Contemporary Hebrew Poetry


Seaward St  (Photograph © Gili Haimovich)

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We would like to thank Gili Haimovich for editing and commissioning the work that has been featured in this issue.

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THE POETS

Eli Eliahu • Gili Haimovich  • Maya Weinberg  •  Anat Levin • Nadia Adina RoseShulamit Apfel • Oded Peled • Sabina MessegNurit Zarchi                           

The Translators

Vivian Eden • Dara Barnat •  Gili Haimovich • Becka Mara McKay • Yardenne Greenspan • Irit Sela • Linda Stern Zisquit • Lisa Katz •  Aura Hammer • Karen Alkalay-Gut

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Previous Translations

THW 8: December 6, 2017       THW 7: September 10, 2017  

THW6:  June 3, 2017                  THW5: March 7, 2017                

THW4: December 6, 2016       THW3: September 1, 2016     

THW2: June 1, 2016                   THW1: March 1, 2016

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Eli Eliahu: Four Poems translated by Vivian Eden

EVEN FOR JUST ONE NIGHT

You won’t remember anything about tonight.
Not the cradle of my arms
carrying you,
like a voice carries an echo,
not the mute insistence of my legs
pacing the room with a suicide’s
resolve, not the lamplight
resting on your face and not the whispers
of love I cosseted into your ear
until you calmed down and fell asleep.

You won’t remember anything of all this.
But henceforth and for the rest of your
life, you will seek
one soul in the world who will cling to you,
like I am.

Even just for one night.

THE BUNDLE OF LIFE

Shake yourself from the dust, rise
and get dressed in your work clothes,
Father. Pick up your bunch of keys (their
jingle sounds like echoes of distant bells now),
your sandwiches, your small change,
this bundle of life – simple to the
point of sadness. Stand at least
one more time on the threshold
like someone who intends
to come back home
when evening
falls.

AWAKE IN THE DARK

Awake in the dark I sat, gnawing my soul. The deficit
at the bank worried
me, and the words’ defection and the fist of the heart
lurking around the corner to attack.

Above the house the winter implied clouds
and trees whispered
in the wind. Awake in the dark I sat,
like a schoolboy at the blackboard, trembling, empty of an answer.

A LOVE POEM

In the morning, as the cold blade slides
across my throat. Seeing my face of broken glass
I think:

What if they announce on the radio that I am missing
ask for the public’s help say that
I was last seen
on such and such a street helpless hallucinating.

“Like a flower blowing in the wind,” they’ll say, “like an insect
turned on its back.”

My absence,
I assume, won’t change anything in the world

but you’re the reason I’m shaving. You’re the only reason
I get up at all.

Eli Eliahu majored in Jewish philosophy and Hebrew literature. He Works at Haaretz daily newspaper as a copy-editor and a reviewer of poetry and culture. He published two books: I, and not an angel (Helicon, 2008), which was awarded the Education and culture ministry prize for debut books, and City and Fears (Am Oved, 2012). In 2013 he was awarded the Matanel price for Jewish poet. In 2014 he was awarded the Prime Minister Price for literature. His poems were translated into English, French, Arabic, German and Turkish.

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Gili Haimovich: Four Poems translated by Dara Barnat


Photograph  by Zaki Qutteineh.jpg

SURPRISING RELIEF

I want to speak of love,
but how can love be words.
Love like ours is a touch.
But in the touch of words clashing on the computer screen
there isn’t the same surprising relief.
In the undesired, unreleased tears inside me,
when he clears me,
I can breathe deeply, with room, a luxury,
in love, with surprising relief.
Our love is a surprising relief,
a sort of upgrade in the quality of life.

OPENING

Balconies open
like water lilies.
The air conditioners pee from them,
onto the stray cats
by the trash.
I fly,
a secret superhero,
between missions,
crossing solitudes, continents, and ego
in order to care for you.
The secrecy doesn’t make me glamorous.
I can’t remember
its value,
but I’ll keep trying to rescue you my daughters,
even from my own rage.

*

Only the thread of the line on the page holds me.
If I drop the pen I’ll fall on what’s written here.
Almost like an action movie hero,
who hangs with his mighty hands on a cliff over an abyss.
I, though, am not brawny.
Starting to slide.

GRACE

You cannot pour grace into your vessels,
it leaks in small, petty holes,
punctures in the tear ducts.
And it’s impossible, you’re just unable, to be afraid with someone else.
To carry the sack to the mountain,
which is always the hill of evil counsel,
after all you were born in Jerusalem.
You left it so well
that until others return it to you,
you can’t tell if yours was different.

Gili Haimovich is a poet and translator in both Hebrew and English. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks in English, Sideways Roots (Kimchi Press, 2017) and Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008) and six volumes of poetry in Hebrew. She was awarded as an outstanding artist by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption (Israel, 2015), a finalist of the international poetry competition of Europa in Versi in Italy   and both of her last books, Landing Lights (Iton 77 books, 2017) and Baby Girl (Emda Publishers, 2014) won grants from the Acum association in addition to other international and national grants and prizes. She also works as a therapist and educator of creative writing and had background in visual arts.

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Maya Weinberg: Two Poems translated by Gili Haimovich

TAWNY OWL

I am a tawny owl
and I have nothing to lose
tonight when I’m hungry.
The head is round, the eyes are black
the calls are sharp, clear and poignant.
I have no mercy and no need for it
and won’t give anything in return for it either.
The night is dark and lingering
the forest had opened and widened
and no one is as lonely as
the one who sees everything precisely
without being seen.

HONEY SUCKER

When I was a bird
I was a Honey Sucker
honeydew solely
there’s no such thing
as too sweet
little and quick
almost quantum
once here and once different
in a wondrous metabolism
it was impossible to catch me

Maya Weinberg is the 2017 winner of Israel’s eco-poetry prize, Clil. She is a graduated of the Helicon Poetry School, 2011, and her poetry is publishes in different platforms and journals as well as in English journals. Her First book, Open Landscape, came out in 2015 and her second is forthcoming. Maya works as a veterinary doctor and a bat researcher in the Zoology Department of the Tel Aviv University.

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Anat Levin: Three Poems translated by Becka Mara Mckay

Poem from the cycle of poems in the poet’s book Mipeh Lepeh (Mouth to Mouth), Keshev Publishing House, 2013

OH, MOTHER,

[1]

There were a number of methods:
with a belt on your open palms if you came home late.
with a belt on your bottom if you fought with your sisters,
with a belt on various body parts (a random choice; a moment’s decision),
if you forget to do the dusting on Thursday before school;
if you accidently broke one of the stained teacups they brought from over there;
if you were caught wasting too much time washing up in the morning;
when you read a book (Angelique in Revolt, over and over) in the weak hallway light
after lights out;
(Tattling was always encouraged, the sister who tattled rewarded with candy,
an item of clothing, a little caress).
Worst of all was the slap, suddenly splitting the air, wounding the distance
between the hard hand and the soft cheek.
This required no particular reason.

[4]

They came from over there, from the forests. You had to forgive.
They had a history so big that you needed
to carry a bit of it in your lunchbox.
Besides it lay a sandwich, two pieces of white bread
one placed on top of the other. Nothing in between.

[5]

And you were a girl
(Hair in two thick black braids secured with white ribbons. A pale pink shirt, long sleeves. A pleated blue skirt, starched up to knee-length. Flesh-colored wool stockings, a hole near the left heel. Polished pumps with bows. Always holding something: a doll taller than you / an apple gnawed to the core / your sister’s tiny hand / the curtain’s edge. Large eyes of darkest brown. Almost black. Damp, heavy lashes. A small mouth shaped like a kiss. Thin, delicate breath. A long nose).

Anat Levin: Poem translated by Yardenne Greenspan

[12]

You must always be tidy.
You must wash the house once a week,
Run a wet mop once every two days,
Dust the bedrooms every day,
The furniture all in their predestinated spots,
And you go in and out, as if onto a stage in which,
Each thing has its place, and you have none left,
You are in a hole in the suburbs of your head where
The noise is tangled in chaos, all tied
With thick ropes, even memories like casualties
In a war that has failed to die down
Everything surrounded and dirty and broken.

Anat Levin is poet, writer, editor and a creative writing teacher. Her debut book, Revolving Anna (2008) won the Ministry of Culture Award for Poetry. Her second collection of poetry Mouth to Mouth (2013) won the Acum (The Israeli Society for Authors and Musicians) prize and was a recipient of an award from The Rabinovich Tel Aviv Fund for Translation which enabled its translation into English and German. Her poems were also translated into Arabic, Spanish, Russian and Romanian. Levin’s first novel, The Archivist, was published in August 2016.

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Nadia Adina Rose: Two Poems translated by Irit Sela

LENGTH

Our family tree has
not grown many branches.
Flocks of single
women
sat on them
like on narrow
single beds.

Aunt Anna and Aunt Leah
picked apples
to stuff strudel.
The dough that swelled
and swelled in the nights
they rolled down the length
and width of their loneliness.
Crumbs of the days were scattered
among the birds.

STUTTERING

Slowly
like a film
promo
the days trudged by.

Popsicles didn’t melt
in winter.
‘How old are you, little girl?’
Age froze too,
glued to the lips,
itself mumbling
ahead of me.

With a tongue stuck out
to a future as far as the way
from school
I captured snowflakes.

I stuttered.
Half-words peeped out
like gloves from a coat pocket.
So with exposed palms
I held onto happiness
unable to explain
why it was good.

Nadia Adina Rose: Poem translated by Linda Zisquit

KEY

I straighten out my mother
attach her to the backrest
fold her hands
place them on the table.
Lift her head
turn it to me
tie the bib.

The spoon knocks on her teeth
like a key
I once turned inside a toy
and didn’t understand
how it suddenly moved
why it suddenly stopped.

Nadia Adina Rose was born in Moscow and came to Israel at age 22. She is a graduate of the Art College in Moscow, the Art Department of The Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, and has a Master’s Degree in Art from the Beit Berl College. She is a multi-disciplinary artist who works with sculpture, painting, book illustration as well as poetry. Her first book, Snow Ink, (Helicon-Afik Publications, 2015) was awarded the Minister of Culture Award for Emerging Poets.

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Shulamit Apfel: Three Poems translated by Lisa Katz

HOLIDAY WITHOUT MY MOTHER

It’s cold and the skies are dry
on the first holiday without her
I haven’t stopped mourning yet
sitting with the children
on a bench in the bus station
I imagined a moment of serendipity
until darkness fell
at night I learned that the moth
casting a shadow in the room
as I bent to diaper my son
is called a ‘death’s head’.

BECAUSE

Since I didn’t show any signs that I knew how to read no one paid attention when I began to write. Neither of them was fluent in the language. He read only Polish. This was convenient because they both died without reading a line of what I wrote. Mother died during the Moscow Olympics. Father died during the Olympics in Los Angeles, and because I stayed awake, I suddenly had something to talk about to the men I met in the morning. My sister tried to break out of her grave during the Barcelona Olympics, the only death that nearly did me in. When everyone was gone and there was no one left to play with, I simply sat on the edge of the sidewalk until a neighbor called my mother and said: hey, your daughter’s nearly been run over, and my mother shouted at her and called her a liar.

IT CAN’T BE COMPARED TO SIBERIA

I squeeze a lemon
continue to complain
and drink another tea
this poem is killing me
I’ve been sitting on it since morning
my feet are frozen
I know this can’t be compared to Siberia
the skies hang low there when it snows
but I’m still cold
I haven’t spoken to anyone today
I haven’t returned to the story I promised to
nothing in it didn’t happen
and I’m not going to let it go
enough death has corresponded with me
in the third person. Another failure won’t get in my way.

Shulamit Apfel is an Israeli poet who was born in Cyprus. She has seven volumes of poetry in Hebrew. Her Poems are included in anthologies translated into English, Italian, Russian and Croatian. She won The Prime Minister Award on 1987 and 2013, the Kugel Prize for Literature for her book Distance (1982) and the Ramat Gan Literature Prize for her sixth book, And Nothing but the Truth (2012).

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Oded Peled: Two Poems translated by Aura Hammer and the author

DATA UNPROCESSING

Each day a boat passes down the river of thought
(and never anchors)

Each day starved fishlings are caught on memory-hook
(when will they ever learn-)

Each day high waves flood the pier of fantasy
(oh, enchanted eternity spell, pure white bearded universe)

We no longer trace falling stars
(bashful, murmuring wishes in secret ceremonies)
and we have no idea of things happening in other galaxies
how wise our body is,
or the way the blind albatross navigates.

We’ve learned to ignore the stubborn radio updating
fluctuating rates in the stock-exchange of political folly,
plastic hearts spying satellites spectacled computers
and other mechanized bull-frogs threatening to quack-quack-quack
away the peace of this planet –

Hence,
unprocessing data,
we approach the window that fills up with a snowy forest

Each day we are other people vanishing in dense foliage

From: “LETTERS TO BERGEN BELSEN”

He that blessed
He that blessed with withered sky
He that blessed with the broken grass the rock bending over its shadow
the road sown with fish bones He that blessed –
He that blessed with the wide-eyed glass with bent bones with the swastika
tatooed into the arm He that blessed –
He that blessed with the river swallowing its banks fading rye fields the flower
crucified in the window He that blessed –
He that blessed is Holy and Holy His name and I hold it not against Him – Here
I am and my breast bared my mind empty of pain and I forgive – I still forgive –

Oded Peled is a poet, translator and editor. He was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1950. He studied Political Science and English Literature at Haifa University. Peled has published 15 volumes of poetry. He received The Minister of Education prize for translators [1990], the Prime Minister prize for Hebrew writers (1997, 2007), and the Arik Einstein prize for veteran artists (2016).

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Sabina Messeg: Two Poems translated by Karen Alkalay-Gut

SOLDIER

My little boy paces the earth
Immersed in darkness.
Training for the
Worst.

My tender son, the mild one – little prince
Sheltered from the vulgar world
In the precious ark
Forever floating
On a perpetual flood

The child I didn’t read Red Riding Hood to
So as not to alarm him
With slashed bellies
And blood –

Is now cutting his way through the thicket
Crawling on all four
learning to be
A wolf.

THE AMPUTATED SEA

The sea birds
Are already accustomed
To the amputated sea

They patrol on the new seam line

And at sunset
The Golan Heights get purple
As usual

Only we still ache
From a ghost pain
where ‘the god-planted-garden’
Used to grow

And maybe
Miriam’s leprosy
Was the cause of the shortening of the limbs

Maybe
Miriam’s well
Is the mouth
That is not sealed with water

That calls
That needs urgently

A sea transfusion!

Sabina Messeg writes poetry for adults as well as children, under the pseudonym Adula. She is the author of thirty books and the recipient of several literary prizes and honors. She is one of the eco-poetry pioneers in Israel, and has a weekly column about it in the Haarez daily newspaper. She had translated poetry from English, French and Norwegian, including large selections of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

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Nurit Zarchi: Five Poems translated by Gili Haimovich

HOW GOD TRAINS ME

You won’t get what you want, ma’am,
And not on account of the stars, these are just golden rings
Twined on my finger. Not on account of the heft either. I,
Who exhale hills at will, wave Tornados like wipers

Jump higher, Nurit.
I, who invented death to be used
Lock and open the treasury of life, I
Who spoke to Job, and won’t repeat:
Where were you when inverse value was taught?

Jump higher. You,
Who try to pull at the future’s sleeve to mirror the past
Don’t you get it yet? I, who invented the depth,
Through you I elaborated the transparent.

In your home, in cafes, at the cinema, like you
I don’t notice you. I, who invented the
Necessary, painful, amusing game of marriage, say:
Jump higher and higher

I, who invented the love, the Jews,
The books, coffee, don’t forget to say thanks
Indeed this is the pre-eminence of man, like Houdini’s act
Enchanting, the wall using the head.

*

My field of expertise is worrying.
The rental bikes bother me.
Does anyone check on them every night?
Obviously the world is missing a checker.

So when my aunt Rosa promised
To summon the president for tea,
I’ll tell him what’s on my mind, she said,
Regarding the dermatology ward at Hadassah hospital
And how to erase the number from my hand.

Tell me, she asked, what shall I claim on your behalf?
I had nothing to say except that I’ve been left.
I don’t think that’s a matter for a president
Concluded my aunt.

*

The sight can notice only what it had seen,
your figure on the pavement casting a shadow
on a shadow, dull from my sorrow, still warm
reborn every morning amid the leaves.
and when a new leaf rises its flag

it immediately get stamped with what rain and sob can’t erase.
a thousand sun fractures string on the spider’s
web, that is similar to the possibilities’ paces. But
when there are occurrences that imprint the zodiac’s
ring, even the dead participate.

THE LOVE DEVICE

The love device landed next to me,
flickering lights at the skeletons in the shed,
Treading on beds of roses and cabbages,
That I actually grew for her sake.

What do you want? I asked.
Sundays, she replied, and maybe
Another finger of full moon. Just that? I asked,
Because I do have five more days in store
Alight like Hanukkah candles a week after the holiday,
And one limping Sabbath.

Clearly she landed here by mistake.
I must offer her compensation,
I must bestow on her from my stock
Store-bought apple cakes, coffee and apologies,
Even globules of blood.

It happened to be Sunday,
The cabbages and roses adorned in trampled gowns.
I wanted so much to be indispensable,
And offered my head for her to land on.
Perhaps it had already happened,
Perhaps my hair got caught up in the engine,
Samson, Absalom, I understood you so well.

SOMETHING ORDINARY

If you were to ask what is the strongest element,
Fire or Water. Air, I might reply.
For perhaps that’s what we form each other from.

Sometimes a man and a woman have walls
a door, a table, even a dog like we had.
How would you tell apart what exists from what doesn’t
if not by imagining?

I was obliged to go where
the tattooed letters on my hurt
will receive their voice,
that’s what living’s called, I believe.

It’s not an extraordinary belief
even alchemists attempt to turn bone into gold.
Was I wrong when I didn’t identify
atom as being the strongest element.

Nurit Zarchi is a one of Israel’s leading authors who published books for both adults and children. She has published novels, short stories, poetry, collections of essays and over 100 books for children. She has received every major Israeli literary award for poetry as well as for children literature as well as for her poetry, including the Prime Minister’s Prize twice (1980; 1991), the Ze’ev Prize (five times), four IBBY Honor Citations (1980; 1984; 1998; 2004), the Education Minister’s Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2005) and the Devorah Omer Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2014).

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The Translators

Gili Haimovich is the author of six poetry books in Hebrew and two chapbooks in English, Sideways Roots (Kimchi Press, 2017) and Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008). Her poetry and translations appear in numerous worldwide journals and anthologies such as Poetry International, Asymptote, Poem Magazine, LRC – Literary Review of Canada, Drain and Launch Ticket as well as Israeli ones. Her full length translations include poems of the laureate Israeli author Nurit Zarchi and the American poet Michael Dickel among others. She was awarded as an outstanding artist by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption ( 2015) and received several grants and nominations for her work.

 Aura Hammer was born in New York in 1957. She immigrated to Israel in 1973. She studied architecture at the Technion in Haifa and worked many years as an architect. Today she works as a sustainability educator and council circle facilitator.

 Karen Alkalay-Gut is Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University and has written about poetry in numerous forms, cultures and historical contexts, as well as a biography of Adelaide Crapsey.  The third disk of “Panic Ensemble” with her lyrics will be released in 2018 in Berlin, her ninth book of poetry in Hebrew, “Ways to Love,” is due to appear shortly, and she has numerous books in English as well as a volume of her poems in Italian. Her translations from Hebrew and Yiddish have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies.

Becka Mara McKay teaches translation and creative writing at Florida Atlantic University. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington and an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa, where she also received a PhD in comparative literature. Her first book of poems, A Meteorologist in the Promised Land, was published by Shearsman Books in 2010. She has received awards and grants from the Seattle Arts Commission and the American Literary Translators Association, and a Witter Byner Poetry Translation Residency.

Yardenne Greenspan has an MFA in fiction and translation from Columbia University. In 2011 she received the American Literary Translators’ Association Fellowship. Her translation of Some Day, by Shemi Zarhin, was chosen for World Literature Today’s 2013 list of notable translations. Her other full-length translations include Tel Aviv Noir, edited by Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron (Akashic Books), and Alexandrian Summer by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren (New Vessel Press). Yardenne’s writing and translations can be found in The New Yorker, Haaretz, Guernica, Words without Borders, and Asymptote, among other publications.

Irit Sela is the co-founder of the Helicon ­Society for the Advancement of Poetry in Israel and a poetry translator. She also teaches a method of reading poetry on stage developed bu her and published a book about it in Israel, 2016. In her own artistic practice, she is multi-disciplinary artist who works in the theater as a producer, director and a stage manager.  She is a graduate of the Theater Department of the Tel Aviv University with an M.A. in Literature.

Linda Stern Zisquit has published five volumes of poetry, most recently Return from Elsewhere (co-winner Outriders Poetry Project, 2014). Her translations from Hebrew poetry include These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam (2010), Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (2006), and Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (1997). Born in Buffalo, NY, Zisquit lives in Jerusalem where she runs Artspace Gallery representing contemporary local artists. She is Associate Professor and Poetry Coordinator for the MA in Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University.

Lisa Katz, translator-in-residence at the University of Iowa MFA program in Fall of 2017 and the Israeli editor of the Poetry International web (Rotterdam): http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/country/recent_list/12.   Her most recent translation: Late Beauty: a bilingual selection of the poetry of Tuvia Ruebner (Zephyr 2017).  She is the author of a chapbook, Are You With Me, Finishing Line (2016) and Reconstruction, a volume of her poetry in Hebrew translation,  (Am Oved, 2008).

Vivian Eden, is a doctorate in comparative literature with a specialty in translation from the University of Iowa. She is on the staff of the daily newspaper Haaretz in its English edition, a joint venture of the newspaper with the International Herald Tribune. Her poetry, translations, stories, reviews, columns and articles have been published in the United States, Israel, Britain, Germany and elsewhere. Among her full-length prose translations are “Arabesques” by Anton Shammas (Harper & Row, 1988) and “Bethlehem Road Murder” by Batya Gur (HarperCollins, 2004).

Dara Barnat is the author of the poetry collection In the Absence (Turning Point, 2016). Her poetry and translations appear in The Cortland ReviewdiodePoet LoreLilithWorld Literature Today, and elsewhere. Essays appear in Walt Whitman Quarterly ReviewStudies in American Jewish LiteratureLos Angeles Review of BooksPoet Lore, and elsewhere. Dara holds a Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University, where she is currently Writing Director in the Department of English and American Studies. Her work can be found at darabarnat.com.

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