"The world is becoming small," says Gilad Meiri. "This country is small and contains two nations, this city is small and has many people who are seeking a means of expression, and poetry is the smallest aesthetic genre that can express so much in a few words. In that sense, poetry can be seen as an existential solution for us - so many things can be arranged in a small area, like one square meter."
Meiri is the artistic director of Jerusalem's K'tovet Poetry Group, which will be hosting a new poetry festival, dubbed "One Square Meter." The festival begins next Tuesday, July 15, and will run for three days.
"The concept of the festival is to be one square meter," explains Meiri. The festival's name "reflects distress caused by density and crowding, as well as intimacy and closeness. It's a name that suits an Israeli and Jerusalem-based festival."
The festival will be held in the alleys in the heart of the city, around the Nahlaot neighborhood. About 50 poets will participate, reading from their poems with musical accompaniment; there will also be writing workshops and performances. All events will be free and open to the public.
The members of K'tovet, most of them graduates of Helicon poetry classes, have been active in Jerusalem for the past six years and run the Poetry Place at the Nahlaot community center, which offers evenings of poetry and music, writing workshops and meetings with poets from Israel and abroad. The group recently produced an anthology, "K'tovet," published by Even Hoshen.
"One Square Meter" is being launched at a time when poetry festivals are flourishing in Israel, from Metula in the north, through Tel Aviv, and as far south as Sde Boker in the Negev. Will the good news reach the capital as well?
"Jerusalem does not have enough poetry in everyday life," says Meiri. "The festival is trying to compensate for that, and to create something that reverberates. As a group of poets we do not have a journal, but we hold three literary events each month because we see poetry as performance. That is our agenda. Perhaps in the future we will also publish a journal, but not instead of the encounter between a poet and his audience."
What connects the members of K'tovet, apparently, is not a political stance or a particular ideology - as opposed to the poets of Mashiv Haruah, the journal for Jewish and Israeli poetry, for example - but simply the fact that they all live in Jerusalem.
"In the provinces, there is often brotherhood among writers from the same neighborhood," says Meiri. "It's true that politically we are on the left, but we are poets who differ from one another. Jerusalem today is a place where it is hard to create culture. In Tel Aviv, poetry is self-understood, there are many pubs and cultural centers and opportunities to create a platform for yourself. Here, in order to create a platform, you have to create different energies entirely. The potential audience for poetry in Jerusalem is not large, either; it's always the same people, and that's why our activities are free of charge.
"We combine poetry, Jerusalem and society. We are located in a community center in the heart of the city. It's the most nonviable combination possible, economically speaking. But the lotus blooms in swamps, and redemption comes via the sewers. That may be one of the reasons why we manage to survive - it's either that or disappearing from the map of poetry."
How do the K'tovet poets earn a living? "We all make a living from other things that are not poetry," says Meiri. "Shai Dotan is an official in the Finance Ministry, Dorit Weisman is a pensioner who receives a National Insurance allowance, Lior Sternberg works as a teacher in the Hebrew University-partnered high school, Ariel Zinder lectures at Hebrew University about medieval poetry."
Inspired by T. Carmi
Among the poets participating in the festival are Haim Gouri, Ronny Someck, Esther Ettinger, Raquel Chalfi, Efrat Mishori, Amira Hess, Yisrael Eliraz, Erez Biton, Benny Shvili, Ro'i Tchiki Arad, Tamir Greenberg, Ayman Agbaria, Yochai Oppenheimer, Eli Eliyahu, Dvora Amir, Michal Govrin, Hamutal Bar-Yosef, Liat Kaplan, Almog Behar, Yehoram Pitchi Ben-Meir and Uri Bernstein. Participating musicians include Amir Lev, Hemi Rudner, Johnny Shuali and Yossi Babliki.
Participating in the opening performance of the festival, which will take place on Tuesday at 8 P.M. at the community center in Nahlaot (42 Ohel Moshe Street) will be Haim Gouri, Zvi Atzmon, Efrat Mishori, Erez Biton, Raquel Chalfi and Michal Cohen, and musician Amir Lev.
The "Shira-Bira" (capital poetry) performance - poetry readings and music far into the night - will take place at 10 P.M. in the restaurant-bar Hakubiya (10 Beit Ya'akov Street). Emanuel Gelman will read from his translations of the poems of Valdimir Mayakovsky, and other participants will include Hava Pinhas-Cohen, Yael Globerman, Limor Adler, Oren Yirmiya and musician Johnny Shuali.
On Wednesday at 5 P.M. at 7 Ohel Moshe Street (in the home of the Yeshua family) there will be a meeting with poets Hamutal Bar-Yosef and Yulia Wiener. At 8 P.M. there will be a poetry performance, "Sod Hatzimtzum" (The secret of contraction), with Israel Eliraz, Prof. Yaakov Raz, Roi Tchiki Arad and Shachar Raveh, as well as a performance by actor Benjamin Yegendorf, "Neum Hatovea" (The speech of the drowning man), inspired by the poems of T. Carmi, and a dance performance by Itzik Gabai and Miriam Engel, inspired by haiku.
On Thursday at 5 P.M. there will be a meeting at the Tmol Shilshom cafe between Shimon Sandbank and Lilach Lachman. At 6:30 P.M. at the Museum of Italian Jewry (27 Hillel Street) the show "Family" will take place, with poets Uri Bernstein, Yochai Oppenheimer, Orit Meital, Yair Eldan and Sivan Har-Shefi, with musical accompaniment by Yossi Babliki. The festival will end with an acoustical performance by Hemi Rudner in the plaza of the Museum of Italian Jewry.
The festival has a NIS 250,000 budget, funded by the Bracha Fund, Eden and the Jerusalem Fund.
For more details see the festival Web site: www.poetryplace.festival.org. Read more about the activity of the K'tovet Poetry Group on its Web site: www.poetryplace.org.