At the time of her death in 2005, Dahlia Ravikovitch was Israel’s second best loved poet after Yehuda Amichai. She was also a committed peace activist, yet her readers included Israelis from all points on the political spectrum.
Two years ago a new translation of her complete poetry was published by New York publisher W.W. Norton, and last week a paperback edition of Hovering at a Low Altitude: The Complete Poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch was released (perfect for poetry loving commuters). In my New York Journal of Books review of the book I describe Ms. Ravikovitch’s work as “sophisticated, intelligent, conscientious, and empathic,” and Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld’s translations as “strong and moving English poems in their own right.”
My review includes biographical background with references to her feminism, her political activism, her secularism, her mental health issues, and excerpts from her poems (had space allowed I would have included more). Here is her poem “The Dress”:
for Yitzhak Livni
You know, she said, they made you a dress of fire.
Remember how Jason’s wife burned in her dress?
It was Medea, she said, Medea did that to her.
You’ve got to be careful, she said,
they made you a dress that glows like an ember,
that burns like coals of fire.
Are you going to wear it, she said, don’t wear it.
It’s not the wind whistling, it’s the poison seething.
You’re not even a princess, what can you do to Medea?
Can’t you tell one sound from another, she said,
it’s not the wind whistling.
Remember, I told her, that time when I was six?
They shampooed my hair and I went out into the street.
The scent of shampoo trailed after me like a cloud.
Then the wind and the rain made me ill.
I didn’t know yet how to read Greek tragedies,
but that fragrance filled the air and I was very ill.
Now I can tell that perfume was unnatural.
What will become of you, she said, they made you a burning dress.
They made me a burning dress, I said. I know.
So why are you standing there, she said, you ought to beware.
Don’t you know what that means, a burning dress?
I know, I said, but not to beware.
The scent of that perfume confuses me.
I said to her: No one has to agree with me,
I don’t put my trust in Greek tragedy.
But the dress, she said, the dress is on fire.
What are you saying, I shouted, what are you saying?
I’m not wearing a dress at all, can’t you see
what’s burning is me.
For more info: David Cooper