War, Peace, and Poetry

December 22, 2010 | By

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Though the Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch (1937-2005) was named for a flower, her unsentimental and ironic poems are decidedly not flowery.

Her first book, “The Love of an Orange,” was published when she was in her early twenties. The title poem is playful and funny and sinister all at once–here’s the first verse, translated from the Hebrew:

An orange did love
With life and limb
The man who ate it,
The man who flayed it

In another poem, Ravikovitch tells the story of a dead man who returns home to tell his children how he was killed–while metaphorically alluding to ancient sacrifices from the Temple. In others, she gives voice to the silent women in biblical narratives. In her later years, once Ravikovitch had the nation’s ear, her poems began to address racial and economic inequality in Israel, the plight of the Palestinians, and the need for peace.

A new anthology in English, Hovering at a Low Altitude,  collects much (but not all) of Ravikovitch’s work. The pictures she paints are sometimes pretty and sometimes gritty and uncomfortable–but they always hit home

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