Last week I had the great pleasure of attending a celebration in honor of Marcela Sulak and her new translation, Twenty Girls to Envy Me: Selected Poems of Orit Gidali (University of Texas Press). Sulak is another writer I’ve become acquainted with online. She is the author of three collections of poetry and three earlier book-length translations. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University, where she is an associate professor of English. She also hosts the weekly “Israel in Translation” podcast on TLV1 FM, which you’ll see listed on the My Machberet blogroll.
The evening gathering in New York was absolutely lovely. And I was able to purchase a copy of the new book, which I greedily read this weekend.
I’ll admit that prior to learning about the new book, I didn’t know anything about Gidali or her work. Which makes Sulak’s comprehensive introduction at the start of the volume extremely helpful. Here is just the opening paragraph:
Orit Gidali was born in Israel in 1974, months after the simultaneous surprise attacks on the country from the north and the south that initiated the Yom Kippur War and revived acute existential fears linked to the Holocaust thirty years before. She was born into a society skeptical of its leadership and into a culture that was beginning to shift its focus from the collective to the individual. The collective front symbolized by the socialist kibbutz founders of the State of Israel, was beginning a slow crumble, and on opposite edges, the nongovernmental forces of Peace Now and the extra parliamentary forces of the settlers of the Gush Emunim were forming. Today, as the opportunities for true dialogue diminish, and states become increasingly polarized, and more energy is expended in excluding than including, in saying no, rather than yes, Orit Gidali’s poetry bursts onto the literary landscape on a pulse of yes.
The introduction also explains that the volume comprises selections from three Gidali collections, plus two newer poems. And it describes the collaborative process through which Sulak and Gidali selected and prepared this book’s contents. (Notably, the book is a bilingual edition, with the poems presented side-by-side in English and Hebrew.)
You can preview one of the poems that captivated me, “Kohelet,” over on As It Ought To Be. (Sure, one of the reasons I’m captivated is because I continue to struggle with one of my own poems, originally titled “Arguing with Kohelet” but currently living in my Word documents as “Arguing with Ecclesiastes.”) In fact, for reasons I’ve alluded to earlier, I found myself especially drawn to the clearly biblically-inspired/”midrashic” poems in this volume.
On the other hand, I’m equally impressed by, say, “Did You Pack It Yourself?”—although I’ll confess that my initial understanding of the poem was vastly enlarged by Sulak’s additional discussion of the piece in the aforementioned introduction. (Always read the introductions, people!) A few of the poems in the book’s second section simply stymied me—in part, I think, because of the use of circles and other innovations to present lines of text. I often think that I’m a terrible experimental reader.
The book is still quite new, and other reviews are, for now, few. I did find this one on Shelf Awareness, and I hope that there will be many more to come.