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.

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