Poetry in motion

"A Street Song" project strikes a chord.

poetry reading 88 (photo credit: )
poetry reading 88
(photo credit: )
Gilad Meiri, a young and very active Jerusalem poet, is determined to bring poetry to Jerusalemites. A few years ago, Meiri established "A Place for Poetry" in the Lev Ha'ir community center, near the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk. Surrounded by the historical, recently renovated buildings of the "Mazkarot" neighborhoods, in the shade of the broad, leafy trees, "A Place for Poetry" is a unique project, already recognized as a prime venue for poetry reading and writing for poetry lovers from Jerusalem and beyond, professionals and budding amateurs alike. But this is not enough for Meiri, who believes that poetry should not be confined to closed rooms and classes but should become, as perhaps it once was, a part of daily life, in our streets and homes. Three years ago, when Meiri first thought of putting up posters with poetry on city streets, "no one would listen" to him. "At that time, it wasn't possible," he explained earlier this week at the festive opening of the "A Street Song" project. "There were no budgets and the intifada was in the streets." Then, just several months ago, the head of the projects department at the Jerusalem Foundation, Nadim Shiban, heard of the idea and was excited. Previously a high-ranking employee at the municipality, Shiban says that "Street Song" is one of "the most delightful projects" he has every managed. "This project has all the qualities and the advantages you can think of," he told In Jerusalem,just moments before the opening ceremony. "Being part of its establishment was a real pleasure - a moment of sheer happiness." Tzila Hayun, who has already earned her reputation as one of the most original and capable producers of art and culture venues, including the "Book Week" festivals, produced the project together with Meiri and members of the municipality's culture department. The framework of the project imposed the rules: the poems selected are all original Israeli and Jewish and all are in Hebrew. The poems have been posted in the vicinity of the city center and also in Ein Kerem, because they are considered Jerusalem's main tourist venues after the Old City. But these rules also meant that none of the haredi or Arab neighborhoods have been included in the project. "For this year," Hayun told IJ. "The issue will be reconsidered if we are able to continue the project next year." "Street Song" is composed of five color-coded routes, each with its own theme and set of verses, pasted on billboards, lamp posts, coffee shops and bus stops. "It is spring now, and pedestrians are invited to take part in a magical experience," Hayun said. "After all the bad years, when people disappeared from the streets, this will help to bring culture and normal, inspired life back to the streets and the people." The route along Rehov Agrippas includes poems that describe "the noises of daily life." In the city center, the theme is "to see, touch and breathe." In Rehavia, the poems are addressed to the questions, "Why Jerusalem, Why me?" Emek Refaim has been dedicated to "The parade of love," while the poems in Ein Kerem describe the "sounds of the leaves in the trees." At the opening, Haim Guri and other local poets were invited to share their responses. Octogenarian Guri enthralled the audience by reciting poems by Natan Alterman and U.Z. Greenberg by heart and renewing his pledge that he "would never leave this city," where he has lived most of his life. Standing later at the bus stop across from the Hillel Cafe on Rehov Emek Refaim, Rona Ellenberg, a 29-year-old Hebrew University student, didn't notice the poetry at first. And when the verses from "Her Beauty is Unknowable," by Natan Alterman, were pointed out to her, she first hummed the first few bars of the poem as set to music by popular musician Shlomo Artzi. "Hmm, I never realized that this was a real poem," she said. "I thought it was Shlomo Artzi's song. Now that I read the words, instead of listening to them, I see what a wonderful poem this is. Alterman on the streets of Jerusalem - this is really a wonderful idea." Indeed, "A Street Song" is an exquisite homage to poetry, a tribute to the Hebrew language, and an invitation to walk the city streets - a simple, low-budget, low-tech and enchanting way to provide the citizens of Jerusalem with a quintessential cultural moment.