ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN POETRY A LITERARY ENCOUNTER
NYS Writers Institute, Tuesday, October 1, 2002
Aharon Shabtai is widely regarded as one of the most important Israeli poets of his generation. He is the author of more than 15 books of poetry, including Kibbutz (1973), Domestic Poem (1976), The Book of Nothing (1981), First Lecture (1985), Love (1988), Divorce (1990), Heart (1995) and That Wonderful Month of May (1997). Love and Selected Poems (1997), translated by Peter Cole, is his first book to appear in English.
Shabtai's work is celebrated in Israel for its unflinching self-examination and self-criticism. His poems openly chronicle his failures in love and marriage, his erotic relationships and his struggles with depression.
"Shabtai describes his own degradation and lust with no mercy for himself, often in coarse vocabulary. But the refined form of his poems. . .reminds us that the coarseness, too, is part of his artfulness." - Jerusalem Post on That Wonderful Month of May
"In his fusions of the sensual and the spiritual, the ordinary and the exalted, the sexual in the suffering psyche. . .Shabtai is one of the most exciting poets writing anywhere, and certainly the most audacious." - Poet C. K. Williams
Shabtai is also the foremost translator of Greek drama into Hebrew. For his translations of Aeschylus, Sophocles and others, he received the Prime Minister's Prize for Translation in 1993. The Jerusalem Post said of Shabtai's translation of the "Oreteia" trilogy, "The applause, to date, for both the literal accuracy and the literary felicity of the translation, has been close to deafening."
Taha Muhammad Ali is one of the leading Palestinian poets working today. He is the author of three volumes of poetry in Arabic: Fourth Qasida, Fooling the Killers, and Fire in the Convent. His first collection in English, Never Mind: Twenty Poems and a Story, appeared in 2000. Individual poems in the collection were translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin. Popular among Arab readers of both Israel and Palestine for his politically complex and sensitive work, Ali is a self-taught, self-educated poet who first began publishing at the age of 52.
Ali's work is rooted in Saffuriya, the Galilean village where he grew up and from which he fled during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The village was razed and no longer appears on a map. Ali's family stayed in Lebanon for a year before slipping back into Israel and settling in Nazareth where, for decades, the poet owned a souvenir shop now managed by his sons.
"[Ali] exemplifies the marriage of folk-cultural rootedness and cosmopolitanism also found in the American poet Wendell Berry and Orkney's George Mackay Brown. His free-verse poems, often set in Saffuriya as he recalls it, subtly disclose the implications of personal stories and situations." - Booklist
"Ali's Saffuriya. . .is delicately and intricately observed, as if with the fine brush of a miniature painter. . .Using these precision tools to tremendous effect, Ali draws the reader right into the nexus of his experiences; his patient, insistent and often beautiful iterations of who is who and what is what are as compelling and evocative as the faces and places than any reader has himself or herself loved...Never Mind is a must." - Ha'aretz (Israeli daily newspaper)
In addition to translating Ali and Shabtai, Peter Cole is the translator of numerous books of medieval and contemporary Hebrew poetry. His Selected Poems of Shmuel Hanagid (1996)--the 10th Century Jewish Prime Minister of the Muslim kingdom of Granada--received the Modern LanguageAssociation'ss Scaglione Prize for Translation. His translation of the Selected Poems Ibn Gabirol (2001)--the 11th century poet, philosopher and mystic--won the TLS-Porjes Prize for Translation of the Jewish Book Council.
Cole is also the author of two collections of original poetry, Rift (1989) and Hymns and Qualms (1998). In 1985, he received the Younger Writers Award given by General Electric and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines. Born in the the U.S., Cole makes his home in Jerusalem.
Cole is also the author of two collections of original poetry, Rift (1989) and Hymns and Qualms (1988). In 1985, he received the Younger Writers Award given by General Electric and the Coordinating council of Literary Magazines. Born in the U.S. Cole makes his home in Jerusalem.
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