Two Worlds Exist,” was published earlier this month by Orison Books and who had a poem published in the New York Times magazine on October 19, lives in Teaneck.
We wrote about him back in 2013.
So this article is about his older brother Baruch — also a poet.
Baruch November does not live in New Jersey — he lives across the George Washington Bridge in Washington Heights — but he will be appearing with his brother for a poetry reading next Friday night.
Baruch, 40, has published one book of poems, “Dry Nectars of Plenty,” and teaches creative writing and literature at Touro College’s New York School of Career and Applied Sciences.
How did he become a poet?
“My father always encouraged us to read, to really read. Eventually that led us to poetry,” he said. “My mom says that she has a poem of mine from kindergarten where I wrote about a chicken. I have yet to see it. She can’t seem to find it.
“I started taking it seriously when I went to Binghamton University,” he continued. “Writing poetry was like nothing else. In all other academic tracks, they make you follow the footsteps of others. In poetry you can make your own footsteps, go your own way.”
After college, he studied in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. “My teachers there were quality guides to poetry,” he said. “That was really a place where I could thrive. A very sort of open place where people could try out different types of poetry and see what happens.”
His poetry then was more abstract than his work is now, he added. “I was writing more out of instinct. Sometimes I wish I could still write like I did then. Now I write with more of a narrative slant. The narrative allows me to communicate more directly with the reader. You’re trying to claw your way to a good poem and you’ll do anything you can to get it.
“A writer is building either a memorial or a bridge: a memorial to him or herself, or a bridge to the reader. I’m into bridge making now. I want to be understood. I don’t necessarily need a memorial to myself,” he said.
After finishing his MFA, he began teaching at Touro — a job he enjoys. He teaches two composition courses, a class on Shakespeare, and an introduction to poetry. “It’s not strictly a Jewish campus,” he said of the Touro school where he teaches. “I really like it because it’s a challenge to bring everyone together.”
He uses poetry by writers such as Primo Levi and Langston Hughes “to show the similarities between different cultures. It’s a useful tool.”
He finds many of his students intimidated by poems they don’t appreciate.
“They sometimes feel they don’t have the right to dislike some poem because it’s over their heads. When they discover in my class how poetry can have narrative and be clear, it liberates them to write.”
He has been teaching for 12 years. For the past few years, he has been confident enough about his skill as teacher to be able to devote his summers to writing poetry. He uses the spare time he can carve out during the year to reading poetry. “That sort of ferments into my own desire to write,” he said. “It helps to have a large cistern to feed me. It helps to have built up inspiration.
“Right now I have a lot of poems so I’m working on putting together a book. My brother really helps me. He’s really good at organizing books. He has more of an instinct for it.
“I’m working on a couple series of poems,” Mr. November said. “One is a series that takes place in the dream world. It’s about 35 poems. Another series, almost finished, is about beards. It explores Jewish and all kinds of aspects of beards. It talks about how kabbalistically beards represent the 13 divine attributes of compassion. It’s about 16 poems.
“Kabbalah lends itself well to poetics because it has a lot of metaphors to it, and mystery also. It really highlights the minutia of life and shows how those little things are important. That’s what poetry does: It puts a microscope over life and highlights it.
“And then there are a lot of poems that don’t have a theme as much. I have to figure out how they all work together.”
Who does he see as his audience?
“I sometimes feel like I’m writing for the wife I haven’t met yet,” he said. “Different women have inspired me, but I’m not married, so most of the inspiration I’ve had from the dating life is short-lived. I do write about some of my experience in the dating world — I try not to make it too personal.”
He said “there’s a misconception that poetry is isolated. Poetry is really everywhere. You find it in advertising, even in novels. You have prose poetry which can look a lot like an article. The lines are not very clear.
“Maybe if poets could make as much money as novelists do, a lot of the people who write fiction might be writing poetry.”
Who: Yehoshua and Baruch November
What: A night of poetry presented by Congregation Shaare Tefillah
Where: 510 Claremont Avenue,
When: Friday night, November 17,
How much: Free