Between The Salon And The Dream

Miri Ben-Simhon

“Toward a Poem”, by Miri Ben-Simhon, from “Interested, not Interested” (Tel Aviv: HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 1983), pp. 7-9.

Translated by Mati Shemoelof


I want to write now

But am too anxious to write now,

And that’s all that occurs to me right now.

Meanwhile, in addition to my anxiety is a shameful sense of non-creativity,

That is thus well aware of the banality of what’s written above.

Which brings me immediately to an improvised thought

About my feeling of pity last night

And the beautiful body of my first companion, and the other things

That seem good to me at the moment to dwell upon

And which well serve my desires to escape authentic feeling

That refuse for now to be captured in the clasp of my thought,

Preferring to wallow freely in my gall bladder,

But my gall bladder – an expression taken from my grandmother’s jargon,

Who if she were to see me now would certainly say in a thick Moroccan accent,

‘Miriam, you are in a black humor’, with a penultimate, rhythmic emphasis, in a knowing tone,

Although according to life’s experiences that repeat themselves, and

obviously include

The total schematic of human feelings of joy, sadness, insult and ‘black


Rather than from a deep understanding of the complex of associative flutterings Emerging from one another, that rise up against one another,

That jerk about and split apart

Knocking drunkenly

Upon the gates of a cultural institution whose residents control their facial expressions

Whose self-control is locked iron doors

I try to clarify within myself

Other images for my situation

That will be colorless and tasteless like the bile

That will fit internal criteria aspiring to exclusiveness

That will filter out such sooty emotional elements

And will truly place my inner torment

In a place of honor, above my grandmother’s good pots

That emit the smell of couscous

And hot vapor and periodic worry for the regularity of the family’s bowels.

That will set me above the pauses of honor that my grandmother treats like horses

I would give an example of these pauses in time if I could put them into my poem,

Why not, pauses for taking time of the sort that set the world straight about your

great importance,

Pauses that work well on the curiosity of the listener who stands


Unoccupied with other wishes for the things yet to come,

The sort that give greater than expected significance to your words

And turn them into a kind of precious commodity for which people stand in line

With a tin container

To receive for free.

My grandmother, she has a natural sense, free of modern psychological jargon, for others

And the bubble of air within her sensory water level

The laws of physics along with children’s giggling, floating soap bubbles of my childhood

Free of threatening numbers

And somewhat complimentary to the sensory capacity to determine milimetric precision

With only the naked eye.

But I am too anxious to write now

I want onions and garlic now,

Weaving flowers on my grandmother’s walking stick

What does she have in the parlor

What do I have in the dream.

I chose to etch out an interpretive step that would epitomize the new poetical modes, on the one hand and the engagement in identity and social existence questions, on the other hand, present in the poetry of Miry Ben-Simchon. The poem to which the proposed reading will be applied is “Towards a poem” (“Likr’at Shir), published in her first book, “Interested Not Interested” (Me’unyenet L’o Meunye’net) (Ben Simchon, 1983). I will endeavor to pause for a while over the text, and consider the symbolic struggle between two speakers that it contains. Paraphrasing Frederic Jameson, I will contend that the associative structure I put forth in my reading, strives towards providing insights of resolving the complex relationship between text ad contexts. Jameson determines that this relationship is not one of mirror images, but intricate and complex: “The text creates its context, marks it and produces it, and at the same time shrinks from it as soon as it proposes a change, as a solution to the contradictions in the context in which the text is made” (Jameson, 2004).

The fusing of the different elements in the reasoning and creative writing of her poetry, along with the utilization of the epistolary mode of free association insinuate a symbolic demolition of the representations of culture and language as “high”.  This is partially an echo of the revolutions of the 1960’s, and the decision to break down cultural hierarchies and to bring the questions of identity “back” into cultural history. The associative poetical structure challenges the hegemonic “metaphysical” wording, detached from specific time and place – a wording in which poetics in Israel was fixated since the 1960’s – and in a composite move, it brings questions of ethnicity and feminism back into poetry.


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