Opening the Letters: English Cadences in Israeli Poetry

By Ezrahi, DeKoven | Tikkun, July/August 2000 | Go to article overview

Opening the Letters: English Cadences in Israeli Poetry


Ezrahi, DeKoven, Tikkun


Opening the Letters: English Cadences In Israeli Poetry

Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi

Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi teaches comparative Jewish literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her most recent publication, Booking Passage (University of California Press, 2000), is a study of exile and homecoming in the modern Jewish imagination.

Wild Light by Yona Wallach, tr. Linda Zisquit. The Sheep Meadow Press, 1997.

Unopened Letters by Linda Zisquit. The Sheep Meadow Press, 1996.

English in Israel has always been somewhat beside the point. Not a combatant in the "language wars" where Yiddish was the sparring partner. Not a participant in the territorial wars, where Arabic continues to be the contender. Not even part of the Eurocentric culture wars where German, Russian, and French have been the heavyweight challengers. English has only a bit part to play in the drama of ingathering those "Lost Tribes" who, by their own admission, speak Kurdish, Yemenite, Amharic, and, most anciently and recently, the Bantu of the Lemba. Of course there was the Mandate--with its legacy of legal and judicial discourse. And it's true that, long after the Bard disappeared from the Israeli high school matriculation exam, a proper modicum of respect endures for his literary heritage. But the more ubiquitous it is, the more English--and in particular its American stepchild--have been regarded not as a contender for but as a pollutant of whatever enterprise you happen to subscribe to. In socialist eyes, Coca-Cola and Microsoft are the icons of capitalism, engraved on every signpost and storefront. In the ears of religious puritanism, English rings discordantly as the language of liturgical compromise. Even postzionists, post-colonialists, and expatriates guard Hebrew zealously as the bedrock of their identity when all the other idols have been smashed.

It seems, however, that while few people were paying much attention, English did become part of the poetic landscape in Israel. The poets of Yehuda Amichai's generation incorporated into their own struggle the elitist seductions and religious echoes of the Anglo-American modernisms of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens along with the antimodernist cadences of W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin. The democratic and natural speech of William Carlos Williams and Robert Creeley and the anxious, autobiographical shadows of Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath lurk more or less unobtrusively behind a whole generation of confessional poets including Dahlia Ravikovitch and Meir Wieseltier and the younger, more experimental poets such as Zali Gurevitch, Maya Bejerano, and Leah Ayalon.

At the same time, in a kind of reciprocal gesture, a group of immigrant poets and translators have been turning English into a language of cultural production in Israel. Linda Zisquit is one of those who writes her American self into the culture while coaxing its Hebrew voices into English. During the decades that borders were being contested and jealously watched, Israel's claustrophobia was reflected in the paucity of translations from the Hebrew, which safeguarded its literature within the precincts of an internal domestic conversation. Zisquit can be counted among those who mark the new era of open borders, a translator who is also an English poet of the place. Along with Harold Schimmel, Dennis Silk, Robert Friend, Shirley Kaufman, Gabriel Levin, and Peter Cole, she has helped to create a new acoustic space in Israel. The publication of the two books under review represent the kind of dialogue that can emerge within that space.

Zisquit's translations of the Hebrew poetry of Yona Wallach give the English reader a glimpse into the extraordinary achievement of both poets and, at the same time, attest to the struggle of the English language to accommodate itself to such unyielding terrain. In addition to translating some of Wallach's most challenging poems, Zisquit has written an introduction which contextualizes both the poetry and her own encounter with it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Opening the Letters: English Cadences in Israeli Poetry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.