Her earlier collections are Azimuth (Sheep Meadow, 2001), The Buffalo Poems (Duration Press, 2003),and On Ruins & Return: Poems 1999-2005 (Shearsman Boks, 2007). Three of her poems appeared in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events
Ms. Back will deliver her lecture and reading in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7:00PM at Temple Kol Ami, 15030 N 64th St., Scottsdale, AZ 85254. There is no charge.
Ms. Back will also deliver her lecture and reading at The University of Miami, Tuesday, February 19, with a reception at 7:00 PM, lecture and reading at 7:30 PM, both at the Wesley Gallery, 1210 Stanford Drive (across from Lowe Art Museum), Miami, Florida. The lecture and reading are presented by The Department of English and The Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies.
A sample poem from A Messenger Comes by Rachel Tzvia Back
(for my father, on his dying)
In worded a world
sunburst and blossoms all
of creation ruses
of beauty –
fragrant thicket no less
in a shattered vessel
shards at our bare feet –
Someone’s mother cries out
Stand still or
you’ll get hurt – and
you try hard in the slivered
not to move.
Day asks: What does it matter
putting this anticipated
on the page our
for imagined emptiness
of after –
worded sorrow to tell
his tale or
inked in another – it's
does it matter
it has always been
then asks again.
can be said?
In the end
the spoken stands
with bare spindly arms
with tight knots to
your ravaged throat so
what you do
speak is always
poor and pale
you do not.
You are dying.
But you do not say so
we do not say –
the winds orbit
echoing inner chambers where we
folders of studies
long letters to the scattered
of shifting numbers
platelets and neutrophiles
Reprinted from A Messenger Comes by permission of Singing Horse Press and Rachel Tzvia Back. Copyright 2012 by Rachel Tzvia Back.
Here’s one of Rachel Tzvia Back’s poems from After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events :
(their sons my sons) by Rachel Tzvia Back
Lost limbs again
this time in a strawberry field
Early morning January sun rises
gently talks softly to yesterday’s
rain lingering still at field’s edge
where perfect strawberries are ready for eating
first day of the feast festival of the sacrifice
Ishmael taken to the hilltop Issac carried away
This time it is mother Maryam who does not know
the boys her boys woke early to a school-less day
they are racing now through the strawberry field
The red fruit is full sweet with dew and dawn is
collecting night’s blankets day is waiting to spread her
arms around us all in the fields and the boys cannot
say how or from where there was no sign a bomb would fall
in the early morning family field the boys do not know
their legs are bleeding their bodies lie still their
limbs are scattered they are half-boys and dead boys
none of them know how later before the funerals after
the hospital Maryam will return to the charred and
bleeding strawberry field
to gather in her scarf scattered flowers
Reprinted from On Ruins and Return: Poems 1995-2005 by permission of Rachel Tzvia Back. Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Tzvia Back.
An Interview with Rachel Tzvia Back
How did you come to write this poem?
All three of my poems in the After Shocks anthology – "Their sons, my sons," "When we no longer care" and "What has anchored us here" – were written in the first years of the Second Intifadah (uprising) in Israel and Palestine. My family and I had just moved to the Galilee, after living for years in the Jerusalem area, and until the intifadah erupted, there had been a feeling of hope, of the possibility of a new era in our very troubled region. In October 2000, the second round of violence began – fierce protest against the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I was then a mother to three very young children, and at every moment I viewed and lived the violence that ensued – in Palestinian and Israeli territories alike –through the prism of young motherhood. This was, of course, the prism of my children's overwhelming vulnerability – indeed, all children's vulnerability. As the death ledgers began filling up with the names of children literally caught in the cross-fire, my poetry and heart became obsessed with the little ones who were living, and too-often tragically dying, in this bloody land.
The three poems all emanated from very specific moments in those years of violence – moments reported in the news ("Their sons, my sons"), moments of deaths that were practically on my doorstep (("What has anchored us here"), ), and moments of terrible clarity of how the violence had changed and hardened me too ("When we no longer care").
How did writing these poems affect your recovery?
The word "recovery" is a hard one for me to connect to, so I answer this question with some hesitation. "Recovery" – such as it is – resides for me in telling the truth, my truth, and of feeling that perhaps my poetry speaks also for those who cannot. Recovery is in daring to speak at all. Recovery has continued for me in reading these poems at various venues, in Israel and the US, in an effort to reach others, in an ongoing desire and commitment to being a voice of dissent. Moments of recovery have presented themselves when I have felt my poems impact on another, when my poems have moved another's heart toward reconciliation and compassion.
Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped these poems come to life?
The poems start, almost inevitably, from a single image or single sentence. The line "When we no longer care", for example, was reverberating through me in the summer of 2001 – I would hear it as I drove to work and back, afraid to turn on the news and hear of the next round of Israeli bombings in the territories, or the news of another Palestinian suicide bomber in Israel. The single image or line simmers and simmers (to borrow from Whitman), until it boils over. As for the rest of the process, I'm afraid I can't say much – I have a type of black-out regarding the exact process of writing most of my poems. I can't really remember how it happens.
Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?
Emily Dickinson is always my favorite, my poetic buoy in the vast sea. And she is always new to me… Another poet who is new to me and whose work I've been reading recently is Antonio Machado – I've been reading his poems in Border of a Dream: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado (Willis Barnstone, translator). And I've been reading a great deal of the Hebrew poet Tuvia Ruebner whose work I'm translating now – he's not new to me, but my current level of engagement with him is new. He's a wonder, well worth reading (new translations of his work can be found at http://exchanges.uiowa.edu/four-poems/).
What are you working on now?
I’ve just sent off my new collection, which has just been released by From Singing Horse Press
http://www.singinghorsepress.com (edited by the wonderful Paul Naylor). The collection is called From A Messenger Comes . The title is lifted from a passage I read in Leon Weiseltier's seminal scholarly work Kaddish – on the history and evolution of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning. The extract – which is my new book's epigraph – goes as follows:
A messenger comes to the mourner's house. "Come," says the messenger,      “you are needed."      "I cannot come," says the mourner, "my spirit is broken."      "That is why you are needed," says the messenger…
The book is a collection of elegies for my sister and my father. It is very much a book of a broken spirit.
Rachel Tzvia Back – poet, translator and professor of literature – lives in the Galilee, where her great, great, great grandfather settled in the 1830s. Her poetry collections include Azimuth (Sheep Meadow, 2001), The Buffalo Poems (Duration Press, 2003), On Ruins & Return: Poems 1999-2005 (Shearsman Boks, 2007), and A Messenger Comes (Singing Horse Press, 2012). Ms. Back's translations of the poetry of pre-eminent Hebrew poet Lea Goldberg, published in Lea Goldberg: Selected Poetry and Drama (Toby Press 2005) represent the most extensive selection of Goldberg's poetry in English and were awarded a 2005 PEN Translation Award. Back has translated into English poetry and prose other significant Hebrew writers, including Dahlia Ravikovitch, Tuvia Reubner, Hamutal Bar Yosef, and Haviva Pedaya. Ms. Back is the editor and primary translator of the English version of the anthology With an Iron Pen: Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry (SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions, 2009) – a collection named "haunting" and "historic" by American poet Adrienne Rich. Ms. Back’s poems have been anthologized in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events .
A Messenger Comes
by Rachel Tzvia Back
From Singing Horse Press
5251 Quaker Hill Lane
San Diego, 92130