“Being a Poet is a Spiritual Experience”: Avi Fried on the Art of Poetry

Avi Fried photoAvi Fried ’22SB is studying finance at the Sy Syms School of Business, but he has an unusual minor in creative writing in the English department.

This past semester, he took a poetry class taught by Prof. Barbara Blatner, which afforded him the chance to read his poetry on Sunday, May 23, 2021, as part of the Bloom Readings, a regular reading series of poetry and prose usually held in Washington Heights arranged by a group appropriately called Bloom, of which Prof. Blatner is one of the organizers.

YU News caught up with Avi to discuss poetry, poetry and more poetry. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


What made you join Prof. Blatner’s poetry workshop?

I have been writing poetry pretty consistently my whole life. My creative writing has evolved greatly from my sweet and innocent first-grade Mother’s Day poems. By the time I got to high school, I started to experiment with song lyrics and poetry slam.

After a year of introspection and self-growth at YU, I knew that I wanted more out of my education than just being a finance major.

However, an English minor was not necessarily on my mind until I found out that Yeshiva College was offering a poetry workshop. Taking this class proved to be an impetus for doing the minor, and I am extremely glad I joined this class when I did. Prof. Blatner is an excellent instructor and mentor.

How did you come to be a reader of poetry in the Bloom Readings?

This is a funny story. One day, Prof. Blatner started off our virtual class off by saying that she had reserved a spot in a local poetry reading and asked if anyone was willing to volunteer. The Zoom screens remained muted. After a couple of minutes, Prof. Blatner said, “Ok, anyone who is interested, please email me after class.”

When the next class began, Prof. Blatner told us that only one person had responded to do the poetry reading. I remember vividly one student in the class remarking, “Whoever is confident enough with their poetry that they would be willing to read for 10 minutes in a setting like that, they should be the ones to present.” I felt honored, and this definitely gave me a boost of confidence. After this, everyone in the class applauded me for committing to do the reading.

What was the experience like for you to be in a reading?

It was a little nerve-wracking. However, I had had some experience with poetry readings in high school as well as my short-lived music career. This reading was different, though. The poets I presented with were established and published, and two of them had written books. I knew I had to prepare very well, so I made sure to rehearse for several days before.

Overall, the reading was liberating. It is a big goal of mine to inspire others and to awaken people’s emotions with my poetry. I believe I did that; the audience responded well, and they felt the energy, even in a Zoom setting.

Do you consider yourself a poet? If so, what does that mean?

Absolutely. A poet is someone who chooses to see deep meaning in daily, mundane activities. For me, being a poet is a spiritual experience: to walk around and appreciate everything around me. The flaky brown trees and the shining pink flowers: These are things poets do not take for granted. My religious observance and writing of poetry go hand in hand. The lessons of gratitude and appreciation learned in poetry echo teachings in Chassidus and other teachings from the inner dimension of Torah, L’havdil. King David, Dovid Hamelech, was probably the best poet to grace the earth. In my opinion, Psalms, Tehillim, is the single best poetic work ever created.

What are the kinds of things that inspire you to write poetry?

My biggest inspiration is my grandmother, Savta. I never met Savta, but when she passed, she left behind a collection of poetry for our family that mostly consisted of love poems she had written for my grandfather. Her form, imagery and authenticity had a big influence on my poetry.

Also, poetry is an outlet for me. Although at this stage in my life my writing is mostly a personal endeavor, I hope one day to share my poetry with the world and inspire others. That is the ultimate goal.

Why should people consider poetry an important part of their lives?

Poetry is an outpouring of the soul. It is an emotional release. When a poet writes, latent thoughts and feelings emerge on the paper. Nothing happens by accident. Many people bottle up their feelings; poetry can relieve the tension.

Additionally, in my opinion, poetry, and writing in general, is the optimal mode of communication. When we speak, words come out that we cannot take back. When we write, we can rewrite, revise and even write a piece all over again. I think writing poetry helps people speak more efficiently. Poetry does not allow for extra words. A reader must assume that all words are there for a reason and possess meaning. The natural cuts that poets make when writing poems translate to their speech and help them avoid filler words like “um” or “like.”

What’s the next step in your literary career?

I hope to publish my work one day. My writing is meant for others. Poetry is for relatability and emotional response. The quintessential feedback from a reader is “Oh, I see myself in that poem” or “I understand that. I can feel that.” My dream is to give over these two messages with my poetry.

This year has been transformative in terms of my writing, and it has shown me that I have a lot of potential if I continue to work on my craft. Even though I will not be pursuing a career in poetry, it is something that I will never give up. A poetry collection is in the works!

 

A poem by Avi Fried title "World"