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.