An enthralling anthology of English poets in Israel

Voices Israel 2019: Poetry from Israel and Abroad is the 45th-such anthology to be published. It contains no fewer than 125 original poems in English, the work of 91 poets from across the world.

The cover of the anthology (photo credit: Courtesy)
The cover of the anthology
(photo credit: Courtesy)


“Voices Israel Group of Poets in English” is a body dedicated to fostering the writing and appreciation of poetry. It began life in 1971, and well some 50years later is a flourishing organization, encouraging the writing of poetry in English both in Israel and abroad. It holds meetings every month in 11 different locations as far apart as Jerusalem and London, publishes a monthly newsletter, and organizes regular workshops sometimes led by distinguished guest poets.
In addition to all that, Voices Israel publishes an annual anthology of poetry submitted by anyone from anywhere. Each poem is evaluated on its merits by the editorial board, who are not informed of the poet’s name.
Voices Israel 2019: Poetry from Israel and Abroad is the 45th-such anthology to be published. It contains no fewer than 125 original poems in English, the work of 91 poets from across the world.
As might be expected a wide variety of subjects are covered, ranging from intensive introspection (such as Lilian Cohen’s “Full Circle,” in which she explores her feelings on returning to an altered Australia), to current political events (in his “Iphigenia in Gaza,” Pesach Rotem expresses his rage at the Israeli-Palestinian clashes on Gaza’s border). Amiel Scholtz wrestles with the eternal conundrum of existence in his “Question,” while Joyce Serlin empathizes with Kate Middleton’s mother as she watches her daughter marry a future king.
It is no surprise that the Holocaust and its after effects continue to inform the work of a number of the Israeli poets. In “Strange Fire,” Dina Yehuda draws a parallel between the Biblical account of the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who were consumed by fire, and her aunts aged 11, nine and seven, who lost their lives in a Nazi death camp. Lisa Aigen recounts how she came across a bundle of letters written by her grandmother from Theresienstadt concentration camp. In an emotionally charged poem, “My Great Grandmother Dreams of the Women at Ravensbruck,” Ellen Jaffe imagines the homely, familiar things her forebear might speak of to her family, contrasting it with what the women at Ravensbruck concentration camp must have been enduring while her great grandmother was alive.
A chord will no doubt be struck in poets themselves by Julie Mendelsohn’s “Inspiration,” in which she describes exactly and beautifully how the idea for a poem can suddenly strike her, the process of trying to retain the words swirling in her mind, and then the frustration of sitting down, pen in hand, and being unable to recall them.
Free verse was practiced by Walt Whitman in the 19th century. Among today’s poets it is very nearly de rigeuer. Almost the entire collection of poems in this anthology are in free verse. One of the very few poets to write with rhyme is Bar Sagi. Sagi was a gifted young Israeli who died in 2017 at the tragically early age of 16. In this volume, Voices Israel is instituting a Bar Sagi Young Poets prize, a competition open to Israeli schoolchildren aged 12 to 19 writing poetry in English.
In “Just Me,” a cry from a teenager getting to grips with the adult world, Sagi begins:
Is it just me
Or is it just you
Or does everyone around us
Know what they want to do?
Her concluding lines run:
I want my life to be
full of energy
with sparks
like lightning strikes
So is it just me
Or is it just you
Or are we the only ones
Who don’t know what we wanna do.
A passing thought, a sudden insight, a few lines that evoke a memory or the recognition of a shared experience – these are the delights that poetry can provide. Keep a copy of Voices Israel 2019 handy, to open at random. A pleasurable experience awaits.


Tags poetry