Poetry: a neglected art?

It is known that there is a dearth of publishing opportunities for English-language writers in Israel.

July 11, 2019 14:11
Poetry: a neglected art?

The Reuben Rose Competition Awards Ceremony: With the winners are competition organizer Mark Levinson (left) and president Susan Olsburgh (second right). (photo credit: Courtesy)


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There’s many a would-be poet
Rhymes of a love that he hath never woo’d
And o’er his lamp-lit desk in solitude
Dreams that he sitteth in a Muses’ bower
– Robert Bridges

For the English-language poet living in Israel, there is no need to sit in solitude waiting for the Muse.
Voices Israel Group of Poets in English was founded in 1971 specifically for the purpose of providing a forum and inspiration through group meetings, workshops, publications and competitions.
It is known that there is a dearth of publishing opportunities for English-language writers in Israel, not just the poets. With the dwindling printed media, many experiment with self-publishing for which one needs to be perhaps a more efficient business person or promotions expert than a gifted writer. And many of us have taken day jobs as technical writers or in the PR departments of hospitals and universities.
The demand for poetry, in particular, has dwindled in recent years not only in Israel, but also in the mainstream publishing world. Go into Waterstones in London or Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, and the poetry section is pathetically small. Most of the volumes on the shelves will be the classic poetry that is still on school curricula, or by the poetry icons of the first half of the 20th century.
But poetry was not always the orphan of the publishing world. Even as late as the 1960s the more prestigious publishing houses used their profits from the more popular volumes to subsidize their poetry and belles lettres.
My first job was in a small, highly respected London publishing house. Long before I worked there they had discovered George Orwell, and their chairman had nearly gone to prison for publishing D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Up in the attic of the Georgian Bloomsbury house was the poetry department where its editor sat, who to my young starry eyes at the time seemed very elderly. I would love to climb those stairs and chat with him and hear his stories of his youth in the Bloomsbury Set.
However today, browsing through the British publication Writers and Artists Year Book for information about outlets for different genres of literature, the majority of publishers and agents pronounce: No Poetry Please.
Knowing that poetry is an art of the soul, one cannot discourage a poet merely by lack of commercial recognition. Therefore Voices Israel can feed that soul by giving poets opportunities to read their poems aloud, publish in the annual anthology, and win a prize in a competition.
Starting with very humble beginnings in 1971 following a letter in The Jerusalem Post by Haifa resident Reuben Rose, of blessed memory, a small group gathered to share their poetry. Rose was a modest modern-Orthodox talented poet with a conscience. He was involved in many socially minded pressure groups, and he and his late wife, Susie, were known for their many acts of kindness and hospitality in the community. He had a rare sense of humor shared by another member, a monk who sometimes hosted Voices meetings at the Stella Maris Monastery. Between the monk and the Orthodox Jewish Rose, there was the entire spectrum in the Voices membership, coexistence and tolerance that continues today.


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