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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Poet creates ‘a future more vivid’

Published: December 5, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

On Dec. 1, Israeli poet, translator and musician Betsy Rosenberg came to campus to perform a poetry reading in the Mandel Reading Room. She has lived in Jerusalem since 1967 while studying at Hebrew University. Through her selection of poems that she handed out to the audience, “A Future More Vivid” serves to reflect a more optimistic attitude toward the country’s future, especially with its most recent and continuous traumatic incidents that were occurring at this point in time. Her poetry is characterized as “enchanting, unsettling and a music of poems that come from an exuberant crafting of language.” Additionally, her works are interested in the articulation of female voice despite the fact that she claims that she is not a feminist.

Most of her pieces contain a fusion of different languages, such as Sanskrit. The first two poems that she recited, “Dark Rabbit” and “Sukham Dukham,” featured interesting comparisons. In “Dark Rabbit,” for instance, she likens the person addressed in the poem to a “dark rabbit,” to whom she will speak “in a language soft as grapes.” This simile is unusual because we usually don’t associate softness with grapes. Rosenberg explained that in Sanskrit, there are three different types of “fruit languages”: “grape language,” which is known as a “soft language,” used mostly in poetry, “plantain language,” meaning that one has to peel the words off to understand the meaning of the language, and “coconut language,” which one breaks open in order to get to the milk of the language.

“Sukham Dukham” is another poem that contains an interesting juxtaposition of words because of the element of Sanskrit included in the work. “Sukham Dukham” is translated to “pleasure pain.” The phrase “the fruit of pleasure pain” is the last line of her poem and even though it’s an oxymoron, it sounds beautiful when read aloud because of the alliteration. This theme is based on a saying that Rosenberg recited by heart: “The end of pleasure is pain, and the end of pain is pleasure.”

Rosenberg also dedicated a couple of poems to her brother, Jonnie, who was in the Israeli Defense Forces during the Yom Kippur War and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. “In Transit” is a reflection of her journey in transit after visiting Crete, when she addresses her brother: “I heard you call my name/ from your place beyond the Milky Way.” Her other piece “Mercy” compares Jonnie to a bull because he was a vet of large animals, specializing in taking care of cows.

She also addresses societal and political issues, especially with allusions to the Holocaust. In her poem “Dumbo,” she compares the scene where Dumbo has to leave his mother and is put into a freight train to that of the horrors Jews suffered when they were rounded up into freight cars. “The Ball” includes similar allusions, such as the yellow stars of David that Jews had to wear around like badges and the ghettos in which they lived in, cramped together, dying from the poor hygienic circumstances as well as from starvation. Even in “Gil Singer,” she mentions the “Jewish bitters” that are societal remnants permanently left as a mark of the Holocaust.

She also addresses the voices of woman through her “personal poems in disguise”: “Meroe” and “Seventh Idyll,” both poems referencing to classical figures. Meroe is the name of an ugly witch who turned who ex-lovers into animals: “You […] were transformed/ into a turkey for/ abandoning me.”

“Girl Singer” is also another poem where the title was controversial. “Girl Singers” is supposed to be considered a derogatory term and is especially looked down up by ultra Orthodox Jews because girls are not supposed to expose their voice to the world as they are violating the rule of being modest.

At the end of the reading, there was a question and answer session, and many audience members asked about Rosenberg’s translations, which seem to be a prominent characteristic in her work. Another aspect that the audience discovered is that Rosenberg listened to a lot of instrumental music while writing. As a result, this process created a sing-song rhythm to her poetry.