Poetry, the most exhibitionist of the arts

The power of pain in poetry increases if the writing is neither forced nor sentimental. Such are Adi Assis’ poems about the child he has failed to bring into the world.

© Helicon Books. The cover of \'Child\'.

Assis reveals the depths of his heart in his work, closer than even an intimate discussion with a soul mate. Of course, this quality isn’t enough to create good writing, but it is a vital basis for strong poems, which continue to make us tremble at such unexpected, direct contact with the poet’s exposed soul.

I don’t feel comfortable admitting this, but cheerful, enthusiastic poems don’t leave their mark. The ones that shake up the reader the most are those in which the poet has refined pain into searing lines. [ . . . ] The tension between an extremely loaded subject and highly restrained writing electrifies us.

The first section of Assis’ book Child grants the book its title. This series of poems is exceptional in its exhibitionism and its sorrow over the child the writer and his wife have failed to bring into the world. ‘You have no flesh / child, you are blood // spilling over the legs / of your mother / into the toilet’.

The lines are delivered as reportage that cannot mask their sorrow, addressing the missing child:

I awaken
in pain, not from your
cries. For you have

no pulse, the doctor says
on the other side of the curtain

and for a moment I picture you emerging
naked and yelling

dragging the monitor

no. We merely
thanks, wait patiently
for the next treatment.

The sterile efforts to conceive are repeated, piling an unbearable emotional burden upon the reader. The poet’s world, and ours with it, contracts into a vortex of loss:

Drenched in alcohol
we make you,
but there’s nothing
to be done. Tonight

we’ll vomit, and tomorrow
again we’ll be without you.


We call after you:
‘a child is lost, by the
name of’ . . . What is

your name?

The suffering of the wretched who can impregnate the rich with happiness also arises amid all this pain:

The uterus trafficker negotiates
with surrogates, among the needy,
a child to order,
to sweeten our future

she piles up forms: in your situation
only a child no matter

wherefrom (Armenia
Bulgaria India China the former
Soviet Union)

[ . . . ]

The uterus trafficker
shrugs his shoulders: I don’t
know if her husband in India forced her

into surrogacy, and another says:
meet her and see
how she’s stricken by fate

she, a single
parent, generally healthy

[ . . . ]

In the way of genuine poetry, its honesty unrestricted, the rage over the failed child also rises. It explodes into insults taken from the medicine cabinet of the fertility expert:

What are you anyway?
Aspirin, folic acid,
Puregon, Decapeptyl, Progynova?
A needle in your
mother’s ass? A night on
a night off?

[ . . . ]

Adi Assis’ poetry injects us with the distress that consumes his days and nights. His laments madden us as we find ourselves rare witness to circumstances usually hidden from view, and even more profoundly, to the hidden reaches of the poet’s heart.

© Amir Becker (Translated by Lisa Katz)

Source: Excerpted and translated from Haaretz Books 24.9. 2013

• Editors & Translators (Israel)

Subscribe to the newsletter

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (international)  

follow us on facebook follow us on twitter Follow us (Dutch)