A school of her own

on Rivka Miriam's Collected Poems [excerpt]
Deze tekst is alleen beschikbaar in het engels

© Rivka Miriam. Cover of the collected poems.

Rivka Miriam is nearly a current all to herself in Israeli poetry, not only because she’s been ahead of her time in many respects (in her religious eroticism, for example, and the surrealism that sometimes runs through her work, which connects, in a natural way, a highly personal self-examination with the culture at large – traditional Jewish culture, in the main). It’s fascinating to look at her collected poems also for the exceptional range of ages [at which they were written].

Here, for example, are lines from an early book and a recent one: ‘God knocked on my window/ and the skin of my face shone . . . the walls were too narrow/ so he left my room and fled/ into the fields’ (tr. Linda Zisquit). And then: ‘It seems that not only God is hiding/ the earth is hidden too’. God who is present and disappears, and his existence beyond the field of vision though on some perceptible wavelength, are motifs running through all of Miriam’s work. While the second quote was written when she was 57, the first she wrote when she was merely 13. Her first book, My Yellow Dress, was published when she was 14.
Miriam’s maturity, the often grown-up poetry she wrote at this age, is not only astonishing but also puzzling. What is the significance of a soul developing so early? (Even poems about death may be found in her first book.) And do the bracing nature and freedom of her later poetry derive from this consciousness of a girl/young woman? Perhaps such categories applied to art and awareness are actually timeless and have nothing to do with age.
Almog Behar’s lovely, affectionate afterword to her two-volume collected poems (Carmel Publishing House, 2011) throws light on the central motifs in Miriam’s work: womb and grave; the presence and absence of God; laughter and tears as the foundation of spiritual experience; history as a continuous present, and so on. But exactly because of its unity of theme and style over so many years, her body of poetry may be read in an attempt to extract the developmental, biographical and artistic processes in it. Because her poetry is so free and intuitive, even untamed, this quest paradoxically leads to an understanding of its refinement and precision.
It may be that the driving force in Miriam’s poetry is the wisdom of simplicity.

[…] In her later work one discovers (when looking for it, it must be emphasized; reading with a different emphasis reveals mostly similarities between her early and late work) a kind of acceptance, peacefulness at the end of mourning, almost a return to religion, with slight and marvelous lines like: ‘The locks of my hair filled with dew// It seems that before/ my God embraced me, he dipped his hands in water’ [that is to say, carried out a human ritual].  Or: ‘There is a vine, father said, and a fig tree/ and to a question asked, a divine voice that answers/ and voices and echoes produce a tune. And each stone cast is also a corner/ stone’.
Perhaps it is no accident that Miriam reaches the height of her artistic sophistication in Place, Tiger (1994), that is, while in her 40s.  These are, on the one hand, difficult and wise poems, precisely worded […] and on the other, they are spiritually uplifting and practically float in the air.
But Miriam’s poetry is too varied and multifaceted to summarize briefly. Her reworking of biblical stories, for example, hasn’t been mentioned here, or her tough tales as a mother or about the members of her family who perished in the Holocaust. There is always more to say about her relationship with a God figure. Perhaps more than anything else, despite the difficulty that is never absent from them, a sense of constant amazement spreads throughout them, as though they preserve the childlike glance at one and the same time that of the elder of the tribe.


© Erez Schweitzer (Vertaald door Lisa Katz)

Bron: Haaretz 16 February 2011

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