Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Leonard Schwartz's Language as Responsibility

Leonard Schwartz's Language as Responsibility , published by TinFish press in Hawaii, is a "three part exercise in poetics, in which Israeli, Levantine, and Jewish-American texts are asked to speak to one another." It offers 1) the transcription of an insightful interview that Schwartz did on his radio show Cross-Cultural Poetics (a show that I have greedily listened to ever since discovering it online), with Israeli poet and dissident Aharon Shabtai, 2) a review of some new books offered by Ibis Editions, a progressive Israeli press publishing both Hebrew and Arabic literature, and 3) a poetic essay by Schwartz himself, which meditates through Levinas into the present-day conundrums of Jewish identity:
The very being of language
Implies an other with whom to speak.
Language is always the other spoken to.
Each hill of Jerusalem knows that,
Next year in
Cry indeed unto
Next year in

The Shabtai interview, is, as is the rule with Shabtai, inflammatory and courageous, as he persists in his high-minded criticism of his own government's treatment of the Palestinians.

(I should hasten to write, at this point, that it is with extreme discomfort and sometimes pain that I have articulated my own outrage at the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine, because I am aware of how any statement asserting the human rights of Palestinians is almost always seen as a rejection of the rights of Israel (which it is not), and may trouble my relationships with Jewish friends. I categorically reject the notion that Palestinian rights and Israeli rights are incompatible, and believe that while a two-state solution will not end all violence against Israelis nor will it solve all Palestinian problems, it is the necessary historical step toward ending one of nightmares of post-WWII history.)

Schwartz's chapbook, in its multi-genre tripartite structure, offers the best sort of global collaboration in the name of peace. Bringing Shabtai into the American conversation about the Peace Process, praising Ibis editions' peacebuilding-through-publication, and writing his way through the pain of conflict as a Jewish-American poet, Schwartz performs the kind of cultural juggle that demonstrates the vitality of poetry as a cultural intervention.

Schwartz himself is a poet of beautiful language, and his struggle to meld that beauty with the pain of the ongoing violence in the Middle East occasionally comes at the cost of his poetic beauty, yet it is in lines like
The silence of perception
is the flesh of the book
opening itself
to the wondering reader

that we feel the ethics of such beauty opening up to us, and opening us up.

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