This evening poet Rachel Tzvia Back gave a lecture entitled "Placing the Voice: The Personal and Political, Israel 2006" at Williams College. Though born in Buffalo, NY, she "is the seventh generation of her family in Palestine," according to this bio at The Drunken Boat. Her grandfather left there in the 1920s, seeking his fortune in America; in the 1980s she returned to Israel, completing the cycle, and lives there still.
On her faculty page at the Bar-Ilan University Creative Writing Program, Back writes:
In so many ways, poetry is a first language, one we know before we even speak -- a language of soul and of spirit, of desire and of dreams. To best nurture that language, to hone it and test it and demand of it honesty, one must return to first places -- places of primary belonging, primal images and understandings. As Jews, that place is figurative and literal -- it is the place of shared traditions, sources, sacred texts, and it is the place of Israel, how she figures into our personal and communal histories, and into our poems' landscapes.
Being myself a Jewish poet fascinated by the language of poetry and the language of tradition, the places both figurative and literal that we and our words inhabit, I was delighted to see that Rachel was coming to the Berkshires...and even more delighted when the Williams professors hosting her invited me to join them for dinner before her talk.
I had the pleasure of dining with Steve Gerrard, who teaches philosophy; with Rachel; and with three faculty members from the Jewish Studies concentration, Edan Dekel (Classics), Sarah Hammerschlag (Religion) and Ali Garbarini (History). We talked about Biblical translations, poetry, Williams students, language and translation, the religion department and how it has (and hasn't) changed in the decade since I was an undergrad there -- all kinds of fun things. Though I was the only non-professor at the table, I felt welcomed by the general love of poetry and of things Judaic; it was a very congenial gathering.
And then Rachel gave her talk, a combination lecture and poetry reading. "I begin with a triptych of introductions: place, politics, and poetry." Let me introduce myself to you, she said, beginning with a map, as she always does, explaining that she lives in the north of Israel, in the Galilee, in a small Jewish village, 120 Jewish families on the side of a hill. She showed a slide of the open hills and wide vistas, and talked about the natural beauty and tight-knit community, the same reasons many of us live here in northern Berkshire. But what she didn't know when she moved there, because she didn't bother to know it then, was that on that same place, there used to be a Palestinian village.