Original copy of Amichai’s poem, “Yom Kippur.” Reproduced courtesy of Hana Amichai from the archives of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
Yehuda Amichai frequently argues with God in his poems.
Raised in an Orthodox household, Amichai stopped practicing when he became a teenager — much to the dismay of his father. They argued about God and Jewish ritual practice for years. In fact, Amichai continued to argue with him long after his father died.
When I had the idea of working with a papercut artist on The Amichai Windows, I never thought that I would end up working with the papercut artist who did the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) when my wife and I got married years earlier. Continue reading
The Amichai Windows has a total of 18 poems. A cross section of poems from Amichai’s ouevre, they’re equally divided between love, war and being a Jew in the 20th century, both in the Diaspora and in Israel. Continue reading
Pyramid Atlantic Letterpress Studio
Letterpress is a type of ‘relief” printing of text and images that is primarily used today for art and wedding invitations, birth announcements and other special occasions. It is done on a cylinder or platen press where a reversed and raised surface is inked and then literally imprinted into the paper itself.
The decision to use letterpress for The Amichai Windows had to do with making the words an integral part of the paper itself. I am also using various plates of images to lend the spreads texture — the outline of a Jerusalem window or a dove or a clock — and to emphasize certain words and letters. Continue reading
Caves at the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.
“From his earliest poems, archeology has been a primary source of metaphors for Amichai’s perception of the human condition,” wrote Robert Alter, a Hebrew translator and literary scholar, in a New York Times magazine article in 1986. “He sees both the self and history as an elaborate depositing of layers in which nothing is ever entirely buried from sight, in which the earliest strata uncannily obtrude upon the latest.” Continue reading
A couple of new books have recently come out about Yehuda Amichai.
First, the publication of Robert Alter’s new book, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, is a compilation of a variety of previous translations as well as many poems that have never been translated into English before. Alter, who is the preeminent Hebrew literature translator and critic, has done a fine job assembling all of the poems together in one volume, old and new. Plus, he has added an informative introduction that places Amichai’s work in the context of modern poetry and contemporary Hebrew literature. Continue reading
Earlier this month, a tribute was held to Yehuda Amichai and his poetry in San Francisco. Participating were Hana Amichai, his wife, Emmanuela Amichai, his daughter, Hebrew literary critic and translator Robert Alter, poet and translator Chana Bloch and comparative literature critic and translator Chana Kronfeld. The gathering was in honor of a new book of Amichai’s poetry in English, “The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai.” Continue reading
After I selected the poems for The Amichai Windows, I soon realized that I would have to translate them myself. There were good translations, of course. But in each one there was always something that I would have done differently. And so I began to think about translating Amichai and how best to do it. Continue reading
Today, the day before Yom Kippur, marks the 15th anniversary since Yehuda Amichai’s death on Sept. 22, 2000. In his honor, I am posting my translation of his poem, “Yom Kippur,” which is included in The Amichai Windows. Continue reading
“Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” Robert Frost is often quoted as saying.
It’s true, but it’s not true. The original connotations and impact of a poem is lost in translation, that’s true. One can not move from one country to another without a sense of dislocation, of newness, of discovery. But, that’s just it. A new language presents the opportunity for the poet to be discovered by a new audience — and for the poem to resonate in new ways. It might not be the same as the original but it can take on a life of its own. Continue reading