Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Munch" by Yonathan Berg

After falafel at Jaffa Gate, Yonathan and I had more time to refine our English translation of his poem, "Munch," as follows.


Roses of ice in the ash
dark water growing in the evening
there is a field of moon trees
one human animal is trapped.
The crystal of the spirit abandons the child
from all he witnessed.
The shadow of the hill
corroded by violent night storms,
a grieving mother, Earth,
in the empty room arises
the face of the screamer.
From a wooden gate, the flowers are vanishing
into the dark water
the heart of everything is dead
A curse is a scarf upon the possibilities of cerulean
These are exhales from broken teeth.
These are pure elegies in a demolished land.

By Yonathan Berg
Translated w/ Jennifer Styperk

Monday, August 20, 2012

Yonathan Berg, poet

       As a part of our H=ART artist residency program in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we met with Israeli and Palestinian arts.  Yonathan Berg, Israeli poet, living in Tel Aviv, met with us in East Jerusalem at the Gloria Hotel on Monday, July 30th, 2012.  Yonathan shared his poetry with us, and in order to do so, shared his experiences growing up in an ideological settlement, serving in the Israeli army, traveling post-military service, and his current life as a poet and columnist.  Most of all, he re-reinvigorated for me the ways in which the poet can and must deal with even the most intense topics.

Berg says, "As a poet, my toolbox is enough to deal with and approach everything.  I can face 5,000 years of philosophy, art, culture, religion, humanity, history."  Furthermore, Berg implores poets to have the courage to deal with intense topics.  This is the very advice I take to heart as I blog stories from my artist residency trip.  

Schooled in a strict, orthodox institution, Berg prays, sings and attends synagogue, though he cites poetry as the most exciting and correct replacement to the orthodox practice he left behind in his childhood.  He implores all of modern man to be sure they sing, literally sing, and often.

When thinking of his childhood, he remembers green grass, playing outside and joy.  Looking back on enlistment into the army at 18, he notes that service men and suicide bombers are the same, each in that gap between youth and having a family of one's own.  He goes on to say each are equally confused and influenced by a strand of fundamentalism.  This understanding he exercises in his own poetry, for example, he features an Israeli boy playing on a settlement noticing a Palestinian boy in the distance.  "...the look of my neighbor from Ramallah..." is the same look of other children playing.  "Earth becoming mud" from the storms of turmoil brings the reader to "how the present works." "...Step into rage as a living room....houses are set up as a punch."  From small boys playing to homes being demolished, Berg shows in his own poetry the ways in which this art form uniquely holds contradictions and juxtapositions, and reveals forgotten similarities in just one short line.

"I lost dear friends," Berg says of his time in the IDF.  "My best friend died in Hebron."  Twelve from his unit died that day and, Yonathan, a senior soldier, had to go to the morgue to identify his best friend and other mates from his unit.  Of his best friend, Yonathan feels that "I [Yonathan] am a living memory."  I saw his face while I traveled after my service, whether in India, Malaysia, or at beaches in Columbia.  Berg struggled with the fact that "I'm [Berg] here and he is not."  As his friend's living memory, he believes his poetry serves as a living memory, a candle, remembering and honoring.

He advises current Israelis to discuss openly the effects of PTSD suffered by all the servicemen and how this widespread condition affects Israeli culture.  When asked about the current politics of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Berg says, "We need to give Palestine a state.  Take out the settlements.  Solve this through conversation."

My lecture followed Yonathan's and I was pleased stayed.  After lunch, he and I translated two of his poems into English and two of my poems into Hebrew, marking a very meaningful collaboration for me and a highlight of my H=ART residency.

Roses of ice in the ash
dark water growing in the evening
there is a field of moon trees
one human animal is trapped
the crystal of his spirit
departed after all that he witnessed as a child
the shadow of the hill
destroyed by storm winds in the night
A grieving mother, Earth,
in the empty room
the face screaming
flowers are vanishing into the dark water
the heart of things is dead
A curse is a scarf on the possibilities of the cerulean sky
These are escapes of breath from broken teeth.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dheisheh Refugee Camp, near Bethlehem in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank

Rafi, our tour guide, greets us at the bus stop outside of Dheisheh.  Smiling, Rafi says, "My Mom always tells the story of getting torn from our homes, taken to a camp for what they understood, what they trusted, would be a few days.  Never to be allowed to return again."  Rafi, his Mom and now his family are one of more than 750,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes following the early Zionist Militia and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.  Dheisheh is one of the fifty-nine Palestinian Refugee Camps.

Stepping off of the city street and into the refugee camp, we smelt the single location for the camps refuse.  Prior to the country of Japan funding plastic sewage pipes, all of the camps refuse flowed in central, open ditches in the center of the streets.

In 39 degree Celsius weather, we walked up and down the narrow footpaths weaving between original 1948 slab constructions and the generations of men who have added on in order to house the third, fourth and soon fifth generations living under occupation and interned to refugee camps.  Walking below clothes hanging out to dry on the line, we hear from a window a small boy saying, "Hallo.  Hallo.  Hallo."

As we round the bend, inches away from doors and makeshift stoops, the little boy's mother comes to her front door.  "What is your name?" she asks me.  "Jennifer," I reply.  She smiles politely and shyly asks again, "What is your name?" and my reply still puzzles her.  We laugh together and I ask, "What is your name?"

She welcomes us and wishes us health and happiness in Arabic, and wants Rafi to tell us that her 21 year old son is imprisoned with 17 life sentences for protesting the occupation.  A school girl passes our group.  After Rafi greets her and ascertains that she is learning English in school, I ask her, "How are you?" and she responds, "Fine.  Thank you."  I tell her, "great job," and she squints, looking puzzled in return.  Rafi went on to explain that their under-sourced schools had been forced to follow Jordanian curriculum from 1967 until only a few years ago.  Outraged he says, "Imagine.  Not teaching English until the 5th grade.  How much more difficult it is to learn."

While examining political art, cartoons, drawings and graffiti on the walls of the camp's cinder block homes, Rafi points to a brightly colored drawing of butterflies, flowers, sunshine and green grass.  "We encourage the children.  To hope for a better tomorrow.  Not to go the way of violence."

In the cartoon (pictured to the left), a famous writer is told, "I like your article on democracy.  What are you writing next?"

To which the older writer, huddled over his desks responds, "my will."

In another cartoon, an elderly, pacifist says, "I will cut my mustache if one piece of land is given back to Palestinians."

In the next frame, the man's mustache reaches below and outside of the cartoon frame.

11,000 refugees inhabit less than one square kilometer of land.  With two under sourced schools, one for each gender, and one doctor serving the community, the physician often sees over 700 patients a day.

Original UN cinder block constructions are 9x9 and originally intended to serve 4 to 6 people.  Today descendants have up to 40-80 men, women and children populating each.  While some choose to add-on, there is no guarantee it won't be torn down or built unsafely.  Pictured to the right is the original outhouse, the only bathroom facilities provided, serving up to 400 people daily at one time.   

After exiting, we again walk underneath a large, looming political poster featuring two young men who died fighting for "the cause," meaning the right to return to land.  It is only upon exiting do I notice the rainbow colors painted on the fence posts.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Palestinian Territories & my H=ART residency

Olive Tree
Beit Sahor

Many thanks to everyone for inquiring after my artist residency and trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  Below is an outline of our tours, meetings and program over the course of July 23-August 5th.

Day 1

Tour of the ICB (International Center of Bethlehem)
Church of the Nativity
Sheperd's Field

Dheisheh Refugee Camp Tour and Visit

Day 2

Via Dolorosa
Western Wall
Dome of the Rock
ICAHD Tour (Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolition)

Day 3

B'Tselem meeting
Yad Vashem; Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Day 4

House of the Patriarchs
CPT (Christian Peacemaking Team) Meeting and Tour

Day 5
Dead Sea

Day 6
East Jerusalem

Arts Program; intros
lectures by Gassaf Gavron and Francisco Avila

Day 7
East Jerusalem

Arts Program
Lecture by Yonathan Berg & myself

Day 8

Arts Program
Dar al-Kalima
Lecture: "Palestinian Art: Art of Resistance or Aesthetics" by Faten Nastas Mitwasi, Chairperson of the Visual Arts Department & presentation by Alynn Guerra

Day 9

Arts Program
Dar al-Kalima
Lecture: "Palestinian Film" by Rama Mari
Painted on the Wall at Checkpoint 300

Day 10

The Olive Tree Campaign Tour

Day 11

Milk Grotto
Casa Nova

Open Studio Time

Day 12
Tel Aviv

Morning Mass, Grotto, Church of Nativity
Grand Beach Hotel Rooftop Pool and Mediterranean