Feeling out of place

The Poetry Place, which runs the upcoming One Square Meter festival, has been forced to move from its long-time home at the Lev Ha’ir community center to the Musrara Photography School.

Meiri n poetry special_521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Meiri n poetry special_521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
One of the first casualties of the recent financial crisis of the Lev Ha’ir community council was the relocation of the prestigious poetry center, the Poetry Place, to the Musrara Photography School. As a result, the poetry festival produced by the center, One Square Meter, will take place at the Botanical Gardens from July 12 to 14.
Dr. Gilad Meiri, head of the Poetry Place and one of its founders, is trying hard to convey a business-asusual attitude regarding the impact of this location change and the future of his brainchild, but he admits that his optimism has become somewhat shaky.
“With no adequate budgets – there has been a cut to less than 50 percent of the very modest sum we had (NIS I million), with my position reduced to half time and the serious fear that we won’t be able to develop roots here, not being optimistic is only another way of being realistic,” says Meiri.
One Square Meter, the only Jerusalem poetry festival that focuses only on local poets, is attended by the most famous poets in the country. Within just three years it has become a “must” in the nation’s literary and poetry circles. During that time, it has been taking place in the courtyard of the neighborhood council and in several coffee shops and residents’ homes in Mahaneh Yehuda.
“This is one of the most important cultural projects of this city, and a large part of its success is drawn from the fact that it takes place in the Nahlaot- Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood and attracts thousands of visitors from here and across the country, especially from Tel Aviv,” says Meiri. A poet himself, he adds with a broken voice, “This is perhaps the end of it. I simply cannot believe it.”
The Poetry Place was established in 2002 by Meiri and four other young Jerusalem poets – Shai Dotan, Lyor Shternberg, Dorit Weisman and Ariel Zinder, who all have poetry books to their credit and many literary prizes. Last month, the group published an anthology entitled Israeli Prayer Poems, which was immediately hailed as one of the most important anthologies published in recent years.
“It was a bold challenge to any preconception or prejudice regarding this city’s capacity to honor poetry and support such a project, especially in this neighborhood, a marketplace” says Uri Amedi, the director of Lev Ha’ir, who made it possible when he decided to host the five young poets in the center.
“We wanted, and succeeded,” says Meiri, “to effect, through this project, a cultural and social change, including changing the public’s attitude toward poetry and poets. This can’t just cease to be.”
Since its establishment, the Poetry Place has offered affordable poetry workshops (including one for people with special needs) and workshops for youth at risk, with the support of the municipality juvenile affairs department. Once a month, the Poetry Place runs a free workshop for the public, which includes writing, practice and poetry discussions, attracting a diverse range of Jerusalemites – religious, secular, young and old.
The Poetry Place has one of the leading poets’ groups in the country. The group’s name is Ktovet (“address” in Hebrew). Since 2009 the Poetry Place has been a member of the prestigious Poetry International Web, a Dutch Internet project for world poetry and translation, also linked to the Rotterdam Poetry Festival, with the participation of English editor, poet and translator Lisa Katz.
“Through them, contemporary and young poets’ work, and Mahaneh Yehuda, have become famous not only in this country but in other parts of the world as well,” says Amedi.
That being said, Amedi nonetheless had to tell Meir recently that Lev Ha’ir would no longer be the home for poetry due to the tremendous deficit that has forced him to make budgets cuts in all the projects.
“I knew there were problems,” says Meiri, “but I didn’t realize how bad the situation was until Uri spoke to me. At first he tried to reduce me to halftime employment, and though it was clear I wouldn’t be able to do the job properly that way, we tried. But then he couldn’t even afford that anymore, so we had to leave Lev Ha’ir, our home for five years, and literally go into exile.”
The group (which now includes six poets and an English workshop) has moved into the Musrara Photography School, where director Avi Sabbagh has offered to host them. Meiri and his partners are very grateful for Sabbagh’s hospitality, but nobody knows how the location change will affect the work of the poetry center, which is so closely associated in the public’s mind with Mahaneh Yehuda. Also in question is how well a photography school and a place dedicated to poetry will get along.