- Translations Tel Aviv to Toronto
Gili, I'd like to start this conversation by stating our differences: you are an Israeli poet who writes primarily in Hebrew, but you have recently moved to Toronto, Canada, where you write poetry in English. I am an American poet who has lived in Tel Aviv for the past decade, and I write poetry solely in English. Since we have been translating each other's work for some time now (mine into Hebrew and yours into English), I have begun to wonder whether our differences add up to an important similarity, that we are both "outsiders" in the countries where we live and write.
Well Dara, I would agree with you, but I would like to take it another step further. Weren't we "outsiders" even before moving away from our homelands? Maybe the immigration is an externalization of an internal feeling or experience of being different. I have the experience in writing in both countries and both languages, which gives me an indication something felt different even before moving to Toronto (not so recently, about six years ago). This something gives me the urge to report about it in poetry. How is it for you? Did writing English poetry emerge in relation to your life in Israel? I wonder if being a poet almost requires the feeling of being a minority of some sort.
So many poets, and definitely Jewish poets, identify with the outsider position. In my case— unlike those people who see Israel as their religious "homeland"—I moved to Tel Aviv in order to experience a sense of foreignness, where I would always feel alien, to an extent, in terms of the [End Page 51] language and culture. I think I was seeking the liberation that comes with being immersed in a strange place, like being dropped off on the moon. Of course I am aware that my creative "freedom" comes at a political price, though maybe that's for another conversation. Anyway, when I lost all familiar grounding, poetry filled the sinkhole under my feet. Not that this process was conscious when I was twenty-one! Your story is different though, since you were already a more established poet when you moved to Toronto. What has the experience of writing poetry in an English-speaking country been like for you? Almost immediately I remember you started writing poetry in English. Do you have a poem in English that you associate directly with the experience of living in a foreign land?
Yes, when I moved to Toronto, I already had two books published and another one on its way. I wasn't very interested in leaving Israel. I hadn't had any heroic reason to do so. I just followed my partner agreeing to give it a go. I guess writing in English gave me a way to find myself again in a foreign country, to recognize who I am when I'm away from what is familiar. It allowed me to reveal aspects in myself and my surrounding I wasn't aware of. As a Hebrew speaker I experienced the language as a barrier, like most immigrants do. Nevertheless, I had a need to speak my experience, through the language (and in a way the culture), as I am experiencing them. It wasn't planned that I will write in English. It just happened. As a poet, the language barrier became somewhat of a gift. It is such a pleasure to intimately explore another language. I found out that my resources as a Hebrew poet are not lost when I approach English writing. It's even the opposite. I bring different sensitivity and connotations to the language. It works both ways, apparently. In my upcoming Hebrew book, Lint Season, that I wrote while living in Toronto, I can feel that living away from the Hebrew affected my writing. On one hand, the writing is more rhythmical, even playful sometimes, more "in love" with the Hebrew. On the other hand, English-based terms or mixing Hebrew and English together appear in the book as well. I have quite a...