Poetry as a Journey: A Guide for a Poetry-Themed Seder

March 17, 2019

Each Passover seder is a unique experience, weaving together generations of ancient traditions with new concepts and rituals. We curate the food we eat, the stories we tell, and the items on our seder plate into an experience that reflects our present day selves. For this Passover season, Kolbo is excited to present a series of four themed seder guides to help you create a meaningful seder with an interesting twist. We encourage you to use these guides to make your own seder that reflects who you are. This week, we’re proud to present a Guide for a Poetry-Themed Seder.

No task is ever completed,
only abandoned or pressed into use.
Tinkering can be a form of prayer.


Twenty-six botched worlds preceded
Genesis we are told in ancient commentary,
and ha-Shem said not only


of this particular attempt,
It is good, but muttered,
if only it will hold.
-from "The Task Never Completed"
by Marge Piercy


A Seder is not a single night or meal; it is a journey starting the moment you put your pen to a page to plan the songs you will sing, the passages you will read, and the dishes you will serve. As this journey of planning and writing begins, you are invited to stop, breathe deeply, and gaze onto the trail before you. In this coming Passover season, what traditions or rituals might you bring to the table that will engage and involve  your friends and family? How can the minds and spirits of your guests contribute to a profound and meaningful Seder experience? Adding poems to accentuate and highlight key passages and moments throughout the Seder is one way that is both simple and substantial.

When planning a poetry Seder, or indeed any themed Seder, that theme becomes a roadmap to guide your journey. Your theme brings cohesion to your service and simplifies the task of choosing and planning content. To this end, we offer three guiding questions to consider:

  1. How many poems will you use? Poetry itself is a precise form of writing, one in which each word you choose is of utmost importance. As you craft your poetry Seder, it is good to choose poems that will most effectively convey the stories and emotions of your shared experience. For guests who are interested and invested in a longer service, a poem may be read before each part of the Seder. For Seders with children, consider poems that will be developmentally appropriate. Draw from other related themes and encourage conversations that are tied to the various parts of the Seder. 
  2. What is the tone of Seder? Poetry is an incredibly diverse genre in tone and form. Whether you are asking others to choose poems or selecting them  yourself, consider the tone and experience you seek to create. Think of tone as a sort of invisible, yet undeniable energy in a piecetone is not just what the poet meant to convey in their work, but the actual effect that the work has on the reader and the listeners. Poems by Marge Piercy, Shel Silverstein, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, among others all have profoundly different tones. Adding a variety of voices and a specific tone to your Seder can lead to incredible outcomes.
  3. Who will choose the poems? Walking down a road with good company is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Sharing the creation of your Seder, and allowing others to partake in the journey, can both help to relieve the stress of planning and invite your guests to take an active role in the Seder itself. When asking guests to bring poems, consider when and how to include them during the service.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
-from “To Be Of Use”

by Marge Piercy

Passover is a remarkable holiday, one of remembrance and ritual, metaphor and meaning. The Seder, then, is the vessel by which we carry the meaning of the holiday. To craft and host a Seder is a great challenge and a great responsibility. The Seder takes on a shape that satisfies the soul and amplifies the sacred meaning of Passover. Incorporating poetry into these holy nights can give us an ability to bring ourselves fully to the table, with words that reach deep into our souls. The more present we are, the more engaged and included we feel and make others feel, and the more we can allow the spirit and message of the Exodus story to be transformative.

Did you enjoy this seder guide? Tune in March 29th for a guide to running a Multifaith Seder. In the meantime, shop the gallery or follow us on Facebook or Instagram for great new content.

You can find the poems sampled in this article in The Art of Blessing the Day by Marge Piercy.

Ben Chason-Sokol is Kolbo’s Digital Marketing Coordinator. When he’s not at the gallery reviewing spreadsheets, emails, or layout design, he runs a game design blog and puts photos of his cat Ashira on Instagram. He’s a fan of the AP Style Guide, the Oxford Comma, and memes.


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