Poem of the Week / What the Poet Thinks About When He Thinks About Horses

Ronny Someck is the master of using the short poem to pile new dimensions onto reality.

Horse Power

Ronny Someck

To Liora and Shirly


No horse has ever read “The Headless Horseman.”

No horse has ever seen Picasso’s paintbrush

Lashings on the tail of Don Quixote’s horse.

Horses are illiterate and color blind

But in the soft rubbing of mane against mane

I learned to affix love like a horseshoe.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden. From Someck’s 11th book of poetry, "Koah Sus" (“Horse Power,” Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir Publishing House, 2013).

***

Ronny Someck was born in Baghdad in 1951 and came to Israel with his family as a very young boy. He studied Hebrew literature and philosophy at Tel Aviv University and drawing at the Avni Institute of Art and Design. He currently teaches literature, leads creative writing workshops, and has written two books for children with his daughter Shirly. His work has been translated into many languages and he has been the recipient of many awards and honors.

Someck is proud of his Iraqi roots, and this theme appears frequently in his work (though not in this particular example). He has told an interviewer that he would like some day to revisit the land of his birth.

Someck's work is also steeped in Western culture, film, and rock and roll. And, though not himself a musician, he often collaborates with musicians in various genres, ranging from the multi-talented Yair Dalal (a fellow Iraqi Jew) to American jazz instrumentalist, composer and performer Elliott Sharp.

In the book “Horse Power,” the visual images alongside the verbal images work in ways very typical of Someck's large body of work: In a few bold strokes, both words and pictures break down the boundaries between the concrete world, the imagination and the emotions. He is a master of the short poem that piles new dimensions on reality. As Uri Hollander pointed out in a review, his style “is based on a complex lineup of images” and “the sophisticated intermingling of semantic fields.”

The horse in the poem, which is dedicated to his wife and daughter, is an irrefutably real horse. The thought of it reading the story (“The Headless Horseman” refers to an adventure novel subtitled “A Strange Tale of Texas” by Scots –Irish-American writer Thomas Mayne Reid) or admiring Picasso’s art is offered and then firmly withdrawn by the seemingly didactic statement “Horses are illiterate and color blind” – which is not what one usually thinks about when one thinks about horses.

The next line seems like a first-hand observation of horses nuzzling – “mane against mane” – but from the dedication we can guess that he was really observing his wife and his child. The Hebrew version doesn't include the chime here of the name of the author of “The Headless Horseman,” but it is one of those felicitous added values that sometimes happen in translation.

In the final line the poem is corralled into the realm of the emotions, with a swift tug at the reins. “Fix love like a horseshoe” brings to mind the famous story about physicist Niels Bohr who, when asked if he really believed that the horseshoe nailed above his office door brought good luck, replied: “I am told it works even if you don't believe in it.”

Musings

*Poets who are also visual artists – for example, Michelangelo, William Blake and Breyten Breytenbach – are much rarer than poet-musicians, from the ancient bards through Leonard Cohen. Why? Could it be that poetry written by the former type of poet shares characteristics not shared by the works of the poet-musicians?

The poem in Hebrew, by permission of the poet:

Alon Ron