Poets Festival - Betting on life and love

This year’s program takes in slots devoted to the 110th anniversary of Natan Alterman’s birth and the 50th of his death.

Poetry reading, illustrative (photo credit: FLICKR)
Poetry reading, illustrative
(photo credit: FLICKR)
The long list of cultural events that have been forced to opt for a noncorporeal, Internet-facilitated means of presentation, regrettably, continues to grow.
One of the latest members of the ever-lengthening roster of virtual slots is the Poets Festival, which normally takes place up in Metulla on Shavuot. The organizers, Confederation House in Jerusalem, were forced to put the program on ice for a while, and have finally gotten around to proffering the country’s leading poetry event, which will take place September 3-5.
The festival always has a theme, generally focusing on some milestone or other in the sector’s continuum. This year’s program takes in slots devoted to the 110th anniversary of Natan Alterman’s birth and the 50th of his death. The half-century mark since the passing of fellow Israel Prize laureate writer Leah Goldberg is also noted, and there is a well-earned salute to the enduring editorial efforts of 78-year-old Prof. Menachem Peri.
As usual, the festival curator, Confederation House director Effie Benaya, has put together a glittering bill of the country’s leading long-serving literary figures, including such stalwarts as A.B. Yehoshua, Meir Shalev, Eyal Megged, Erez Bitton and award-winning Bedouin poet Sheikha Helawy. But Benaya has also ensured there are some more contemporary and caustic energies in the festival mix, too, with a rollout of feisty younger-generation writers the likes of Sigal Ben Yair, Nissim Bracha and Shlomi Hatuka.
HATUKA HAS been one of the most forthright of the lot, also gaining a pretty decent public profile through his readings as part of the Ars Poetica project and TV slots. Thus far he has put out three volumes of his writing, in Hebrew, with the latest – Ee (Island) and Yabeshet (Continent) – published just six months ago.
“There was something in the air” at the time, notes the 42-year-old. “The pandemic wasn’t officially among us yet, but you could sense something coming.”
Hatuka has had his antennae finely tuned for some time. His poems offer glimpses of his most intimate feelings and thoughts and some of his personal milestones, including some of a highly emotive and painful nature, and he does not balk at expressing his views on political developments here either.
As he turned 80, Leonard Cohen surprised many of his fans by noting that lyric writing was hard work. Many of us fancifully imagined that the late iconic Canadian poet, singer-songwriter simply waited for the Muses to point their benevolence in Cohen’s direction and all he then had to do was place pen on paper, or fingers on computer keyboard – one rather suspects the former was the case – and the writing would take care of itself.
Hatuka says it is very much a matter of going with the flow and dealing with street-level logistics. “There are times when I am in listening mode, and times when I write. There are dynamics to life. That has to be taken into account, too.” Rather than being an impediment, consideration of the practicalities of everyday living can provide plenty of grist to Hatuka’s literary mill. “I want my poetry to be good, to be beautiful, but it also should reflect life,” he stresses. “You have to live in order to write.”
As the grandson of Yemenite Jews who made aliyah shortly after the creation of the state, he addresses the painful episode of Yemenite babies being spirited away in hospitals and given to other families, after the mother was informed that her newborn had suddenly died. In Hatuka’s case, his grandmother was asked to give up one of her twin daughters for adoption. She naturally refused. However, a few days later, she was told that one of the girls had died.
Hatuka writes about that in an earlier tome – Mizrah Yare’ah (East Moon) – in a delicate but succinct poem called “Savta” (Grandmother). The line “Ana madariya fin binti?” – Where is my daughter? – appears twice in the last stanza. Hatuka closes the poem with: “Today I don’t leave any covered eyes, and deaf ears, around me.”
“It is simply inconceivable that such a thing could happen,” he says. “Thousands of babies vanished. Some are buried somewhere, but no one knows where the grave is. And there were graves that were opened and they were found to be empty. Today the state admits the whole episode. The whole of that book [Mizrah Yare’ah] is about that.”
Hatuka also shares some of his childhood trials and tribulations with the reader, including the violence he was subjected to by his father. The poet lets it all hang out, deftly and artistically, but with nary a punch held in check.
He has a propensity for risk-taking, as befitting any artist worth his salt.
“You could say I live life on the edge,” he notes when I mention a particularly poignant piece in Yabeshet called “Himur” – Wager or Gamble.
“Poetry, in particular, is a gamble,” he states. “Life as an artist is a challenging gamble. Artists seek recognition, more than the regular man or woman in the street. A good poet can lose his way.”
Still, Hatuka is not the first to tread the artistic minefield. “As [19th-century Russian writer Fyodor] Dostoevsky said in The Idiot, I don’t have a problem with the suffering. I just hope there is some meaning to it,” he notes.
Hatuka’s work has palpable emotive meaning, and his September 5 (11 a.m.) session with Bracha and literary researcher Prof. Michael Gluzman, and moderator Benny Tzipper, promises to be an enlightening and moving experience.
For more information: (02) 539-9360 ext. 5 and http://www.confederationhouse.org/