Getting into the rhythm

Professional and amateur poets across the country find a gratifying means of expression through Voices Israel.

By RUTH BELOFF
August 13, 2012 22:32
3 minute read.
Voices

Voices 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Once a month in Jerusalem, an eclectic group of men and women get together in a private home to air their views and discuss their ideas. Not a political gathering, protest group or ad hoc committee of an NGO, this is the Jerusalem branch of Voices.

A national organization established in 1971, Voices Israel Group of Poets in English (www.voicesisrael.com) has a membership of about 150 poets in Israel and abroad. Its aims are to provide an outlet for writers of English poetry in Israel, to encourage new poets in their art and to promote international friendships through poetry.

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To that end, members get together at the various branches around the country and read their work at monthly meetings and participate in national workshops, retreats and other poetry-related activities during the year. In addition, the organization publishes a monthly newsletter and an annual anthology of poems and holds a yearly poetry contest that awards cash prizes. The annual membership fee for Voices through ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) is NIS 100, though non-members are welcome to participate in the local monthly meetings.

In Jerusalem, the meetings are generally held on the last Thursday of every month from 6 –7:30 p.m. at the home of Toby Shuster. Not a member or even a participant in the sessions, Shuster graciously offered her commodious apartment as a meeting place when the local group found itself without a venue several months ago.

The sessions average about 15 to 20 attendees.

I had the opportunity to take part in a recent Jerusalem meeting and was edified and enlightened by the experience.

After the initial greetings and exchange of pleasantries and bits of news among the affable participants, the group got down to business, as it were. Coordinator Ruth Fogelman moderated the session, and each person took a turn reading his or her work. Every participant is asked to bring three poems and to make copies for the rest of the group so they can follow along and further digest the material.

Just as the participants came from diverse backgrounds and many different countries of origin, so the range of topics was diverse as well. The subjects of the poems extended from broad themes such as death and war to more specific topics such as grandchildren, an idyllic Shabbat afternoon, a young Russian oleh and Miriam from the Bible. Well written and laden with layers of insight, the poems were clearly penned by people who love their craft.

After each poem was read, the room was open to comments and discussion. What was particularly noteworthy about the feedback was that it was consistently positive, encouraging and constructive.

Even when there was a difference of opinion, it was done in an open and accepting manner.

As stated in the aims of the organization, the monthly meetings are open to seasoned poets, as well as aspiring ones. Among the participants at the meeting, some had several published books of poetry to their credit.

At the end of the session, Fogelman asked the group to help her select one of that evening’s poems to submit for the “Jerusalem Choice” section of the upcoming Voices newsletter, applicable only to ESRA members. It was not an easy choice, as they were all worthy of merit, but the group finally agreed on one.

In answer to a question by one of the members, Fogelman made it clear that having their poems included in the organization’s newsletter did not categorize them as “published” poems, hence they had no copyright restrictions and members could offer the poems to other publications.

“And anyway,” I chimed in, “they’re not being paid for the poems that go into the newsletter.”

To which Fogelman laughed and replied, “We don’t do it for the money. There is no [real] money in poetry. We publish because of our passion, our need to share our work with the world.”

For further information about meetings in Jerusalem, contact Ruth Fogelman at (02) 628- 7359 or [email protected] For national information, call Wendy Blumfield at 0545-240-412 or visit www.voicesisrael.com


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