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Israel’s Poetry Reflects Story of a Nation

Poets played a major role voicing the hardships and joys during Israel's founding. Today, the poetry scene is more fractured, much like the land itself. Three prominent Israeli poets reflect on the situation. A follow-up piece will feature Palestinian poets.

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  • AGI MISHOL, Israeli Poet:

    I was hearing the bombing and…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You could hear the bombing from here, from Gaza?

  • AGI MISHOL:

    All day long, all night, yes, I mean…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    On a farm south of Tel Aviv and just about a half-hour north from Gaza, Agi Mishol and her husband grow peaches and pomegranates for export to Europe. As winter neared its end here, peach trees were beginning to blossom.

  • AGI MISHOL:

    This is a small baby peach.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Mishol was born in 1947, the only child of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, just a year before Israel itself was born.

  • AGI MISHOL:

    My personal history, it is like the history of Israel.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What is that like? What does that feel like?

  • AGI MISHOL:

    It means starting something new, coming from somewhere and starting something new.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Agi Mishol the poet, one of Israel's best-known, writes about the geese on her farm, about love, and the small moments of life. But always there in the background, and sometimes up close, is the political conflict she's lived amid her entire life.

    A book of her poetry translated into English is called "Look There." The very first line of this book, your book, translated into English: "In the beginning were the words; after that I heard the boom."

  • AGI MISHOL:

    I mean, every time that something happened, like an explosion or suicide bombers, when we watch television, somebody always says, "And then I heard the boom." So, being the poet, when I want to taste this sentence, I must put it in a poem. This is how it tastes.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Tastes?

  • AGI MISHOL:

    To "taste" the sentence. Poets are seismographs of the language, because never mind what poetry's about; it is always about language, first of all.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But is it also about the events around you?

  • AGI MISHOL:

    Well, of course, it did percolate to the poetry, because these are the materials that I breathe. It's all around me. I don't consider myself as a political poet; I don't even want to be a political poet. But I could not avoid it. I could not avoid it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    On the streets and beaches of Tel Aviv today, life goes on in a strange kind of normality, and one can almost forget the long, often bloody struggle in this land.

    But on the very day we were in Tel Aviv, police announced the arrest of a would-be suicide bomber in the city. Several years ago, such bombings were common.

    Agi Mishol read for us the beginning of her poem about one such incident, involving a young Palestinian woman named Andaleeb Takatka who blew up herself and six others in a bakery.

  • AGI MISHOL:

    You are only twenty

    and your first pregnancy is a bomb.

    Under your broad skirt you are pregnant with dynamite

    and metal shavings. This is how you walk in the market,

    ticking among the people, you, Andaleeb Takatka.

    Someone loosened the screws in your head

    and launched you toward the city;

    even though you come from Bethlehem,

    the House of Bread, you chose a bakery.

    And there you pulled the trigger out of yourself,

    and together with the Sabbath loaves,

    sesame and poppy seed,

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