Poetic justice

Efrat Ben-Tzur’s latest album features the words of Emily Dickinson set to original compositions.

Ben-Tzur and Dog (photo credit: Angelika Sher)
Ben-Tzur and Dog
(photo credit: Angelika Sher)
Six years after her last album, Efrat Ben-Tzur has adopted the words of a reclusive 19th-century poet for her new release. The veteran Gesher Theater actress and singer-songwriter stumbled across a book of collected poems by Emily Dickinson, and was immediately sucked in. She had no idea the texts would become the words to her next compositions.
“It touched my heart,” she says in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post, ahead of the Wednesday release of Robin, her third album after Diving in 2001 and Efrat Ben- Tzur in 2006. “I felt there is something here not from the head.”
Dickinson’s way of entering people, employing a “microscope of looking at feeling” took Ben-Tzur, who also stars in the series Columns of Smoke, by surprise. She chose to work with the English translation of Dickinson’s works, which she says she found clearer than the Hebrew.
The simple, yet complicated and heartbreaking scenes Dickinson paints were shocking at times, “like a hit to the stomach,” Ben-Tzur says.
In the first track, “Bee,” Dickinson composes a cryptic letter from a fly to a bee. “The text is terribly lonely and emotional, and was mysterious to me,” says Ben-Tzur.
Even though the words do not belong to her, the 44-year-old Nahariya native says she felt them very personally, as well as an added freedom in interpreting them.
“There is something... the moment you do something personal it’s your way and not someone else’s, because it’s personal,” she says. “I feel that Emily Dickinson’s texts helped me discover another part of myself as a singer-songwriter.”
Ben-Tzur has been discovering new aspects to herself throughout her life. After starting out as a dance student in Jerusalem, she moved to Tel Aviv where she auditioned for theater parts, before landing a gig at the Cameri Theater, and soon after at Gesher, where she has performed for 17 years.
She grew up in a musical household, she says, learning to play classical guitar and piano as a child. More recently she learned to play the autoharp, a sound which she says is fitting for Dickinson.
Ben-Tzur seems a modern-day bard, as she sings wistfully plucking her instruments.
She also loves the poetry of Leah Goldberg, the modern Zionist Hebrew pioneer. She has meditated at length on Goldberg’s poetry, having performed her works last month with singer Karni Postel at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. Ben-Tzur also recorded music set to Goldberg’s words, such as “The girl sings to the stream,” on a previous album.
While both Goldberg and her current muse wrote from an intimate place, Ben-Tzur finds Dickinson’s poetry to be more youthful and Goldberg’s to speak from a more mature status, despite her young age.
With the weight of a literary giant on her shoulders, Ben-Tzur says she is nervous about the album’s release, especially its unorthodox character, but she is also excited because she loves the project and is eager to share her music with listeners outside of Israel.
Her take on Dickinson could enchant listeners. “Maybe there is something that I want to transfer even though I don’t plan it,” she says.
Ben-Tzur will perform Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. at Avram Bar in Jerusalem.
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