Writing from Israel: Poets, Poems, and Translations

Joanna Chen Photo

Joanna Chen is a British-born journalist and poet. She has published extensively in Newsweek, The Daily Beast, BBC World Service and Radio 4. She has also published world reports on women’s issues in Marie Claire that have been syndicated in the USA, Europe and Australia. Joanna Chen’s poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals both in Israel and abroad, most recently in Poet Lore. www.joannachen.com


The Art of Journalism
Not to Fear

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The Art of Journalism

It takes three years and I’ll tell you why:
The first year you struggle to master the
language, the unfamiliar territory that

scalds your hands, the way your heart
throbs indecently when violence smacks
you in the face, the strangeness of it all;

You’re swimming the second year, pumping
hard-earned contacts for all they’re worth,
thinking creatively, letting the mind work

harder than the emotions but still able to
catch the scent of a good story, the wicked
waft of jasmine through summer-drunk

nights, the uneasy rhythms of reporting
in the Middle East; The third year the body
becomes accustomed to the bumps and jolts

of the road to Ramallah, Gush Etzion, Jaffa.
You barely flinch when another round
of secret talks in corridors begins, when

you know it’s just a show for you
to cover with words finely ground
and digestible. So you see,
nothing changes.


Not To Fear

is what Ummi tells me every Friday.
She takes me with her even when it’s raining
and I’m playing with saucepans on the kitchen
floor, banging them down so hard on the tiles
they make my ears ping. She says it’s mumtaz
to walk on our land when it’s muddy and
she holds my hand very tight so it hurts and I
know she has candy in her pocket because I saw
her put it there but she won’t give it. She dresses
me up warm, zips my brown jacket right up
to my neck and I say La! and Hallas! and pull on
the zipper when she’s not looking because she’s busy
yelling into that megaphone.

Wallajeh, December 2011



There is a big black X
scrawled in the sky
above the block we live in.

Apartment: 7
Block: 3
It means: Bring out your dead.

But today is the Sabbath.
We cannot bring out the dead
until this day of rest is over.

We sit. We stand
at the window watching
the street below, dogs

sniffing for leftovers
from Saturday lunch,
candy wrappers drifting

onto the sidewalk,
nudged by the wind.
We could have kept you

alive, could have punched
a hole in your throat
to breathe but we let

go and now the body
cools more slowly than
we could have imagined.

So we speak in low tones,
hovering over the body
like vultures.


  1. Andrew says:


    I’m interested in making contact with Israeli poets when I am in Israel the first week in September.

    My interest is in the role of poetry in leadership development, organisation change and the Hebrew Scriptures.

    I’d appreciate any help you can give me.



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