In two minds

Music and poetry collide at the Nogea Bema She’enenu concert, and the result is an intriguing combination of contemporary energy and dark undertones.

Rali Margalit 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rali Margalit 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rivka Miriam is something of a walking, breathing and writing oxymoron. The 59-year-old Jerusalemite poet’s work is full of disparate images, figures, colors and textures that combine and contrast to yield a sense of heightened emotion and imagery.
That will come across loud and clear in Thursday’s Nogea Bemah She’enenu (Touching the Non-Existent) concert at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem (8:30 p.m.).
The show, based on Miriam’s poems, is spearheaded by cellist-composer Rali Margalit and actor-narrator-vocalist Baruch Brenner, with heavyweight musical support courtesy of double bassist Ora Boasson-Horev, veteran wind instrument player Yaakov Meron and percussionist Yoni Sharon.
For both Margalit and Brenner the concert is the culmination of a lengthy gestation period.
‘I have known Rivka for a long time,” says Brenner.
“This is a confluence of something very Jerusalemite in essence. We all live in Jerusalem, even though Rali and I originate from other places.”
Brenner also takes the flipside route to Miriam’s work and personality.
“Rivka’s poems are a very deeply rooted but they also connect with contemporary energies. They also touch on areas that are not normally addressed. Rivka looks at people in the street and sees other things, things that maybe other people don’t catch.”
Miriam has been offering her poetic insights to the world for some time now. She published her first tome at the tender age of 14 and has kept up a steady release pace in the interim four-and-a-half decades, with her output also including volumes of short stories and children’s books.
Thursday’s show will incorporate 22 of Miriam’s poems, largely from two groups – Baal Haness and works with animal themes. Most of the music that will accompany the readings was written by Margalit, with one by Brenner, while some poems will be narrated by Brenner without musical accompaniment.
Miriam is the daughter of Holocaust survivor and writer Leib Rochman, and Brenner says the second generation syndrome also makes its presence felt in her work.
“Her works connect with a world that has vanished, and not from an ideological standpoint. There was a Holocaust, and some of the figures [who perished] find a mouthpiece through Rivka. It is as if the victims are still with us and can speak through Rivka.
“And Rivka offers them a conduit completely devoid of sentimentality. I feel her poems offer us a completely new angle on the Holocaust without mentioning it explicitly.
It is as if Rivka manages to reach a place which is beyond good and evil.”
BRENNER OBSERVES that Miriam’s duality can sometimes lead to misunderstanding.
“Many people miss this side of Rivka’s work, the cries of those who are no longer with us. Some of her work is not easy at all. In one poem she talks about a poet who sits shut up in her room writing but, for some reason, people beyond her door suffer the adverse effects of her writing.”
The musical stratum of Thursday’s show is, naturally, designed to amplify the end product but also serves to fuse some of the poems.
“There will, for example, be one poem with musical accompaniment, and the music will carry over to the next poem,” Brenner explains.
“It is as if we maintain a dialogue with the work, against a musical backdrop.”
Brenner’s and Margalit’s paths first crossed during a tour of Italy, with a large ensemble, around three years ago.
They quickly decided to do mount some artistic project or other, at some stage. One day Brenner suggested they do something based on Miriam’s poetry.
“I bought a couple of her books, and I was immediately drawn into her poems,” Margalit recalls.
“What really grabbed me were the images and characters she portrays. There is wonderful poetry which does not lend itself to musical composition, but Rivka’s work cries out for that.”
Margalit says that she and Brenner had some talking to do before settling on the program.
“Baruch is drawn to the essence of the poetry, and I am more taken with the characters,” continues Margalit.
“For me the character conveys the essence, rather than the poem being about the essence.”
Once discovered, the world of Miriam’s poetry drew Margalit in and she began composing music for the poems even before she knew for certain that the show would actually take place.
“We started looking around for funding and, when we got the OK from Beit Avi Chai, I already had around twothirds of the music written. I found Rivka’s world captivating and it was only later that we started meeting to talk about the concert, and then I got to know her.”
Like Brenner, the cellist feels that Miriam’s appearance can be deceiving.
“She looks very sweet, and her poems can be taken that way too, but I find some of them quite scary. It’s like being drawn in to a honey trap.”
Margalit cites a poem by Miriam called “The Deleted Woman”: “Said the deleted woman: my creator has had second thoughts. He started drawing me and suddenly stopped.
Even when he started deleting me, he didn’t finish the job. And all that’s left of me is a sandal.”
“About two weeks after I read the poem I suddenly had the image of a pile of shoes and sandals at Auschwitz,” says Margalit.
“I was totally unsuspecting. To my mind, that’s the way her poems work.”
The Nogea Bemah She’enenu show will take place at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. For more information and tickets: (02) 621-5900 or