Russell House was filled with students and adults alike on Tuesday, Oct. 10 as Israeli poet Agi Mishol spoke on the subject of “How Poets Think.” The Jewish and Israel Studies Department sponsored Mishol, 2002 winner of the prestigious Yehuda Amichai Prize, as part of the “Contemporary Israeli Voices” series.
Mishol spoke in English for most of the lecture, but read selected poems aloud in the original Hebrew form. Lisa Katz, Mishol’s translator, read the same poems in their English versions. Katz and Mishol also spoke about their relationship as translator and poet.
“One of the joys of translating for Agi is her sense of humor,” Katz said.
“It takes a lot of responsibility and a lot of generosity [to translate poetry],”said Mishol, who thanked Katz for her help.
Katz and Mishol revealed that translating the original intention of Mishol’s poetry is no easy feat.
“When you pass the borders of the languages you pay a tax,” Mishol said.
Mishol also shared what she sees as the main attributes necessary for writing poetry. She conceded that sensitivity is a commonly shared trait among poets, but noted that it is not the single defining characteristic of a poet. Instead it is the “love of words and the attention to words” that makes someone a poet, according to Mishol. She also noted that seeing things from what she called “unexpected angles” and thinking metaphorically are also key qualities of a poet.
Mishol reflected on the power of her words by sharing an incident in which one of her poems, “Woman Martyr,” caused a great deal of political controversy in Israel. “Woman Martyr” describes Mishol’s reactions to a young suicide bomber who entered a bakery disguised as a pregnant woman.
“When I published this poem in a newspaper, a lot of people canceled their subscriptions,” Mishol said.
Mishol explained that while she does not consider herself a political writer, as an Israeli citizen political issues are not always avoidable in her poetry.
“Because I’m from Israel, I can’t help it that the reality of what is around me percolates into poems,” Mishol said.
During the question and answer session that followed the lecture, it was noted that poetry typically holds much more political power in Israel than it does in the United States.
“I think it’s great that one of Agi’s poems was able to cause an uproar in the newspaper, because poems, and art in general, in the United States, while more accessible than before, don’t seem to be able to create the impact on the masses that they used to,” said Emily Hoffman ’10.
Not all of Mishol’s poems are on political subjects, however. During her lecture she also read poems about personal relationships, teachers, and animals.
Mishol concluded her lecture by saying that she wished to dedicate it to all young writers.
“I look upon them with envy,” Mishol said. “One can be a young poet only once in his life.”