A green clarity

1967: one of Yair Hurwitz's first books is reviewed by a contemporary poet


What we have here is an aspiration to the fleetingness of animals and flowers, of a stream, a particular kind of revelation in the midst of dusty, choking life.

Yair Hurwitz’s new book of poems [Salvion, 1966] is likely to be an important way station for the poet. His two earlier volumes confined themselves to a narrow, autobiographical range of experience. The first clung to his mother’s life and the loss of his father, drawing its moving force and unique tone from these early experiences. The second book consisted of the romantic-sentimental adventures of a love affair. Poetry does not only amount, of course, to a short extract of its topics: but this direct delving into personal experience is limiting. Something about it delays the development and maturation of the poet’s language. It appears that Hurwitz needed this time before he could write poetry which is not concerned with external matters, but rather with inner workings and the personal world found behind lines of verse.

The book’s language is highly personal, immersed in a broken syntax which swallows up verbs and nouns, and kneads them into a smooth and uniform dough [ . . . ] It is possible to connect this method to that of contemporary artists who use ordinary items and materials in their work to make collages, in which the items themselves lose some of their earlier identities and acquire new ones, because they are absorbed by the composition, or connected by monochromatic color. The individual word is not awarded star status and is not allowed to function by this means. To the extent that a word is designated important by the poet, it is simply repeated many times, repetitions which are themselves somewhat concealed and only achieve their effects in the total picture. So, for example, the word ‘water’ is repeated 30 times in this thin volume.

A central experience in Hurwitz’s poetry is a subversive movement toward plant and animal life in an urban environment. These poems contain a flight from the structure and organisation which surround the poet, and a search for something “whose scent is wrapped in a flowering tree”. Elsewhere, “I/ refuse to feel the world’s pain and measure the hours with water”. They abstain from ethical dealings with reality, an abstention which is the outcome of the renunciation of any attempt or pretence to speak about experience or take a stand on it. The only position, which appears again and again in the book, is that of the experience, at the end of which there is a search for sensual and colourful magic, vague and personal.

It is rare to find an urban poet whose vocabulary is largely that of plants, watering and small animals (insects and worms; mostly birds and fowl). But the proliferation of plant life is misleading. There is no direct embrace of nature or its symbols here. In general, this poet’s connection to nature itself is highly questionable. What we have here instead is an aspiration to the fleetingness of animals and flowers, of a stream, a particular kind of revelation, in the midst of dusty, choking life. “Rain/ drips lightly and for a moment beyond dust/ discovers green clarity in leaves”. This green transparency of a momentary revelation beyond dust is loaded with the tension of an important and unique discovery [ . . . ]

The desire “to be there/ on the bottom of a dream” leads to dreamy landscapes and the regions of childhood. Hurwitz’s poems seem, sometimes, blurry or similar to one another, even to those readers who have faith in a reputedly modern kind of reading. These poems, in the way of original poetry, dictate, or seek to dictate, the way they should be read, and without going all this way, it is impossible to take from them all that is in their power to give.

Excerpted from a review of Salvion which first appeared in the Haaretz newspaper in 1967 and was reprinted in the special review volume no. 64 of the journal Achshav in 1995/1996. 

© Meir Wieseltier (Translated by Lisa Katz)

Source: Achshav, no. 64, 1995/1996

• Editors & Translators (Israel)

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