This gathering of poetry includes the work of eight Israeli poets—four who write in English and four who write (or wrote) in Hebrew. Of course, Israeli poets write in other languages—Arabic, Russian, and French—to name a few of those languages. But this sampling allowed a place to begin a conversation, about writing as a foreigner in one’s own country, and about translation not only as a means to enlarge the world of poetry, but also as a way to breathe in the culture, language, and literature of a place into one’s own body.
The four English-language poets, who include Dara Barnat, Joanna Chen, Jane Medved, and Marcela Sulak, immigrated to Israel for different reasons—family, marriage, career, perhaps even ideology. But what binds them together, besides their mother tongue, is literature. Not only do they share a passion for the writing of poetry, but also a deep interest and commitment to the literature of the place in which they find themselves. About these topics and others, the five of us debated online in a sometimes-chaotic exchange. A version of our conversation is posted on The Bakery blog. Their words best explain the difficulty and beauty of writing from such a turbulent country, why they turned to translation, and how, even after living in Israel years, they cannot say with certainty that they are Israeli poets. Their words (and their work) best explain how such estrangement continues to serve as catalyst for their own poetry.
The four poets that they translate are likewise a diverse group. Agi Mishol is one of Israel’s most well-known and awarded poets. She’s received just about every possible Israeli prize in literature and published more than a dozen books. Orit Gidali and Gili Haimovich belong to what might be called Israel’s new wave of contemporary poets although, it must be added, together they have published more than seven books in Hebrew and are widely acclaimed. Dan Pagis, who immigrated to Israel in 1946 from what is now the Ukraine, was a poet, lecturer, and Holocaust survivor. Pagis was part of a generation of Israeli poets who revolutionized Hebrew poetry and, more than twenty-five years after his death, remains one of Israel’s literary touchstones.
The work of this group of eight poets is only a small sample of the rich and varied literature of Israel. Yet they are representative and their poetry is, without argument, gorgeous, inspired, and inspiring. As a citizen of the US and of Israel and, most importantly, as a poet, it was and is an enormous honor to work with them and to present some of their work.
About the Guest Editor:
Sarah Wetzel, poet and engineer, is the author of Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published in 2010 by Anhinga Press. After job-hopping across Europe and the Americas, Sarah currently divides time between New York and Tel Aviv, Israel. She graduated from Georgia Tech in 1989, and in 1997, received a MBA from Berkeley. Sarah completed a MFA from Bennington College in January 2009. Her poems and essays appear in Israeli and American publications including Barrow Street, Valparaiso, Quiddity, Rattle, CALYX, Nimrod, and others.