Tel Aviv group demands poetic justice
Better living conditions, improved publicity, more support for publication of books - these are some of the goals of the nascent poets' union.
A new Israeli poets association was established last Thursday night in Tel Aviv during an emergency gathering called "The State Against Poetry." Before the event began, a poetry reading took place on the street, in front of the Beit Ha'am community center on the city's Rothschild Boulevard, which still bears signs of last summer's popular protest for social justice. Some bicyclists grumbled when they discovered that their lanes were blocked by poets, and groups of young people wearing the uniforms of the Hanoar Haoved movement walked right past and took no interest in the goings-on; they were apparently in the midst of a treasure hunt.
In the months leading up to the gathering, local poets discussed among themselves the issues that disturb them: from the lack of funding for publication of books to the name of the new organization they were founding: the Poetry Union, the Union of Poets? While there was also a suggestion to hold a general poets strike, it seemed on Thursday that that idea had been abandoned and now those in attendance were now calling for poetic justice.
To this end, they set forth their goals: the development and enrichment of poetry "audiences," greater publicity for poetic works, development of a better literary culture, improvement of poets' living conditions, creation of conditions that will encourage these artists to pursue their craft, better distribution of local poetic works and promotion of Israeli poetry and poets abroad.
"It only seems that a poet may be doing nothing, just scribbling," said poet Amir Or. "But with his words he creates worlds and validates reality. And thus even the most minor poet is a revolutionary."
Or called for the recognition of poetry as a profession, saying: "We don't live only to eat well and multiply, but so that life will have significance."
Former Minister of Education Yossi Sarid, who is also a poet, quoted the Talmud, "The work of my hands drowns in the sea and shall you chant hymns?" adding that "we are as committed to poetry as the work of our hands. We won't be saved by this government. I am afraid that they have no interest in poetry. We must take care of ourselves."
Said poet and journalist Roy Chicky Arad, a leader of the new movement: "People think a poet must starve and suffer, and wonder what the connection can be between poets and a union. We stand not only against the establishment and the state, but also against Israeli capitalism. We won't accept it. Poetry isn't merchandise. Poetry is like love - poetry is culture."
Among those participating in the gathering were Adi Assis, Gilad Meiri, Tsipi Shahrur, Merhav Yeshurun, Maya Bejarano, Yossi Alfi, Tal Nitzan, Yakov Bitan, Yehoshua Simon, Hagit Grosman and Yehezkel Nafshi.
Poet Mordechai Geldman said he was grateful to "my brothers and sisters who are taking part in this protest group." According to Geldman, "this is not just the hour of protest for all those who have been discriminated against by piggish capitalism. An especially bad outbreak of fascism is taking place, and there is nothing fascism hates more than the poet. It is no accident that fascists killed [Spanish poet Federico Garcia] Lorca, and you know where he was shot."
Poet Mati Shmuelof, a member of the steering committee that is trying to organize the new union, asserted that poets also deserved financial support. "There's a Film Law [providing financial support for film projects] but no Poetry Law," he said.
Poet Diti Ronen displayed a sticker printed on a sort of card, similar to a consumer stamp of approval that is distributed to businesses. It will be distributed by the new organization to bookstores and cafes that support poetry. Ronen also offered statistics from the Ministry of Culture's budget, according to which 2 percent was allotted to literature and only a small fraction of that to poetry. The statistics are especially bad, she claimed, since the literature budget was reduced 40 percent between 2008 and 2010.
"Poetic justice is social justice," she declared.