A new chapter for poetry

Poets and musicians will take to the streets for the first One Square Meter Festival.

When the police draft security plans for an outdoor public event, they estimate the number of necessary officers by considering both the size of the expected audience and the area that this audience will require. This calculation assumes that each audience member takes up one square meter. Anyone who has been to a popular public event knows, however, that it's necessary to share this "one square meter" with several others. "The idea of 'one square meter' is a perfect example of how this country is run by rules meant to cover one's behind," says Gilad Meiri, manager of the Poetry Place at the Lev Ha'ir Community Center in Nahlaot. "At its best, popular culture can bring a sort of mass ecstasy." Meiri is a member of the Ktovet Poetry Group that organized One Square Meter, which will take place in alternative venues throughout Jerusalem next week. "If you want to put a rock musician out on the street, it's basically like preparing for war," continues Meiri. "There's a gap between our actual reality and the illusions we create as a result of our anxiety. This gap is filled by creative people - artists, writers, musicians." Ktovet has gathered over 60 performers for the poetry festival. Though there are well-known figures such as Haim Guri, Esther Ettinger and Roni Somek, half of the poets - including Michal Cohen, an 18-year-old graduate of the Poetry Place workshop - are young and relatively unknown, with at most a single volume of published poetry. There are also popular musicians, such as Amir Lev, Hemi Rudner, Yossi Bablik and Johnny Shuani; Jewish ethnic musicians like Izar Shabi and Adi Forti; and jazz musicians including Ido Bukelman. For Ktovet, this festival is much more than a group of events. It's a carefully thought-out effort that takes into account issues beyond simply providing culture to the public. "We don't want to be chained to petty ideology," says Meiri. "There's tension between using a pluralistic model in which you include 'everyone' but lose what you want to say, and a centric model in which you include only one set of voices who say only one thing. But you don't have this if you recognize that each poet is saying something authentic." The resulting diversity of expressions from such an approach, however, doesn't necessarily make for a discordant experience. "I can listen to a good right-wing poet and a good left-wing poet. When I hear a good poem, it doesn't matter if I'm embarrassed by something in the poem, I experience a thrill. This is a sort of freedom," says Meiri. "It was important for us to give this festival a young appeal," he adds. "I'm a poet, and I want poets and poems to be exposed to the public." He points out that the audience will receive the poems directly from the poet, without a written reference in hand. "It has to do with intimacy, an idea that's also very important to the festival. The world is getting crowded," he explains. "In this country we have two nations living together, we have different social sectors living together. But how can you be intimate with your neighbor - or with God - if you aren't intimate with yourself?" The personal and introverted nature of poetry, Meiri suggests, helps us access this intimacy within ourselves. This process, he adds, is an important aspect of interaction with others. "The space of intimacy is a sort of redemption, a place where we're cleansed of our fears." The idea of intimacy influenced the venues that were chosen for the festival, including the courtyards of the Lev Ha'ir Community Center and the Museum of Italian Jewry, the Kubiya and the Daila Center, and the homes of Nahlaot residents. Preparation for the festival began two years ago with proposals to donors. Slowly, the agenda and funds were built up, and the active producing process started this past February. Since then, in addition to the Poetry Place's normal events and workshops, Meiri has been working around the clock to arrange the details of the festival together with his assistant Noa Shakargy, who is working with the Poetry Place as part of her national service. Two months ago, the group decided they should also produce a festival book, and started production on a publication that includes a new work from every participating poet. "Fifteen years ago there were no poetry festivals in Israel," says Meiri. "Now you have at least six." Meiri himself has been integral in this national poetry awakening. He was the original producer of what is now the Sha'ar International Poetry Festival in Tel Aviv, and is on the artistic committee of the National Poetry Festival in Metulla. Still, poetry is a relatively new trend in the capital, and it seems not everyone is convinced of the importance of a poetry festival here. While organizing the festival, Meiri recalls, he was asked whether there weren't already enough poetry festivals in Israel. "I told them: 'You don't say that about Web sites, magazines, newspapers, music festivals.' Poetry is another way of bringing people closer to reality. And if done well, a poetry festival can be an upliftment, a cathartic experience." The One Square Meter Jerusalem Poetry Festival will take place from July 15-17. For more information, visit: www.poetryplace-festival.org