With an Iron Pen
Twenty Years of
Hebrew Protest Poetry

Tal Nitzan, Rachel Tzvia Back, Editors
(Excelsior / State University of New York)

    Bless, Wickedness, the joy of deportation, the beauty of exile, the grace of genocide
    and the burning of villages ...
    Rejoice in Kosovo and in Hebron, in Auschwitz and in Hiroshima ...

writes poet Tamir Greenberg.

For Aharon Shabtai, it isn't Wickedness, it's the fence, "Winding for miles / between the orchards / like a pickpocket's hand --- / is set deep in the mind." Zvi Atzmon refers to tires as being "for burning."

    Gas is for tears.
    R. D. is for Reserve Duty.
    And a soldier is a soldier.
    M.O.O.N. is moon.
    W.H.I.T.E. is white.
    And T.H.A/T.'S that.
    Terror. Terrible.

There eighty-eight poems in the anthology With an Iron Pen. All are translated from the original Hebrew. It is, as the editor says, "a collective protest to the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Palestinian territories."

Forty-two poets have contributed, including such well-known writers as Yehuda Amichai, Aharon Shabtai and Natan Zach. And it is a virulent collection, pained writings to remind us of the forty years of occupation.

And because of the fire of it --- remember, these are Jewish writers, writing of the militancy of their own country --- it reminds us of the black authors of the United States, beginning in the 1950s, demanding to be heard: James Baldwin, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Eldridge Cleaver, Ralph Ellison, Ishmael Reed.

Pissed-off poets do not necessarily make for great poetry. Their words must be tempered by irony, despair, wisdom, and bitter sorrow. After all, they are the heirs to Shakespeare, Pope, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, and that great wise cynic of English literature, Roy Fuller.

But when Tuvia Ruebner writes

    Lice have conquered you, glorious Holy Land.
    And they've sucked your blood. Everyone has failed.
    What's been done cannot be undone. Weep and wait.
    For you've ceded all rule and command to the parasites ...

we must (and do) get a feeling of despair, but it is despair blended with compassion.

--- A. W. Allworthy
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