Thursday, 5 September 2013

Poem by Nurit Zarchi - How to count to 5774

It can be difficult to step outside our very own selves and our very own culture, traditions, and faith and into the world of the other - other cultures, traditions, faiths.  To catch the flavour of Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, here is a poem just published in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

Poem of the Week / How to count to 5774

This Rosh Hashanah, 

Israeli poet Nurit Zarchi suggests a different way of looking at the passage of time.

By Vivian Eden Sep. 3, 2013 | 4:56 PM 

Piling up its seconds, moments, months,
life hides our losses from us.
The miniature palm in the courtyard,
without my help, reached the window,
victorious green flag.

But at the same time that a sick person folds
back into his fate, also the injured are sorry.
These have their own time, not made of moments or days
but of one clear stretch like a night in a town at the pole.

The method for counting changes, not measured by a clock or a calendar,
but the number of telephone conversations, invitations to coffee,
words from across the sea or that you forgot for a moment.

How did I arrive on this smooth and constant track
like that bearing luggage at the airport.
Simply by not being careful
I gave my life to the moments, to the days, to the years.

Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz. 
Published in Hebrew in "The Soul is Africa," 
page 34 (Hanefesh heAfrika, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2005).

These are the days of posting up new calendars for the Hebrew New Year. Here Nurit Zarchi, an Israeli poet born in Jerusalem in 1941, suggests another way of looking at the passage of time, rather than by days, weeks and months.

The protagonist of this poem is “life,” which not only “hides our losses from us” but also accomplishes things without our intervention. In the second stanza, the speaker contemplates the “sick” and the “injured” (not only in the physical sense), for whom time seems like a long continuum not broken up into discrete units. This notion is expanded in the third stanza: Here we do not have constant units like hours, days or months, but rather a growing number of non-identical events – “the number of telephone conversations, invitations to coffee, / words from across the sea or that you forgot for a moment.” It is a counting rather than a measuring.

In the final stanza, the speaker places herself firmly on this unbroken continuum, comparing it to a baggage conveyor belt, and wonders how she got there. Her answer: “Simply by not being careful / I gave my life to the moments, to the days, to the years.” In other words, by living in the present.

Zarchi has written novels, short stories, books of poetry, an essay collection, an autobiography and over 100 books for children. She is the recipient of many literary awards.

The translator of this poem, Lisa Katz, is an American-Israeli poet and translator who has lived in Jerusalem for 30 years. Her translations of Hannan Hever's "Suddenly the Sight of War: Hebrew Poetry and Nationalism in the 1940s" and "Late Beauty: Poems of Tuvia Ruebner" are forthcoming in the U.S. in 2014.

“It's always a bit of a gamble to translate Nurit Zarchi," Katz tells Haaretz. "She is incredibly prolific, an indefatigable re-writer and also a person who often tosses what's left into a trashcan."

See more of Zarchi’s poetry translated by Katz here.

*The “miniature palm in the courtyard” in “Calendar” seems to suggest that Zarchi’s poem is in conversation with “Of Mere Being” by Wallace Stevens. How so?

About Lisa Katz - from Poetry International Rotterdam:
Lisa Katz was born in New York and studied at the University of Michigan and the City College of New York, receiving a PhD (on the poetry of Sylvia Plath) from the English Department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she has lived since 1983. Reconstruction, a volume of her poetry in Hebrew translation, was published in 2008 by Am Oved Press in Israel; also in 2008, she was awarded the Mississippi Review Poetry Prize and a Ledig House International Writers Residency. Her poems appeared most recently in the Jewish Quarterly of LondonLook There: The Selected Poems of Agi Mishol, in her translation from the Hebrew, was published in the US in January 2006 as a Lannan Foundation selection of Graywolf Press. Her translations of Admiel Kosman were published in 2011 in a bilingual edition entitled Approaching You in English from Zephyr Press. Late Beauty, a bilingual edition of the work of Tuvia Ruebner, translated with Shahar Bram, is forthcoming. Katz taught literary translation at Hebrew University for a decade and is teaching at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Spring 2013.

Article by Lisa Katz about Israeli poetry in
Poems in The Drunken Boat
Poems in Blue Fifth Review

Poet and translator Rami Saari, founding Israeli national editor, 2002–2006, was born in Petah Tikva (Israel) in 1963. He studied at the universities of Helsinki, Budapest and Jerusalem and received his PhD degree in Semitic languages. Saari has published six books of poetry: Behold, I Found my Home (1988), Men at the Crossroads (1991), The Route of Bold Pain (1997), The Book of Life (2001),So Much, So Much War (2002), and The Fifth Shogun (2005). In addition, he has translated more than thirty books into Hebrew, both prose and poetry, mainly from Albanian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian and Spanish. Saari has twice won the Israel Prime Minister's literary award for poetry (1996 and 2003), and the Olschwung Foundation Award in 1998.

OSU Hebrew Writers Listing
Biography and poems in Hebrew
Biography in English
Poem: 'The Only Democracy in the Middle East'
Poems:'In a Remote Village', 'Documentation'
Biography in Catalan

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