NEA Literature Fellowships

Tsipi Keller

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(2011 - Translation)

"On the Shore, Tel Aviv, Winter 1974" from  Reality Crumbs by Raquel Chalfi

[translated from Hebrew]

A crocodile cloud swallowed a cloud-cloud.
All is clogged
and where did the war go?
The pier is painted red and yellow
with the inscription: Tel Aviv.
The drums of the depths are indifferent.
In the sky shadowy figures
frolic unhurriedly.   An infinite wrestling arena
in slow-motion takes.
A crane rises above the luxury hotel
Hilton. And where did the war go.
A crocodile cloud swallowed a cloud-cloud. Where
did the war go. Up    in the depths
soft clouds make love to planes.
The air fills the lungs
with spiky salt and laughter.
The sun, a fading photograph.
Birds on the shore grayly peck the sand.
The sea – its muscles groan.
A lone woman, a synthetic kerchief
on her head     what is she
in face of a thunderstorm.
The diving board, too, is painted orange.

An old woman, her lips attempt:

                                                   He was an angel
                                                   He was an angel

Excerpt in Hebrew

About Raquel Chalfi

A major poet in Israel, Chalfi is also well known in Europe, where her poems have appeared in English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian translations. A few of her poems have appeared in this country, but Reality Crumbs, spanning 35 years of Chalfi's work, will be the first volume to be published in the U.S. 

In his extensive introductory essay to her collected poems, Dan Miron describes Chalfi as a poet possessed of a unique and singular voice, who has opened "a new poetic fissure, unleashing hitherto trapped energies." And indeed, the critical response to her 2002 Solar Plexus, Poems 1975-1999 was tremendous. Let me quote Maayan Harel in her Haaretz Book Review article: "It is perhaps easier for us to accept Raquel Chalfi's poetry today, more so than at any time in the past, because, in many respects, this poetry is a poetry that has come before its time. Chalfi's poetry is complex, it cannot be defined or labeled as belonging to any particular literary trend – a multi-faceted poetry, linguistically rich and daring."

Tsipi Keller was born in Prague, raised in Israel, and has been living in the U.S. since 1974. The author of eight books, she is the recipient of several literary awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, and an Armand G. Erpf award from Columbia University. Her most recent translation collections are: Poets on the Edge: An Anthology of  Contemporary Hebrew Poetry (SUNY Press); and The Hymns of Job & Other Poems, a Lannan Translation Selection (BOA Editions). Her novel, The Prophet of Tenth Street, will be out in 2011.

Photo by Roberta Allen

Translator's Statement

I have been traveling to Israel on a regular basis for the past 25 years or so, meeting and working with the poets who are included in my recent anthology, Poets on the Edge: An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry.

During one of these visits, Raquel Chalfi (whose work is included in the anthology) and I discussed working on a collection of her poems, which I would select from her collected poems volume -- Solar Plexus, Poems 1975-1999 (2002) -- and from her subsequent collections: Secret Details from the Transparent Binder (2007); Witches (2009). This new collection - working title: Reality Crumbs - will comprise about 100 pages of translated poems and, preferably, will include the original Hebrew text. The scholar Dan Miron will write the introduction.

Raquel Chalfi published her first collection -- Underwater & Other Poems -- in 1975 and has since carved for herself a niche in contemporary Hebrew poetry. Many of her poems take place outdoors, often in a café or a street corner -- she absorbs what she hears and sees, then churns it in her poetic caldron. Her locale, usually, is her hometown, Tel Aviv; sometimes she'll travel, but not too often and not too far. Ever-present in her work is the need always to grope, to touch, to feel the tangible and the sensuous. Or, in the words of Amos Oz: "Raquel Chalfi electrifies words that are very familiar to us, and makes us see, for the first time, what we have seen many times without seeing. She's a lyrical poet, subtle and precise, whose work radiates warmth, life, and wisdom."