The seventh International Poetry Festival begins on Sunday at the beautiful, antique Mishkenot Sha'ananim compound facing Jerusalem's Old City walls. Featuring four days of readings by poets from around the world, the festival also offers translation workshops, many free events, musical performances and art installations.
Poet Agi Mishol and Hebrew literature professor Ariel Hirschfeld are this year's guest artistic directors. Hirschfeld, who frequently speaks outside the academy on cultural subjects, helped organize a poetry event a few years ago in Tel Aviv, but this is his most mainstream experience in festival planning. In Israel, poets don't get together too much, he claims, so when they do, it's a special occasion. Israeli poetry festivals have become more numerous lately, though, with Shavuot's Metulah festival and Sukkot's Mashiv Haruah poetry festival in Jerusalem being joined by next month's Helicon Festival, set to take place in Yaffo. Hirschfeld sees a growing trend locally for poetry performances. "People want to see their poets and hear them read," he says, so when the festivals take place, "a big crowd comes."
For her part, Agi Mishol has participated in many international festivals, but this is the first in which she's been involved behind the scenes. While the experience was enjoyable and valuable, in the future, she'll stick to being the artist. "It's a one-time experience," she says of the planning.
This year's planners forged a program and a roster of guests that focus on two themes: ancient poetry in the modern world and the connection between music and poetry.
The latter theme was developed in conjunction with the Jerusalem Music Center, and the festival will feature experimental spoken-word compositions accompanied by a variety of impromptu and seasoned ensembles. On Sunday, hip-hop fusion act The Dugry Band is set to perform. Monday's dueling ouds, didgeridoo, strings and percussion ensemble should be especially interesting. Tuesday brings more Middle-Eastern ethnic fusion experiments, accompanied by the video art of Efrat Valero. And on Wednesday, pianist-composer Menachem Wiesenberg performs a cycle of Goethe songs as arranged by Schubert, Schumann and Wolf, followed by his own medley of Israeli folk tunes, Song of Land.
Among the big-time guests expected to appear is the 2004 BBC Slam Poet Winner and 2005 World Slam champion Kat Francois, a British new-school sexual-political-educational pastiche poet who threatens to blast audiences at the free-admission opening night with her Blessed by Words piece. Francois is also scheduled to read at the closing night.
New Zealand's Tusiata Avia, whose family is Samoan, is set to read from her colorful 2004 collection Wild Dogs Under My Skirt on Monday. Marjorie Agosin, the Jewish-Chilean-American creative academic/activist whose meditations on exile should resonate with local audiences, is set to read on Tuesday: "The sense of not belonging, of feeling constantly on the margins, or beyond them, was a constant in our lives, which little by little I learned to resolve through my writing," she once wrote.
Poland's Ryszard Krynicki came into prominence in the Sixties, when he co-founded a subversive magazine called Zapis - the first publication to successfully circumvent communist censorship there. Born in a concentration camp in Austria, Krynicki is scheduled to read on Wednesday.
Several of Israel's most celebrated poets will be appearing as well, including Haim Gouri, Hedva Harechavi, Rami Saari, Ronny Someck and Tamir Greenberg. All the poets' performances are scheduled for the evening sessions of the festival, which take place daily in two halves, from 4 to 5:30 and from 6 to 7:30; evening session tickets cost NIS 30/25 for one half or NIS 50/40 for both halves.
In keeping with the festival's international theme, Dr. Aminadav Dykman is set to run morning translation workshops every day, along with encounters between high school students and poets. All morning events are free at the festival.
In the afternoons, Ktovet, a group from Jerusalem's Lev Hair Community Center, presents music with poetry and artists from 2:30 to 3:30. Enisa Ashkal and Assaf Ben Zvi's photography and painting installations will be supplemented by avant-garde exhibits of tablecloth-written poems and body poetry-writing performance art throughout the week.
The International Poetry Festival takes place this Sunday through Wednesday at Jerusalem's Mishkenot Sha'ananim. For more information, call the Mishkenot Sha'ananim Programs Department at (02) 629-2212. A full schedule for the festival is viewable on the internet (in Hebrew only) by visiting www.mishkenot.org.il and clicking on the "event calendar"; a list of festival highlights is also viewable in English.