- Poems from With an Iron Pen:Hebrew Protest Poetry 1984-2004
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times.—Bertolt Brecht
These poems by Dvora Amir, Dahlia Falah and Liat Kaplan are taken from the Hebrew anthology With an IronPen: HebrewProtest Poetry 1984-2004. This anthology of 99 poems by 45 different Israeli poets is a groundbreaking collection, the first anthology of Israeli poets protesting Israel's occupation of lands conquered in the 1967 war, and the resulting oppression of the Palestinian people. The voices in this anthology speak with rage, shame, sorrow and despair at the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing military aggression in Gaza—"the sin of Judah" which is written "with an iron pen, engraved with the point of a diamond on the tablet of their hearts" (Jeremiah 17:1). With an unflinching gaze, startling imagery and compelling language, these [End Page 58] poems examine the violence that has defined the lives of Palestinians and Israelis these last years, and the consequent hopelessness prevalent in both societies.
The Hebrew anthology, edited by poet and translator Tal Nitzan and published in January 2005 by Xargol Books, received accolades in the Israeli press for its comprehensive collection of voices of dissent and for its daring and beautiful poetry—even as it stirred up controversy, generated by Israeli poets speaking out against oppression perpetrated and perpetuated in their names. Reviews declared the anthology "a strong and important book" (Haaretz Book Supplement, June 15th 2005), representing "the best [Hebrew] political poetry of the last twenty years" (online review by literary critic Tali Latowicki), and asserted that the anthology "is not only an important political act, but also an important poetic act" (Haaretz, Culture & Literature, April 1st 2005). Reviewers also took note that for a country as small as Israel, a collection of 45 different Hebrew poets—from preeminent and award-winning poets such as Yehudah Amicha and Dahlia Ravikovitch to younger and newer voices—offered a forceful and impressive reflection of the range and prevalence of Hebrew poetic protest.
The female voice in this anthology is represented by 12 poets whose powerful imagery and language forbid our looking away from the crimes, and the resulting scars, of the Occupation. From the violence which has permeated body and soul as represented in Falah's deceptively simple "Thursday at Angel's Bakery" and "The Night After the Surgeries," to the dramatic and searing memory of a house demolition in Amir's "Retinal Tear"— from the hopelessness of watching what might have been a temporary situation become embedded in one's society as expressed in Falah's "Then We Didn't Yet Know" ("Then we didn't yet know/ that the Occupation would be forever") to the despair of an impossible affiliation with and attraction to an "infected" homeland in Kaplan's "(In Reply to the Question What Are You Still Doing Here)"—the poetry of these protesting women examines the dark crevices of the Occupation.
The majority of the poems in the anthology—including those of Amir, Falah and Kaplan—have never before been published in English translation. As a result, the English-speaking world has been left with the impression that Israeli poets are silent or supportive of Israeli policy in the occupied territories. In a desire to refute this impression and make these assertive and moving poems of protest available outside the borders of Israel, the Hebrew editor Tal Nitzan and English editor Rachel Tzvia Back are now working to publish this anthology in an English-language edition. Jewish communities in particular need to hear Israeli poets speak out, not in rejection of Israel but in horror at the atrocities committed by the Israeli government toward the Palestinian people as a consequence of the post-1967 occupation.
It is in the belief that a poetic voice can penetrate and influence places where a theoretical or political voice cannot, and it is with the conviction that poetry may, in Susan Sontag's words, "…open up avenues of compassion… and remind us that we might, just might, aspire to be...