Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ronny Someck and the Pleasure of Hebrew

One of the pleasures of learning another language is being able to gather another layer of meaning to the poetry written in that language. A poet I am currently struggling with, both in translation and metaphorically, is Ronny Someck. Someck has published nine (or perhaps ten) books of poetry in Hebrew and hosted a popular radio program in Israel for years. Decades earlier, he was part of a circle called the “Tel Aviv Poets," which included Mier Wieseltier, Yona Wallach, and others, who often wrote about contemporary Israeli street life, incorporating slang, images from television and popular culture into their poems. Their poetry was often fleshy and sexy. Someck's poetry still often is.

Anyway, the reason I bring him up today is that I’m reading some of his work in Hebrew and struggling with the translation. BUT one interesting aspect of Hebrew is that much of the language is built around what they call “binyamin” or buildings so that word groups arise from the same root. For example, “dahm” means blood. From that, we get “Ah-dom” or red, and “Ah-damn” which means man, and from that we get “Ah-dah-ma” meaning earth. Red begets Blood begets Man begets Earth and vice versa.

Here is a poem by Someck titled “Red Catalogue of the Word Sunset:”

A French poet sees a red sunset
and squeezes burgundy from the cloud grapes.
An English poet likens the sunset to a rose
and a Hebrew, to blood.
Oh my country, a land fastening cannibal lips
to the setting sun’s virginal throat,
my arms are oars of fear
and I, in the ark of my life, row
like Noah to Ararat.

It is a unsettling poem comparing Israel to a cannibal that ‘eats its own,' different from more civilized lands where sunsets lead to wine and roses. But what is lost in the translation is the play of the language through the poem. The red of the sunset becomes blood becomes land becomes man. Underlining Someck’s unsaid importance of this resonance to the poem is that these relationships are "seen" by a “Hebrew” poet not an Israeli poet whose language might be Arabic, or given the waves of immigration, English, German, Russian, etc. The Hebrew language becomes part of what makes this land the cannibal that it is (in Someck’s poem). Or as Mier Wieseltier, another Jewish Israeli poet wrote in the poem “A March for Long Distance Poets,” “The believer in what words can do / believes in what they did to him.”

No comments:

Post a Comment