Ethical Society Hosts Interfaith Poetry Reading

Six poets of Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths read their work on Saturday.

On Saturday night, a crowd of all ages and various faiths gathered in the auditorium at the for

Six poets of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths read their original work, while Rabbi James Stone Goodman performed with his band.

"These poets are similar. They're focused on being reverent with each other's traditions," said Howard Schwartz, one of the poets and an event organizer. "The whole point of this reading is to show respect for other religions."

Kathy Kammien, the membership and program director at the Ethical Society, welcomed the crowd.

"May the humanity within every human being be held more precious," she said.

Christian poet John Knoepfle, a former professor at Saint Louis University, was the first one to read. One of his poems was called "Prayer Against Famine."

"I recited it at a radio station in Belfast during the peace accords," he said.

Zeeshan Pathan, a recent graduate of Washington University, was next. His poetry was short and lyrical.

"I like to bring out the music," he said.

Jewish poet Schwartz, a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, followed. His work had a lot of roots in Jewish mythology and history.

"I've done books of Jewish folktales and mythology," he said.

There was a brief intermission that featured the books of some of the poets for sale in the lobby and the performance by Goodman, who serves Congregation Neve Shalom in Creve Coeur.

After the break, Father Ralph Wright, a monk at St. Louis Abbey and teacher at St. Louis Priory School, shared his poetry with the audience. His poetry did reflect religion, but a lot of it covered topics in nature, including freezing rain.

"I came from England 40 years ago to St. Louis," he said. "When I first saw freezing rain, it just took my breath away."

Up next was Muslim poet Fatemeh Keshavarz, who is a professor at Washington University. Her poetry, like most of the others, crossed a variety of subjects, including religion, science and art.

"For a time, I was obsessed with (Salvador) Dalí," she said of her inspiration for the poem "The Heartbeat."

Jewish poet Michael Castro, a professor at Lindenwood University, was the last one to read. His poems seemed to focus on history.

"'Golden Age' refers to a time (about 1,000 years ago) when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in harmony," he said.

After Castro finished, Kammien came back on stage to wrap up the event.

"That was wonderful. I really enjoyed it," she said.

Other audience members were in agreement.

"It's a nice cross section of topics, and there's also a range within each poet's writing," said Linda Kullah.

"I like that they're using down-to-earth metaphors instead of abstractions," said John Knoll.

The poets were pleased with the night as well.

"It was an eye-opener," said Wright. "As a monk, I don't get the opportunity to listen to other poets very often."

The poets also seemed eager to participate in future events. Castro, Keshavarz and Schwartz are putting together a group called Poets for Interfaith Living (which does not yet have a website). Keshavarz and Schwartz met at a poetry reading last December.

"We said, 'Why don't we do this more, and make it a cross-cultural exchange?'" said Keshavarz of their reasoning behind forming the group and having this poetry reading.


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