Poet Philip Terman describes himself as "an assimilated Jew who is very much interested in Judaism."
That interest — some might call it a fascination — plays out in his 2011 collection of poetry, "The Torah Garden" (Autumn House Press, $14.95), which explores the "tension and connection" between the garden — representing the earth — and the Torah, Judaism's most important text.
"There's all that learning with the Jewish tradition, a lot of rituals related to that, but also with the garden," said Terman, who lives with his wife and two daughters in rural Pennsylvania.
Terman will read from and discuss "The Torah Garden" on Thursday evening at the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.
He began writing poetry as a very young child, and his Jewish faith and love of language have been intertwined from the beginning.
"The Torah Garden" explores those connections in perhaps unexpected ways. Several poems explore the death of his brother, David, a cellular biologist who was struck by a car and killed while out running one day. Several of his organs were transplanted into other people, creating a tension between one Jewish law, which forbids "desecration" of the human body, and a conflicting law that says if a life is in danger, you must save it.
Here you are again, brother,
right in front of me, the most
essential part of you, your heart,
now carried by a sixty-six-year old grand-
mother grateful for your death,
I would say, but it would be wrong,
she even apologized, though
unnecessarily, that for her to live,
you had to die...
He also writes to the woman responsible for David's death:
...at first I didn't want to know
your name, the color of your eyes,
because I can never know who you were
before this event entered our lives, this
accident, how you turned a corner
at the light and a life was stopped,
as it will stop forever, this death
you will have to live with.
The poems in the book also explore other aspects of Judaism. Terman has made two trips to Israel, one when he was 19 and the other, with his mother, in the mid 1990s.
"Israel is such an essential part of Judaism, of course, and the idea of being in the source of some ways, in that actual place, expanded me," he said.
"I don't know if it changed me as much as expanded me, the sacredness and spirituality of being there."
Israel also is "complicated, political, spiritual. You're drawn to it. It's like a lovers' quarrel. It's something you celebrate, also something you criticize."
As poet — he also teaches creative writing, American and Jewish literature, Kafka and modern Jewish literature at Clarion University — Terman revels in conflict.
"Poets are conflicted about a lot of things," he said, "at least we try to see the complexity in a lot of things."
Poet Philip Terman will read from and discuss his 2011 book of poetry, “The Torah Garden,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, 580 McIntosh Road, Sarasota. Tickets are $5. 371-4546, Ext. 107.