The cause of my death: too many love songs
Come with me, but don’t give me your hand
On our right there is Beirut
On our left there is Cairo
Behind us -Amman
In front us – Ramallah
And where are we?
And now give me your hand and let’s travel far away from Hebrew poetry.
This poem was first published on the Levant Notebook (It will appear in my fourth fortcomning poetry book).
Listen to me reading another poem in Hebrew
In the U.S., there is a wonderful tradition. Each year, the administration chooses a poet laureate, whose main job is to bring poetry closer to the hearts of the American people. He or she receives a salary and even an office in the Library of Congress.
The Israeli Poets’ Association was established in 2011, and seeks to bring Hebrew poetry to the broader public. In 2012, the association began collecting signatures on a petition to make Hebrew poetry a central subject of study during the coming school year. This step could lead to an understanding of the central role poetry and culture play in our society. We must not abandon culture to market forces. Rather, we must be proactive in promoting it, as do our counterparts in the West.
As part of the call by poets to declare this the Year of Israeli Poetry, they wrote: “Poetry is a valuable and essential cultural treasure … by way of this initiative, it will be possible to deepen and diversify the exposure of youth and students in the State of Israel to their national poetry, including educational activities that are not necessarily the standard classroom fare.”
The call for a Year of Israeli Poetry is intended to restore this forgotten art form to the center of our public life. It will help give us access to new voices in the culture. Poetry was the spearhead of Israel’s multicultural pioneer society a century ago, and rose again during the social protests of 2011. Those who had their finger on the pulse of newly formed poetry groups, nascent journals and evenings of song and poetry on the outskirts of cities, had an inkling of what was to come. Poetry is the wellspring of imagination in Israeli society.
The Israeli education system’s teaching of poetry is anachronistic and abbreviated. Students are required to memorize poems by old-time national poets, but are rarely exposed to young, subversive and lively practitioners of the art. As a writing workshop instructor, I know how to teach poetry and turn it into a real tool for social change. The initiative to spotlight poetry will require that the Education Ministry bring poets into all schools, to read their poems in new ways in light of students’ experiences.
In the family of nations, Israel is judged through its culture. Each year we wait to see if any Israeli films have been nominated for the Oscars. Poets themselves must stop being so arcane and reclaim their place as primary constructors of culture. The Poets‘ Association proposal for a Year of Israeli Poetry will supplement the few existing tools that currently expose Israelis to poetry, such as the Sapir Prize for Poetry, the recently passed Poetry Law, annual subsidies for poets and the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry.
Today, poetry in Israel is at a nadir. Publishers almost never take on poetry manuscripts, due to their almost negligible commercial value. But the understanding and knowledge to be gained from poetry are immense, and many artists continue to publish their works independently, via the Internet, using new platforms such as Indibook and social networks.
Let us revive this country’s commitment to culture, citizenship and our spiritual patrimony. The Education Ministry must seriously address the new initiative by the Poets’ Association, as part of a variety of actions that will resuscitate poetry in Israeli society.
Ballad of the Middle of the Twenty First Century
(with thanks to Serge Gainsbourg and Danny Blair Shwed Jones Grossman for the inspiration)
I peek at her white body and at that other one standing beside her,
her body shrivels from him, and her spirit sings a gentle song versed by her fancy.
So, the Botticelli painting stands in my bathroom
the orange with the black stains of mold.
Her colors don’t fade,
the light shatters on her body,
only her clothes shrivel
and get wet on the old floor tiles.
I look at her and him from afar
like a grownup peeking into his childhood,
and my mind captures photos with a rare camera
that you can’t buy
despite all the advanced technology of the age.
The bathroom colors the painting
with wet orange, and that other one cowers from the holy
water, under the mold.
On the walls little angels and fairies,
dance around her only.
After washing her hair,
she’s busy drying
while that other one
chews the fat
with her shadow.
The smell of her hair knocks me down from the peeking stance,
that other comes right over to see where the racket came from
and then right in front of my eyes, from my hiding place,
his goat’s feet come into view with the terrible smell.
The movements of her towel are so gentle,
that the bathtub itself wants to get up and make love to her
without penetration, just a sequence of touch after touch
stringing together a pleasantperverse feeling.
I look at her white body and at that other one standing next to her
I get hard from her and from him.
And this is the angel of death
that is competing with me for her love
and I have no way to beat him
but to die at her feet
for her to come to me
and my arms to be weaved into hers.
This poem was published first on Scar Minimizer (Tel-Aviv: Gwanim Publishers, 2001) and then on “Märchenland: Die beteiligten Autoren setzten sich mit den Märchen der Gebrüder Grimm auseinander, brachten ihre prosaische Form auf eine lyrische Ebene und begaben sich in die mitunter ambivalenten Bereiche des kulturellen Gedächtnisses in Deutschland und Israel.”