What makes Hebrew so magnetizing? To some, it’s the spirit behind every letter; to others it’s the indecipherable handwriting from left to right. There are people who learn it out of curiosity and others who wish to rediscover their national heritage. Very few, however, attempt to comprehend poetry in this language. Thus, the image of Israeli poets remains enclosed within the limits of certain artistic communities. Who are they, after all? There are the well-known Israeli classics. This is a perfect opportunity for beginners to discover the backstage of the diverse life of poets in Israel.
Agi Mishol, an internationally renowned poet, has written books that have been translated into 11 different languages while continuing to mesmerize crowds at live performances in such popular Tel Aviv venues such as Tzavta and the Cameri Theater.
Born in Hungary, Mishol’s family made Aliyah in 1951, at a time when Israel had been going through challenging times. She is part of a truly idealistic generation, who felt great patriotism and admiration towards the newly established state. Mishol’s poetry can be best described as inspiring, distinctly Israeli and juicy. She touches upon the family issues and the personal tragedy of the Holocaust, comments on the long-lasting Palestinian issue, criticizes some political moves of the Israeli government and incidentally shares her joy about living in this country. Check out Mishol’s works here.
Vaan Nguyen, with a rather atypical name for Israel, was the daughter of Vietnamese refugees. Vaan’s family fled Vietnam in the 1970s and eventually got asylum in Israel, and was raised in Jaffa. The mixture of her cultural heritage and Israeli upbringing has resulted in a truly unique art form. She incorporates memories and emotions, as well as family history, in her poetry.
Vaan started as a blogger, sharing her thoughts and anxieties in a rather poetic form online. The young lady first came into the limelight with the collection of poems called
The Truffle Eye. Afterwards, the story of her family was even featured in a 2005 documentary film by famous director Duki Dror. In fact, Nguyen alludes to her poetry as being ‘documentary.’ It is indeed fascinating that she is capable of observing the country as an outsider, while being deeply rooted in the realities of Israeli life. Listen to Nguyen reading her poem here.
The Chicago-born poet Jane Medved began her career as a member of the Director’s Guild of America. She even participated in the making of Tom Cruise’s popular movie Risky Business. It is after moving to Israel that she was inspired to seek a more stay-at-home kind of occupation. Soon enough her lifestyles column transformed into a collection of poems. What is special about Jane’s writings is her devotion to the Jewish tradition and the use of metaphors to express a strong connection with the Jewish culture. Jane speaks intimately and candidly with her readers. Medved is the poetry editor of the Ilanot Review, the online literary journal of Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv. Make sure to check out Jane’s poetry here.
Another poet of American origin, Marcela Sulak was brought up on a rice farm in Texas. She has been awarded the American Poetry Prize four times, and has won five prizes for the study of Czech and Yiddish. As the author of three collections of poetry, Marcela has been extensively published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattle and other journals.
What is exceptional about Sulak is her broad range of occupations, which she executed all over the globe. At one time a teacher in Caracas, Venezuela; another time, a freelancer. The geographical map of her studies has been quite diverse as well. Today, she finally settled down in Israel, where she teaches American literature, poetry, creative writing and translation at Bar Ilan University. Sulak translates from Spanish, French, Czech, German, Yiddish and Hebrew. She is also the host of the podcast ‘Israel in Translation’ on TLV1 Radio. Such diversity of life experience has provided Sulak with food for thought and much inspiration. Her poems prove to be as varied, intellectual and moving as her personality. Click here to explore Marcela’s poetry.
To conclude this array of gifted Israeli poets, let’s turn to the remarkable Joanna Chen. She hails from Great Britain, although her professional life carried her away to many different places. She worked for the BBC World Service Outlook, Radio 4’s Food Programme and Women’s Hour. She has been writing articles for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Review of Books and Marie Claire. After moving to Israel, she started contributing her poems to the Haaretz newspaper.
Chen successfully combines being a teacher at David Yellin College and a literary translator of Hebrew poetry into English. She has been recently collaborating with the previously mentioned famous poet Agi Mishol. Chen frequently refers to poetry as her beloved medium and describes it as the best way to express herself. Chen’s style is personal yet detached, the rhyming feels natural yet sounds unusual. She is full of contradictions, which make her style one of a kind. Be sure to follow Joanna’s blog.