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Global Correspondent Report on Israel
 

 

 

 

                                  

Helen Bar-Lev Global Correspondent, Israel

 

 Interview with Tommy Berman

Question: What’s your background?

I have been a member of Kibbutz Amiad in the Upper Galilee, Israel for over 50 years. I am a scientist (aquatic microbiology) and most of my research has been focused on the Sea of Galilee (known here as Lake Kinneret). I grew up and attended school in Glasgow, Scotland having arrived there aged 5 from Czechoslovakia with the Kindertransport in 1939. Further education was in the U.S. at Rutgers University and at M.I.T. I am married with one wife, three daughters, seven granddaughters, a grandson and a mongrel dog.

Question: When did you begin to write poetry and what prompted you to write?

Writing poetry has not come simply for me even though I started out with the advantage of a sound Scottish education. That meant being extensively exposed to the English classics including Shakespeare and the contents of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. Thus, I was taught to write and to appreciate the English language at a young and vulnerable age.

Like many youngsters, I scribbled purportedly deep and profound lines as an adolescent, like most, I then abandoned efforts to express myself in verse for many a long year. Then along came the computer; suddenly the technical part of writing, and rewriting and shifting and cutting and pasting became so easy. One day, I looked at some of the scraps of scribble that I had long since stuffed into an old envelope and began to type them out on the computer. Behold a poet is come amongst us!

Shortly thereafter I heard of “Voices”, a group of poets writing in English in Israel. “Voices” aficionados meet monthly in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. I began to attend the meetings of the latter group and was “hooked”. That was about 12 years ago and I suppose that I’ve been writing sporadically ever since.

Question: What inspires your poetry?

Hard to answer. Maybe the kind of topics covered in my latest book Rambles, Outings with a Wayward Muse: Love Poems, Vistas of Home, Animals, Wars Creation and other Oddities, Nature and the Obstinacy of Hope, and, of course, incidents from my personal history.

Question: Which forms do you prefer? Why?

Free form, I suppose because I’m too lazy to really invest time into crafting my poems.

Question: What, in your opinion, makes a poem good or memorable?

Maybe it’s trite, but I would say, “Resonance is all”. I’m impressed if the poem has inner rhythm, cohesion, cadence, lines or phrases or an ending that leaps out at me so that I say, after reading it, “Wow” (or something similar). I am even more impressed if the poem does all that, is written in verse and conforms to a recognized poetic form.

Question: Who is your favorite poet?

I must confess to having absorbed deeply from many of “the usual suspects”. So I list Shakespeare, Milton, Robert Burns, Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, Auden, Graves, Frost, Eliot, Lewis Carol, Emily Dickinson, e e cummings, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, and modern Scottish poets Hugh MacDiarmid, Tom Leonard. Also many of the poets who appear in a wonderful, now forgotten trilogy edited by Geoffrey Summerfield called Voices published by Penguin in 1968; likewise a bunch of poets in the Faber Book of Twentieth Century Scottish Poetry. I’m greatly impressed by much of the poetry appearing in Staying Alive and Being Alive, two recent, eclectic anthologies edited by Neil Astley. I also enjoy reading some (but by no means all) of the poetry that appears on the Net or that is written by my friends in Voices. Obviously that’s too many names to list.

Question: Where have you been published?

Most of my publications have been scientific but now I have two collections of my poetry to my name; Shards, a Handful of Verse and Rambles, Outings with a Wayward Muse (both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc). Now and again I have had poems appear in press (Ariel, Voices Anthologies, Full Circle, Voices from Israel, Travelling, Across the Long Bridge, Sailing in the Mists of Time, The World Poets Quarterly, Aquirelle, Magnapoets) or on the Web (Poetry Webring Review, Poetry Life & Times, Ariga, Poeticdiversity, PoetrySuperHighway, SubtleTea, The Coffee Press Journal, Lily, Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry, Illiterate Hooligan, The Poetry Victims, Cyclamens & Swords and elsewhere). From 2003 to 2006 I served as Editor in Chief of the annual Voices Israel Anthology.

 

 

Rain Haiku

 

i

In a distant land
I think of the first rain
Falling on dusty fields



ii

Drops begin to fall
Wetting parched leaves
Rain has returned



iii

House gutters run fast
A merriment of rain
Water flows rapidly



iv

On an arid land
Rain caresses dry soil
The cycle is renewed



v

Through a rain curtain
I see my native hills
Grow green once more

 

 

Waiting

 

For more than 3 billion years Earth was inhabited
solely by single celled organisms

Who can imagine
the long solitude of bacteria
on our watery globe
3 billion years of loneliness
waiting for evolution
to stop by
and stir things up

It’s a long wait,
even for bacteria
who might not know
any better

 

 

Anger not the Gods

 

This is a land
of ancient gods

They have not left this landscape
they reside in the anguish of stones
in the gray bark of carob trees
in the dimness of karst caves,
and rubble remains
of forgotten dwellings
They sigh in dry thorn stalks
on summer hillsides,
their breath hovers
in whorls of dust

This is an old, hard land
with a surfeit of memory

It does not take much
to stir passions
or memories
when the wind rustles
leaves in the olive groves

Tread lightly on the land
of ancient gods

 

 

The Leather Suitcase

 

They don’t
make suitcases
like that
any more.

Time was,
when voyage meant
train, steamship
distances unbridgeable
waiting for a thinning mail
weeks, then months,
then nothing

Time was,
when this case
was made
solid, leather,
heavy stitching
with protective edges
at the corners.

Children’s train,
across the Reich
stops
and starts again...

Holland
a lighted gangplank,
night ferry to gray-misted
sea-gulled Harwich
again the rails
reaching flat across
East Anglia,
to London

in my bedroom
the suitcase,
a silent witness
with two labels

“Masaryk Station, Praha”
“Royal Scot, London-Glasgow”

Leather suitcase
from a far-off country,
Czechoslovakia,
containing all the love
parents could pack
for a five year old
off on a journey
for life.


*From the end of 1938 until the outbreak of War in Sept. 1939, about 10,000, mostly Jewish children (unaccompanied by parents or adults) were brought from Nazi-controlled Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain under the Kindertransport scheme. But for the Kindertransport, few, if any, of these would have survived the War.

 

 

To an unnamed colleague

 

Herewith
a phrase or two
exploding you
o bladder of pomposity,
filled with fatuity
swollen, smirking sack
balloon of bloated bombast,
caricature of self-esteem

May my words be
as sharp shears
clipping off
the witless wool
you’ve spun
over the eyes
of your bemused beholders.

 

 

Storks

 

at dusk
a stork speckled sky

storks are flying
to the northlands
as their generations
have taught them

they are flying
to the northlands
where hope
and old nests await

light fades
as silk
to evening

smooth sleek gliders
homing to the darkling woods
where secrets sleep
with the storks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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