It's not every day that a slam poet from England jams about the African experience in front of an audience filled with Jerusalem's literary elite. But it happened on Sunday evening at the opening of the seventh annual International Poetry Festival in Mishkenot Sha'ananim. Kat Francois, a hip spoken word artist, gave the staid crowd - including famous faces from the media and academic worlds - what was likely their first taste of her fast-paced, urban genre of poetry. "I wasn't sure if I should perform a poem about the struggle of the African community. I didn't know how this crowd would respond to it. But after seeing Israel for the first time, I feel really good about it. It felt right," she said after the performance. Francois was just one of 12 poets from around the world who came to Israel to join 17 local poets for the festival. Funded by donors from Germany via the Jerusalem Foundation, the four-day event offered panel discussions, sessions and readings, many of which were combined with musical performances. According to poet and translator Agi Mishol, who together with Ariel Hirschfeld served as artistic director, this year's festival was dedicated to two themes: poetry of the past, particularly the Middle Ages, and the connection between words and music. Each day of literary events was capped with a musical performance at the Jerusalem Music Center, which included classical and folk performances as well as poetry set to music. The opening night program offered a small taste of the festival with onstage readings by the international poets, many of whom were visiting Israel for the first time. "I don't know how you got the weather to cooperate, but I feel right at home," joked Irish poet Tony Curtis, referring to the rainy days leading up to the festival. Like all the visiting writers, Curtis read his poem in its original language, while the poem's text, together with its Hebrew translation, appeared on a screen behind him. Although Curtis's English poem "Currach," about a frail Irish boat, was understandable to most in the audience, this was not the case with most of the poems by the visiting artists, who read in less popular languages. Poets from places such as Slovenia, Germany, Finland and Turkey read their work in its original form, so that many in the audience relied on the background screen with text in order to understand the poems. Still, most audience members said that listening to the poems in the original was a pleasure of its own kind. The body language and elocution style helped transmit the poem's ideas, with some readers moving across the stage to get their poem across, while others let the foreign words speak for themselves. Some in the audience even nodded their heads in agreement as Pia Tafdrup, a poet from Denmark, read her poem about Jerusalem in Danish. The piece describes time in the city as "momentary and millennial," a common theme in Israeli poetry. Very few listeners actually understood Danish, but it seemed that the common parlance of poetry was sufficient to create a connection. "I feel quite natural reading in German for non-German speakers," explained Oswald Egger, a visiting poet from Germany who grew up in Italy. He said that for him language was "more than communication," in that it "suggests what cannot be communicated." For Egger, there is value in the simple sounds, even without the semantic element. Indeed, many at the event emphasized poetry's tendency to infiltrate into spaces where politics and diplomacy are unable to go. Mishol spoke of the "subversive" power of poetry, saying that it tended to rebel against all authority and religion, accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of expressing something as well as its opposite at the same time. Having translated some of the visiting artists' poems into Hebrew, Mishol had the additional task of transferring meaning across cultures. Irish poet Theo Dorgan became emotional as he thanked Mishol for doing thorough research in translating his poem - which compares his life as a poet to his father's life as a worker in a rubber factory. He was touched, he said, that Mishol had actually visited a factory in Ireland in order to understand the mood of the piece. Ruth Cheshin of the Jerusalem Foundation remarked that the festival followed the war in Lebanon and that despite the "complex times," the event would bring "a piece of heaven" to the region. She quoted poet Yehuda Amichai, who once said that in a time of changing values, poetry was the one "great hope for peace." Dedicating his poem to all those who were suffering from injustice without a voice, Ataol Behramoglu, a Turkish poet who read a poem about living an authentic life and finding a sense of purpose, called the audience "peaceful, poetry-loving people of Israel," to which they erupted in spontaneous applause. The readings were followed by an elegant cocktail hour, in which the international guests mingled with Jerusalem literati or visited the freshly opened art exhibits at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center. Afterwards, many went on to the Jerusalem Music Center to hear graduates of the Schola Cantorum Basilienes in Switzerland perform works from the seam between the Renaissance and Baroque. Highlights of the rest of the festival included translation workshops, several musical poetry readings featuring Israeli poets, a Middle Ages encounter focusing on poetry of that era, and a reading dedicated to social protest poetry. Chilean-American poet Marjorie Agosin, who read her Spanish poem in which she imagined herself as Anne Frank, remarked that Jerusalem was an appropriate place to pursue the art of poetry. "In this city, we need to dream and hope," she said.

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