Short Hills resident, insurance executive, and award-winning writer Peter Waldor sometimes fantasizes about being a poet from the T’ang Dynasty in China — perhaps a peer to one of the great masters like Li Bai or Du Fu.
But, alas, a Jew born in the mid-20th century, he settles for an alter ego he calls Wu Xing — a sage from that period who happens to write poetry — especially when he’s in Telluride in Colorado, a favorite vacation spot for Waldor.
Waldor channels his doppelganger in The Wilderness Poetry of Wu Xing, published in June by Pinyon Publishing. The poems draw on the wisdom and culture of the T’ang period, but also, inescapably, from the experiences and Jewish identity of Peter Waldor.
Much of the book, he said recently, “is very much inspired by the hasidic masters and their return to the natural world. There’s a great story about a hasidic master chasing a fallen leaf blown by the wind through the field, and all of his disciples follow, and he reminds them that God is everywhere in nature’s beauty.”
As a result, a poem from the volume, “A Rumor about Master Do Sa,” appears to be about Wu Xing’s mentor. But, according to Waldor, it is actually about Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz, the Holy Seer of Lublin (see sidebar).
“Is it a coincidence that Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak was rumored to have the same ability as Do Sa, to look into people?” asked Waldor. “If I had simply written this about Yaakov Yitzhak, it would be boring. This way, if the poem succeeds, it’s transformed and given a new context.”
Asked about the unusual confluence of Chinese and Jewish influences, Waldor replied, “I can’t escape the Jewish essence of my nature, nor would I want to, but I have interest in other things.”
Born in Newark and raised in South Orange, Waldor is the son of Rita and the late Jerry Waldor, major benefactors of the Greater MetroWest Jewish community. Peter Waldor earned a BA from Tufts University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Following his father into the insurance field, Waldor joined the exclusive club of poets/insurance executives that includes no less than modern American poet Wallace Stevens.
In a second collection also published in June, Who Touches Everything (Settlement House), the Jewish content is much closer to the surface. It includes “Cup,” with its obvious references to the yahrtzeit candles so often recycled into breakfast orange juice glasses.
That volume, steeped in images of childhood, came out of Waldor’s experience watching his wife nurse their third child. (Their children are now seven, 12, and 15.) “There’s nothing like the holiness of the mother-baby relationship,” he said. “I was just in awe.”
He originally titled the volume Gemilut Hasadim (literally, acts of loving-kindness). “People usually think of ‘gemilut hasadim’ as charitable acts or helping strangers and things like that. But I also think of it as the love a parent shows a child,” he said.