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Rachel Blaustein And The Poetry Of Israel

July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo by Dorit SassonIsrael holds a very special place in the American cultural consciousness.  For many, it is a holy land, a promised place where they will finally be accepted.  It is a place for pilgrimages and coming-of-age visits.  This idea is perhaps best encapsulated in the program “Birth Right,” which provides funds for young Jewish-Americans to visit the Middle Eastern country.  This Israel is somewhat of a utopia, made even more dream-like and perfect by its distance, by our infrequent visits.

However, there is another Israel.  This Israel is real; it is the stuff of politics and war, battlegrounds both actual and ideological.  The beauty of the country is made no less by its contentious political position, but, as Dorit Sasson points out in our newest feature article, there is a schism between the various visions of the country.

In a sense, this schism can be traced down to Israel’s rich past.  This is a country seeped with tradition and history.  It is a place of poetry and song.  In order to understand her view of Israel more fully, Sasson returns to a poem of her childhood, “V’Ulai” by Rachel Blaustein.  For her, the gentle poem speaks to the different versions of Israel, the Utopian image, the longing for a dream that never has been, and the reality of a place unfinished, imperfect.

Though I have never been to Israel, reading Sasson’s article, I am reminded of another great poet of Israel: Yehuda Amichai.  Amichai was born in Germany, but he spent most of his life living in Israel (both the real country and the dream-land).  Like Blaustein, much of his poetry is about his relationship to the relatively-new motherland, but in contrast to Rachel, Yehuda’s poetry is often not fit for children.  Indeed, his poetry for Jerusalem often reads like love poetry, words written by a man to a woman.  While I cannot speak for Israel, I will always remember Amichai’s words about Jerusalem:

But he who loves Jerusalem
By the tourist book or the prayer book
is like one who loves a woman
By a manual of sex positions.

Join us in nostalgia and melancholy this week by checking out Rachel Blaustein’s Kinneret, A Child’s Poem of Israel.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

April 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo from Out of PrintEvery Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

  • Short story writers, get your pens ready (or laptops, as the case may be) for NPR’s “Three Minute Fiction Contest.”  They’re looking for pieces of original prose including the words plant, button, trick, and fly.  Submissions will be judged by Ann Patchett, and are due by April 11th.
  • Good news for independent bookstores: Obama is a fan!  Our president made a surprise stop at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City this week to pick up a couple of children’s books for his daughters.  And the LA Times even has a video!
  • In case you hadn’t heard, April is Poetry Month.  Take a moment to honor the occasion by stepping outside your normal reading zone and trying out poets from around the world.  I plan to start by reading the works of Yehuda Amichai, one of my new favorite writers and Israel’s greatest modern poet.
  • You have to respect horror author Joe Hill for his recent success, especially considering his legacy.  Hill, whose real name is Joseph Hillstrom King, didn’t want to write under the shadow of his father.  “I felt there was a danger – real danger – in coming out as the son of Stephen King if I couldn’t sell it under the pen name, if it wasn’t good enough,” Hill explained.  Judge for yourself by picking up a copy of his second novel, Horns.
  • Can science be used to explain literature?  Some literary theorists believe so.  University English departments are increasingly turning to the “hard” sciences to better understand the way we read, write, and think.  Interested in the intersection?  The New York Times has it covered.
  • And finally, wear your love of books on your sleeve with these wonderful literary t-shirts.  You can purchase my personal favorite  here.
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