Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yael Tomashov-Hollander, a special poetic voice

Unknown Sea

Yael is a poet and literary editor in Tel Aviv. Her book of poems Unknown Sea (in Hebrew) was published last year. The poem "Apocatastasis" appeared in that collection. Below is the translation from Hebrew to English by Shir Freibach. I will have a few words to say after the poem.


"Only, I don't believe in Apocalypses. I believe in Apocatastases. Apo-cata-stasis. What it means: 
1) Restoration, re-establishment, renovation. 2) Return to a previous condition.
3) (Astronomy) Return to the same apparent position, completion of a period of revolution"
Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean / Signal To Noise

I am remembering a record of a children's story. The swan freezes or is forgotten
or dies of loneliness. I am seven and the pain wounds me
each time it's played.

Summer is ending right now. A fan turns slowly,
propelling the air that's cooling outside the window.
The sound of a deep, distant thunder gargles above the city that darkened early,
I live one hour backward.
My rain forests are piling up on the table.
As long as I shall read them
I will not die.
The swan freezes or dies of loneliness
and I breathe shallow breaths, growing to a medium size
and kick the transparent door of actuality. Behind it is the blooming garden of emotions;
my little hell.
Maybe there was no swan. But something in that story got left behind
and Death sat with Autumn on the spinning vinyl disc
like two mice, silently.

Right now, summer is reaching its end. The fan keeps stubbornly
turning back the pages.
There, in the white condensed space before the first word,
an error.

Copyright © Yael Tomashov-Hollander
Translated from Hebrew by Shir Freibach

Okay. This is me again. With a few words. 

Each poet has her distinctive voice. But some voices are curiouser than others. They elude a confident description. Those rare voices have a way of pulling you into a poem and holding you there. By virtue of something you can't quite put your finger on. You're not sure what's happening to you while you are reading or listening.  

Yael's is a special voice and one that will last. It's not the kind of voice that is usual, or that will make your brain ache with boredom. It will last because there is something in it that is already old. Yet a quality always fresh. You have to slide back to the Russian poets of the last century to find a possible trace of this tonality, of this depth of utterance. To when they wrote in a general atmosphere resonating with aspects of Surrealism. It's a tonality sounding within the quiet vortex of spirit moving around memory and symbol. You have to glance back peripherally at those earlier instances of speaking nakedly before the masks of being (which makes things go sur-real) to find an artistic and psychological analog. And I'm talking about sound and sounding, not necessarily thematic similarity or characteristic focus.

The lines above are "spoken" with a pleasing variety of length, yet I'm struck by how a quality of succinctness and compression is dominant. Pieces of memory and presence vibrate in stark moments of decanted saying. The effect is uncanny. A declaiming register blends into an aesthetic attitude, and the result is a poem approaching the condition of eccentric (yes, surreal) music.

Of course, a voice has its truest effect in the original language. I don't know Hebrew, so I must rely on translation. All I know is that the above translation delivers to me a subtly powerful and meaningful poem. One that will last.

I didn't go very far here into the what of this poem. I'm concentrating here on the aurality of the poem. I'll leave the what-experience for the reader.


  1. Fragments of memory assemble in a harsh ballet, danced with the present moment. The printed page acts as a stage, the dancers passionately struggle to maintain stasis as they re-enact the poignancy of a first wounding.

    (A stab of a guess-timation of a sense of this poem; as a visual thinker, first, the images flood my senses, and the sounds follow. I agree that the voice, the immediacy of this poet is astounding. There is a clarity of purpose, the words are set like semi-precious stones in a mosaic. The poem remains with the reader.)

    1. I'm so glad you shared your impressions of this poem. It's a favorite of mine. It does that thing I look for in a poem -- subtly allude to a sense of things beyond emotional triteness and experiential everydayness.

      I also envy how this poet uses irregular line lengths. One day, I'll figure out how to do that also. That natural way of saying, much freer than my own OC regular line lengths.