“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” ~ Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
“Fame in the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That lest infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delight and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred, sheers,
And slits the thin-spun life…
But not the praise”
~John Milton “Lycidas”
I read Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave this semester, which is where the above quote is taken from. Harjo showed me the kind of story teller I want to be. I breathed in her words as my own: “In a fast, narrow crack of perception, I knew this is what I was put here to do: I must become the poem, the music, and the dancer.” This month, saw the three minute video “Existential Bummer” by Jason Silva with the Ernest Becker quote, which immediately caught my attention as one of the best ways I’ve heard the cognitive dissonance of existence put into one sentence. In the video Silva says “we defy entropy and impermanence with our films and our poems.” Then, while working on an assignment and searching for lines inspired by class material, I found the “Lycidas” quote copied into my journal from last year along with the entry below. Though it’s nine months old, I find that I am still, and perhaps will always be, split in two: between my gifts and the blind Fury.
What Does It All Mean?
October 11, 2013
I was walking in town thinking about what it all means. Our energy is borrowed and one day we will have to return it. I’ve been thinking about it every morning and every night. What is it all for, what are these unique creatures; are we just ants, just animals, just leaves on a tree to fall and be remembered in the fall and forgotten in the spring? I want to be known but there is so much to know; I want to be remembered but there is so much to remember. And it will only last for so long and what good will it do me when I’m gone to be remembered? I won’t know anyway. Any memorial can be torn down, any book destroyed and forgotten—and what is it all for? I am entering the best stage of my life so far: thoroughly conscious ignorance, plus on the path of my own choosing, my own making. I was immensely grateful. Now, I am an English teacher and a poetry student; I am a dancer and a performer by hobby; I am recognized as an artist, a poet, an organizer. But I want more and will want more and plan and plan and gather and gather like a busy bee (I was visited by a bee again) and then—I will blink a few times. My daughters will be women; I may see children and grandchildren; I will possibly be honored and surely loved; my parents will depart and I will suddenly remember things I should have said and done, perhaps. There is a future that the movies promised us: sci-fi will be real or the sun may burn out or a dystopia, but all of my generation will pass and the future generations will pass and how long can this go on, and then what? Even with more answers there will always be more questions: can god be proved, is there a power of attraction, what do the charts tell us, what do the cards tell us, what will science find, and what monsters will be created? I will gather and achieve and still ask, what does it all mean, and it will end; the only thing that is sure, the only thing that is sure is decomposition: every story will end.
This is just a piece of what’s going on in the world. 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped, three Israeli boys kidnapped and murdered, a Palestinian boy kidnapped and murdered, burned alive. I live in Jerusalem, so the latter is more poignant; there has been rioting, violence, racist cries for death, ignorance, calls for revenge, and suspicions all over Facebook feeds and in the news. I am also a mother of daughters; I can’t forget–as it seems to be already forgotten– about daughters taken, god knows what is being done to them away from home and in the hands of violent men. And this is just a piece, there is more, always more–
At times like these, I think of the quote by the late great Maya Angelou,
“We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us.”
I think it means that we fail to recognize how easy it can be to go so low. We love to hail the beauty of the world, but there is ugliness, and a lot of it and it is all human. It is jarring, disturbing, heart-wrenching, when I allow myself to think about it. I normally don’t, I must admit. Sometimes, I am afraid that if I let in all the woes of the world it would break me in despair. But when I do, I want to fight the horrors; I still don’t know how. I find solace in poetry; others have as well. I don’t mean be naive. There is a level where poetry clearly won’t do a damn thing to change politics and the minds of murderers. And yet, there is great power in words– poetry is the epitome of that force. Poetry has a long history of documenting the times, telling legends, inciting, enticing, eulogizing; the danger of poetry, the sanctuary of poetry is well known; it crosses all boundaries and rises above–and the poets are healers. When we say ‘there are no words for this,’ it is poetry that finds the words. There is a way to know through the eye/I of the poet.
I want to share with you three poems–written out of that spirit in the midst of hate– that I believe have found the words. Two were written by friends of mine who live in Israel, one by me.
children die every day
Revision of life
Revenge or honor
We live to die
The homosexual boy:
in the crook of his father’s arms black sedan’s
back seat–a suspected execution
block–a coffin with seat belts and airbags
Burnt and bound–found
in a forest
[ put your heads down!
gunshots and Arabs singing ]
Three extreme zionist religious Jewish boys
deserved what they got
Murder takes back seat
as do point blank
Instead of words
a rocket will be sent from a schoolyard
and a missile returned to sender
They’ll get what’s coming to them
Two hundred and seventy six
will not be returned
without a war skirmish
Though their children will
with machetes and machine rifles
nestled in their dark slender arms
Hashtags won’t save our generations
round in the hand
is a mortar round
in the air
as we digress
our children suffer
We live by the sword
we die by the sword
No meaning changed
by our revisions
-m z friedline
Days, blurred into each other
Like there was no sleep.
of a hundred TV sets
of another forest fire.
on the fingers
of early-morning travelers,
the serious concentration
of the bus driver…
and children, searching for truth
in the faces
of surrounding adults.
Waves of pain
drifting through neighbourhoods…
Sparks of strength
running through city streets
and a soft, gentle stroking of each other…
a blinding light
calling us all
away from the darkness…
~Louise Harris- Zvieli
Stop the Game
I know it’s hard. You are sitting there thinking, those could have been my boys, my brothers, me. You are thinking, summer has barely started; schools just got out today and some are now on eternal break, broken eternally. No one has won the game anymore–if you’re going to stop the game, then *stop* the game, dammit–no one has won, just lost. But what they don’t tell you in the games, is that nations are made from suffering together–more than shared joys. Is this a good thing, or very, very sad? Perhaps it is a part of the human support mechanism–come closer when it hurts. All I know is, the news will be on forever, especially here–there are hundreds of girls missing too–and the news is forever on, forever on, there will never not be news, only, what is news is old, very old, ancient, never-ending and we have to fall asleep sometimes, but the news will outlive us all.
~Shoshana Sarah K.
Moshe Ze’ev Friedline was born in Boulder Creek, California. He is currently studying English literature at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He is married and has a young daughter and younger son. He realized two years ago that he really enjoys writing poetry. He once found himself in an awkward conversation with a bull in a steakhouse.
Louise Harris- Zvieli says she’s just herself.
*Poetry shared with the permission of the authors. All rights remain to the respective poets.
I know, I know, I haven’t been around. But I’ve been studying poetry, falling in love lyric essay, being awaken at night by the muse. But now that the semester– and my first year of studying poetry– is over I’m getting busy again. Before I could fully get my foot out the door of the university and into summer vacation (and on the same day that I had a test in American Literature!) I had my first radio interview on “Let’s Get Lit” the TLV1 FM program with journalist and author Ilene Prusher. I was so nervous and as soon as I was done, I started obsessing about how I should have said everything differently! But instead of talking about it, how about you just listen and tell me what you think:
“American-born, Jerusalem-dwelling poet and polyglot Shoshana Sarah brings us inside the world of her multi-dimensional, multi-lingual poetry. She talks about “Poets of Babel,” a Jerusalem group she founded, and reads from her work.
Plus, a short review of Baghdad: The City in Verse, an anthology of 170 Arabic poems, most of them appearing in English for the first time, in a collection translated and edited by the University of Haifa’s Reuven Snir.”
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.
I don’t know if any of you have noticed but I’ve been updating pages on my site with photos and videos of poetry readings and performances…drop menus! (It was exciting for me because it took me forever to figure out how to do it. You can remain unimpressed. I’ll understand.)
Enjoy! (And check out all the pages & drop menus!)
Poets of Babel 1 Year Anniversary at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, May 30, 2013
Poets of Babel #14 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, June 24, 2013
“אין גן עדן בגן שלנו” (“There is no heaven in our garden”)
Poets of Babel #15 at Avram Bar, July 21, 2013
(Poem starts at 0:52 after introduction in Hebrew)
Poets of Babel #17 at Hanal’e (The Han Theater Coffee Shop), September 16, 2013
“To the Soldiers of Fortune”
There are so many gems here, it’s hard to pick one. I suppose, I could start with the ending, “What is the work you can’t not do?” Just listen and learn and get started! I know I am…
Space or מרחב/Merhav in Hebrew, is a multilingual poetry journal based in Tel Aviv that I felt I had to get in touch with the moment I discovered them. I wrote one of the editors, “I’m a multilingual poetry club. You’re a multilingual poetry journal. Let’s get married!” While we haven’t ‘gotten married’ yet, I had the pleasure of getting 3 pieces published in their August issue, two poems (“Tom” and “Dareen,” in English) and an article (“The Babel in Us” translated into Hebrew, if you’re interested, I’ll post an English version).
Last week, Yekum Tarbut/ יקום תרבות (rough translation: “Culture will rise”), a website for culture in Israel, wrote about Space’s Launch of the August Issue Event that took place at the Cheetah Gallery in Tel Aviv called “Going Out Into Space.” Here’s the article (in Hebrew) where they mentioned me, Poets of Babel and sport a photo they asked for when I told them that I recited poetry at Cafe Tav (just in case you were wondering why I’m in costume and no one else is). So here’s what I really looked like at the Space poetry reading/launch event:
Pico Iyer asks: “Where is home?” I say: “Home is Babel.”
In this amazing TED talk (I know, I know, ALL TED Talks are amazing, but this one is special!) Pico Iyer just articulated everything I already knew but am just beginning to coherently express about myself. I am debating whether or not to tell you to watch the video Pico Iyer Where is Home first or later. You decide. But if you are a citizen of the world or a citizen of Babel like me then you will feel finally and completely understood, it will feel scientific even.
It’s all the more powerful that I saw this after writing and performing my latest poem “Babili/Home” , my first macaronic language poem, mainly in English with touches of Hebrew, French, Russian and one phrase in Ukrainian. It’s about home. It’s about who I am. It’s an idea I’ve been trying to iron out since I wrote “Multicultural is the New Multiracial” for the Mixed Race 2.0 project (forthcoming) on ‘blackness’ (the African-American brand) coupled with the elusive feeling of detachment from it after (and honestly even before) living within another culture and disdane with having to be defined all of the time. Or what I wrote in “The Babel in Us” (Hebrew) in the multilingual, Tel Aviv based poetry journal “Space”. about how everyone is a little macaronic these days, multilingualism is everywhere and needs places to be expressed which is why I created Poets of Babel.
Speaking of multilingual or macaronic poetry, there are a couple of poets who I know would dig this talk. You should check them out too. One, I’ve mentioned often, Antoine Cassar, the author of the first macaronic poem I read and loved, “Merħba,” as well as the lingual adventures of the book Mużajk (Mosaic), or the powerfully open-hearted poem “Passaport” , which brought tears to my eyes with the line:
“no one to brand you stranger, alien, criminal, illegal immigrant, or extra-communautaire, nobody is extra, …”
Another poet I just met over the summer at a ‘Mini International Poetry Festival’ in Tel Aviv, is Johannes CS Frank, the author of Remembrances of Copper Cream, a trilingual poetry book, in English, German and Hebrew, which is simultaneously as cosmopolitan as it is a visceral authentically Jerusalem experience, right down to the copper highlighted sketches,
“a full scale model of the universe”
“Merħba” and Remembrances of Copper Cream both appear in the photo above.
You know what, just watch Pico Iyer’s video, & my poem “Babili/Home” and then reach out to me. If you’re a citizen of Babel, not just multicultural or multilingual but have been haunted by the feeling that you basically belong nowhere specifically but to so many places at the same time, collage people, mosaic people, Embrace.
I’ve got almost a month of events to catch you up on! But we’ll do this in chronological order. If you haven’t seen it on Poets of Babel’s Facebook page, here are the videos from the poetry readings June 24th, 2013 (Late, I know! But when you see the rest of what I’ve been doing, you’ll understand!)
Emmy Raviv, English
Gilad Meiri, Hebrew (Gilad Meiri is a prominent Israeli poet, read more about him and his organization Poetry Place)
Talea Azzam, Arabic (Notice how he says Babel/Babili!)
Isabelle Cohn, German
Natan Perchikov, Russian
How about a round of applause? For the rest of the photos from the event, click here.