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a decade’s best

Poetitorial: 2010-2020

April 26, 2020
Though he admits just how difficult it is to rank poems, writer Daniel Oz was asked in March by the Israeli web site Culture Planet to choose the best of those published in Hebrew between 2010-2020. “It’s a mission impossible”, he writes, “mainly because I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve yet to read so much of this poetry, and also because it’s hard to compare different styles, and of course there’s no way to cover it all…Nonetheless, I’ve collected poems which made an impression on me, and which continue to accompany me.” Here are the first three of Oz’s choices, by veteran Israeli poets whose work may be found on Poetry International Archives. They feature a forlorn widower, a father's admission of his limits, and the state of the nation:
Shulamit Apfel,” Oz says, “is a poet of seemingly prosaic anecdotes, whose lyricism appears effortless. The poem opens with remarks by Leona, the only speaker to be named, although she quickly turns into a secondary player. Most of the poem is voiced by her husband, who remains unnamed. And what good is a name to someone so alienated from his surroundings, someone who is never consulted and who never recognizes anyone, not even himself?”

SLOW COOKING
I killed myself with slow cooking said Leona
green looks nice on you said her husband donned his hat and went out
why are you walking about naked
people asked. But I, said the man who went out
my wife killed herself with slow cooking
all evening I sat among customers in the cafe
the waiter didn’t speak to me
I don’t recognize anyone on the street
at the square I ran into a demonstration
lost my way among the sign bearers
I’ve never succeeded with women aside from my wife
I’m not even sure what kind of man I am
I’ve turned into a story that I’ve told to myself    
[Tr. LK]

“It’s hard to choose just one of Eli Eliahu’s poems, but 'Inheritance' by this wondrous poet is truth-filled, exactly because of its acknowledgement of the unknown.”

INHERITANCE
I can’t teach you anything. What can I know
about this life we live only once, and cannot
retrace our steps. I don’t know where the soul comes from
and how flesh was created. I don’t know if there is punishment
or reward. I can’t reject even the most superstitious
of beliefs. I don’t know if a person chooses
his destiny or if he is reincarnated into another body.
I can’t know if the other is anything but a second
look at myself. I don’t know if it is I who
move in time or if it is time which moves in me. I can’t teach
you anything about the world, my daughter. This is your inheritance.

    [Translated by Marcela Sulak]

“It’s impossible to exclude here one of the most powerful poems ever written about our political reality, a poem so bright and clear that not a word need be added to those of Israel Bar Kohav.”

SONG OF THE RIGHTEOUS
The sea is right, the burnt olive branches are right, right the cinders of Europe, right
the wandering tribes searching for a home, the coffee houses and tea shops are right, the modest fountains
in places where there is no water, right are the fish the donkeys and all those sacrificed
right is Abraham and right is Isaac, right is Ishmael right
the prophets of all types and kinds,
right the shining image that covers the nakedness of the poor land like a blanket,
right are the barefoot children of the Old City, the peddlers, right are the charitable right the muezzins, cantors, rabbis, religious sages right are the divine sayings,
right is the jealous god, right is god full of mercy
right are the mothers and fathers
right the lean landscape that lacks the strength to contain all this righteousness,
and so we have gathered here in the Assembly Hall of the United Nations
to declare that right is on all sides
and until the world ends for some other reason
you will forever live by the sword
and the sword will not depart from the home of the righteous.   
[Tr. LK]
 
Original Hebrew article with five more 'best' poems in LINK
Best of a decade
© Daniel Oz
Translator: Lisa Katz
Source: Yakum Tarbut/Culture Planet 12 March 2020
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