Clare Kinberg, editor of Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, brings welcome news of the publication of a new translation of political poetry from Hebrew, With An Iron Pen, dealing with the matzav in a critical context. Here’s what SUNY Press has to say about the book:
A groundbreaking collection of forty-two Israeli poetic voices protesting the occupation of the West Bank.
The eighty-eight poems in With an Iron Pen, all originally written in Hebrew, offer a collective protest to the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Palestinian territories—“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).
Including such preeminent voices as Yehuda Amichai, Aharon Shabtai, Dahlia Ravikovitch, Meir Wieseltier, and Natan Zach, the forty-two poets in this groundbreaking anthology represent the full range of contemporary Hebrew poetry. Together, they turn an unforgiving gaze on the Occupation, speaking with rage, shame, sorrow, and despair at the continuing violence that has defined the lives of Palestinians and Israelis over the years, and the hopelessness that has permeated both societies. The result is a collection of poems that are as important for their compelling poetic beauty as for their significant political accomplishment. The original Hebrew edition, published in 2005, received accolades in the Israeli press for its comprehensive collection of dissenting voices and for its daring and beautiful poetry. With an Iron Pen is a must read for all who seek a better understanding of the occupation and the wider conflict in the Middle East.
“These dissident Israeli voices, recognized and new, prophetic, raging, heartbroken, challenging, public and intimate, from the moral core of Jewish tradition, have gone almost unheard in America until now. The lyrical range is impressive, the edition scholarly; this is a historic collection.” — Adrienne Rich
Tal Nitzan has published three poetry collections, including Domestica and An Ordinary Evening. A preeminent translator of Spanish into Hebrew, she has translated over forty books and won numerous awards for her work. Rachel Tzvia Back has translated works for numerous anthologies, including The Defiant Muse: Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present; Lea Goldberg: Selected Poetry and Drama; and With this Night. Her own poetry collections are Azimuth, The Buffalo Poems, and On Ruins & Return. She is Professor of Literature at Oranim College and Bar-Ilan University.
The book should be an Israeli echo of the fierce poetry of Mahmoud Darwish which reflects these issues from a Palestinian perspective.
Regarding the quotation from Jeremiah from which the title of the collection is taken, it strongly reminds me of the Kafka story, In the Penal Colony. There too the sins of prisoners are etched in their flesh by a monstrous type of pen or, as it’s called in the story, a “harrow”:
[The] apparatus stands here in front of us. As you see, it consists of three parts…The one underneath is called the Bed, the upper one is called the Inscriber, and here in the middle, this moving part is called the Harrow.” “The Harrow?” the Traveller asked…
“Yes, the Harrow,” said the Officer. “The name fits. The needles are arranged as in a harrow, and the whole thing is driven like a harrow, although it stays in one place and is, in principle, much more artistic. You’ll understand in a moment. The condemned is laid out here on the Bed. ..
As soon as the man is strapped in securely, the Bed is set in motion…But it’s the Harrow which has the job of actually carrying out the sentence.”
…“Our sentence does not sound severe. The law which a condemned man has violated is inscribed on his body with the Harrow. This Condemned Man, for example,” and the Officer pointed to the man, “will have inscribed on his body, ‘Honour your superiors.’”
I never cease to be amazed at both the evocativeness of Biblical allusions in modern literature, but at the depth of specifically Jewish allusions in Kafka’s work. Certainly it would be interesting to know whether Kafka had read this passage from Jeremiah and whether he deliberately invoked it. But in a way it doesn’t matter for Kafka’s work embodies so fully the prophetic outlook and its preoccupations with justice, sin and redemption, that he needn’t necessarily have been fully aware of this passage in order to echo it in the story.
The Israeli Occupation too is like the harrow of Kafka’s story in that it etches both the sin and punishment directly onto the bodies of Israelis and Palestinians alike. It draws the blood of the victim in the same way, at times in great volumes and at times in tiny pinpricks. And as in the Kafka story, where the sentence takes an interminable 12 hours to execute, the Occupation has gone on now for forty years with still no end in sight.