Karen Alkalay-Gut (with Leah Hahn)


Robert Friend was a well-known figure in the literary world in Jerusalem, in part because of the four volumes of his elegant and varied translations of well-known Israeli poets. His great love of poetry brought him to these translations even though his command of Hebrew was never sufficient for him to consider writing in it. To a small group of admirers Friend was the doyen of English poetry in Israel. A fine formalist craftsman, Friend had published his work in such prestigious periodicals as the New Yorker and Poetry. He managed to maintain a connection with poets in the United States, but the distance and the difference in experiences had the effect of isolating him. Moreover, Friend's formalist style did not adjust to the styles and times. Yet this formalism and isolation had the effect of helping him to develop a unique and intimate style that could probably not have been constructed elsewhere, allowing him to deal with sensitive, painful, and taboo subjects.

From the great number of good poems, I have chosen two. The first, "Sex Maniac," from Somewhere Lower Down (Maynard, 1980), was not included in his later collections, Selected Poems (Seahorse, 1975) and The Next Room (Maynard, 1996). Yet when I read it, soon after the Yom Kippur war, I recognized the daring of the anonymous poet who has nothing to lose. In a situation in which world-shattering events affect the personal life of the poet while his responses have no direct effect upon the society, a kind of mad freedom is created:


When he reads in the papers,

Man Killed in Car Crash,

he thinks in sorrow:

one beautiful cock,

two beautiful balls,

forever ruined.

And when he hears on the radio,

Five Slaughtered in Ambush,

he thinks in anguish:

five beautiful cocks,

ten beautiful balls,

food for worms.

But when he hears the announcement,

5,000 Slain in Battle,

he can only say

5,000 cocks, 10,000 balls

5,000 cocks, 10,000 balls

over and over.

This assertion of the apolitical nature of his grief, of the intimate individuality that is forgotten in battle statistics, is the statement of the outsider, who can see only the waste of human beings in battle and does not consider ideology. That this concentration on the carnal is neither exaggerated nor perverted is clear to those Israeli citizens who lived through the Yom Kippur war and heard stories of genital mutilation perpetrated on Israeli soldiers by Syrian soldiers.

Friend wrote on many subjects, but it is possible to divide his books and his poems into two kinds -- the intimate/ erotic and the intimate/public. One of Friend's last poems reveals the intimacy with the self that emerges from a life of poetic exile:


Body, you and I must part.

Our short affair is over.

I knew, I knew from the start

you would prove a faithless lover.

I took as a matter of course,

though I did not dwell on it,

our love would end in divorce.

So I was not surprised a bit

by the first signs of neglect:

suspicious colds in the head,

apologetic aches,

a sudden chill in bed.

But it took your breathing hard

at a voice on the telephone,

to make me doubt your heart

skipped beats for me alone.

At last I caught you out,

and you, so hard to please,

brought at a single stroke

trembling to your knees.

And now at fever pitch,

and begging for your whore! --

as if I were keeping you!

Well, what are you waiting for?

Go! and don't come back!

It's time already. Go!

And you'll soon be in the sack --

As I only too well know.

(Jerusalem Review II, 20)

The kind of intimacy and daring Friend exhibited is, I maintain, unique to his anonymous situation. It is the intimacy of one who has long spoken primarily to himself, in a secret language, in a public world.



K: When I first came to Israel in 1972 and I asked about what is the cultural scene in English in Israel? And they said: ďOh, Robert Friend!Ē That was the only answer

R: Really?

K: Yes, yes. And it was the central answer.

R: Dennis Silk was around.

K: But at the time, I think, he was just known as a poet, and you were teacher, poet, instructor of poetry, critic of poetry and translator of poetry. So you were a cultural institution, even then, on your own.

R: Yes, well. It is surprising, you know, because Dennis was very much around, you know.

K: Yes, yes. He is still very much around, and very central as well. And the years when he edited ďPoetsí CorneredĒ in the Jerusalem Post were very significant to the cultural life in English in Israel.

R: Yes, I know.

K: But think about... you... you did so many different things...

R: Yes.

K: ...that promoted an interaction between Hebrew and English culture at that time, as well as your own poetry. And since that time your poetry has changed so much and developed so much that there are so many things that we could talk about.

R: Yes.

K: And thatís why weíll start with what you think is the most importantÖ

R: What I think is the most important? About my poetry?

K: Yes. About what youíve done. I mean because I know that you influenced a lot of teachers and poets and all kinds of things.

R: Well, I know I have because I sometimes meet people who say that they benefited from my poetry teaching classes and some of them, that said they became teachers of poetry through me.

K: Iíve heard that too. So it wasnít that they were just trying to flatter you.

R: No, it seemed sincere enough and I also got a letter from a student from California. I mean, he attended the classes because his father was attached, you know, to the Consulate or the Embassy, so he thought heíd spend his time going to the university. And he said that as a result of my classes he has decided Ė he was not Jewish Ė he has decided to major in English in California. Yes. So that was very interesting.

K: How did all this start? When did you come to Israel?

R: I came to Israel in 1950.

K: And you began teaching at the university?

R: No, not right away. There were no jobs right away, you know, I mean I didnít even think I was coming to stay. I just came for a little while. I did, I just had... and my money ran out. All my worldly fortunes ran out so I went to a kibbutz. Some people told me about an ďulpanĒ in a kibbutz so I would have some way to live and I would have to work half the day and learn Hebrew the other half. So I was there a few months and then I heard of a school in Jerusalem. And there they also had boarding. You could stay there. SoÖ There were four people in the room at that time. But the classes were very good. You mustnít judge the school by my Hebrew. That is to say my teacher was excellent. But I was far from his standards. But at any rate I learned a lot from him. Whatever I learned, it was there. I didnít learn much thereafter, I must say.

K: You wrote poetry before you came here. When did you begin writing poetry?

R: Oh, at an early age. Fifteen. Iíve been writing poetry all my life.

K: And being here, did it help you write more or less?

R: It didnít change the rhythm of it, you know. I mean, what did determine the rhythm was my teaching, actually. And I think I started writing much more after I retired, you know, which is maybe unusual, you know, because.... And I do think that some of my best poetry is the later poetry.

K: Yes.

R: ...and that when I had only to think of poetry and not to think of preparing for my English classes.... I used to think my life was too much poetry, you know, with the teaching, you know, and that, I felt it took a lot of time, and that the energy that went into it might better have been used for poetry. But at the same time I loved teaching. So, you know, I really did enjoy it very much.

K: And maybe the writing that came out later was a result of the teaching...

R: Well, I started writing a lot, but of course, you know, the last year I was sick.

K: Yes.

R: Iíve hardly written anything. At one point I was terribly sick, actually. So... But Iíve been slowly recovering, you know. I mean, even two months ago... a month ago I couldnít walor anything. I had to learn to walk all over again because I just couldnít.... I woke up one day wmy right leg lying there, you know, I couldnít use it. Which was very unusual. No doctor could explain why.

K: And now youíre walking again.

R: Iím walking again. But thatís because Iíve been doing exercises.

K: Physiotherapy.

R: Well, you see, I had this wheelchair, I couldnít walk. But now I can walk. Some distance. Not very far. I can walk.... I even went downtown the other day. One way walking, one way wheelchair, you know.

K: Thatís amazing.

R: So, Iíve really improved very much, you know.

K: So now youíre going to.... Now.... Have you been writing lately? I know the last things Iíve read, the last book of yours, the selected poems, is such a burst of creative energy, that I... I wouldnít, you know, you would never expect people to continually develop. I always think of Wordsworth repeating himself endlessly. But thereís Yeats on the other hand who just constantly grew. And you, too. They are amazing poems that you have been writing.

R: Yes. Well, Iím glad that you think so, but...

K: Oh yes.

R: Actually I was too sick, you know, to select the poems myself or anything. It was Reva. {Reva Sharon} She went to my apartment and she rummaged around to sort of salvage poems, you know.

L: And they were selected for the Jerusalem Review.

R: But one of my favorites was not chosen. I have a poem I like very much.

L: Which one is that?

R: ...called: ďDescending the Stairs.Ē

Leah: You can add it.

R: Because it really pleases me very much.

K: You write about so many subjects Ė so many unusual and sometimes taboo subjects. I remember that...

R: Whatever hits me, you know.

K: I remember poems about the ďYom KippurĒ war, that were.... The subjects came through somewhat (?) completely different. And because they came ... (?) somewhere... weíd (?) never expect.... Iím thinking of one really particular poem that was so striking, about how when you think of all... the ... (?), you think of how many cocks, how many balls.... That was so amazing to me then because it was making things so intimate and so personal... (?) statistics and so...

R: Yes.

K: ...impersonal. Amazing that youíd be able to do it... that daring is one of the things that you are...

R: Yes. Well, I reached the stage and I said: ďwhy should I be... (?) by anything. Also I said: ďIím old enough,Ē you know, I (?) like old people crossing the streets and they hold up the traffic. You know. So I began to do that to, you know.

K: You began that a long time ago, holding up the traffic.

R: Yes?

K: Yes. You wrote about things, I mean.... All right, lately youíve been writing very erotic poetry. Youíve always been writing about things that have been surprising to me.

R: Well, Iím glad to hear that, you know, because I donít want to be stuck in just one route, or the kind of poetry I used to write, which was influenced by the poetry of the time, you know, when I started writing was more conventional. You know, the strict lines and so on. You know. And then I decided to venture into free verse and then into free expression, you know.

K: When you were first influenced, who first influenced you? Which poets?

R: Well, in my youth I was in love with the Romantic poets, you know, with Shelley and Blake. I was in love with them. But, in later years, you know, the modern poets, Iíve been very much influenced, I think, by Auden.

K: Yes.

R: And perhaps by Frost a little bit, I donít know.

K: I always thought there was a connection with you and Frost long ago, but no longer!

R: Yes. At one time there was a connection. I used to admire him so very much.

K: Do you think that changed... that being in Israel changed your influences and your poetry?

R: I donít think so. I some times think, this is very odd, you know, that, in some curious, way you see a lot of... (?) every thing, but in some curious way I have kept at a distance from Israel. In some curious way. I mean, I tried to stay away from Hebrew poets and so on. But I donít know what it is. I donít let the climate of Israel sort of influence me. I mean, someone once said: ďItís as if heís writing his poetry always in a closed room.Ē I donít know whether it is that closed, you know. Iíve come out more openly lately. But then it was written in a review many years ago. But I do feel thereís a curious distancing, you know, on my part.

K: Maybe you get you freedom from being here and not being influenced.

R: Yes. Anyway I canít be involved in the politics, you know, it is so horrible.

Leah: But the society creeps in.

R: It does creep in. Well I hope it does. Look, we all see these people who come on one visit in Israel and they always have a Jerusalem poem. And I said to myself: ĒWhere is my Jerusalem poem?Ē

K: You have all those biblical poems that are, you know, turned upside down, twisted on purpose, you know. The biblical imperative that you respond to. Donít you?

R: I suppose I do react. You know. It is an important influence, you know, on oneís life Ė reading. And the Bible, of course, is very important.

K: But itís your Bible.

R: Whatís my Bible? Yes itís my Bible. But everybody should have his or her Bible. You know, whatever you do you turn it into yourself.

K: True. I was thinking about your animal poems, because they always influenced me a lot. You have a lot of poems of... dialogues with animals. Emotional (?) dialogues with cats.

R: With my cats especially. But you know, it hasnít yet been published, but I have a book of poems written for children by Agnon, which no one seem to know about, that he had a childrenís book written in very antique Hebrew, you know. And the Jewish publication society asked me to, translate it. And I did it. Itís all based on one letter of the alphabet, you know. So you begin with aleph, beit and so on, you know. And I wrote a poem about each one: aleph, beit, you know. And there werenít any animal poems among themÖBut they liked it very much, the Jewish publication society.

K: Tell me if Iíve been tiring you up. You donít sound like it, but...

R: Yes. No, Iíll tell you the truth, with this cold I feel a little bit down, you know, but...

K: And this... you get kind of.... I always get involved in talking and forget to...

R: No, no. Itís all right. Iíll let you know if I get too tired, because, you know, I like this kind of conversations, I suppose itís a part of being interviewed.

K: The translations, I also wanted to talk about, because you translated Leah Goldberg and you translated Rachel and there are a lot of people in the United States who only know these poets through your translations and have become very much enamored of the poets. Are there other poets that youíve translated, and why did you choose those?

R: Oh yes. I translated Rachel. It was a small edition. Put out (?) by ďHakibbutz Hameíuchad.Ē And then I have the Gabriel Preil. Yes. And that was a rather big volume with Hebrew and English and beautifully introduced.

K: It was in JPS .

R: JPS. But they didnít know how to sell them, you know. Anyway, people donít buy much poetry anyway, so,..

K: I met him on the night when that book came out and there was a book signing party and he was sitting there, and I said: ďYou should be very happyĒ and ďThis is wonderful,Ē and he said: ďTheyíll never sell it.Ē

R: Well, Itís the truth. You know that they sent a letter around saying that the... not exactly that... that the authors could buy copies of the books back. So I bought fifty copies at a dollar.... So I could give to my friends and... you know. So I had a lot of copies. But even those are long gone.. My Leah Goldbergís completely gone. I have some of Rachelís.


K: Those Leah Goldbergís translations in particularly, rhymed in the same verse form... amazing care you took with those poems, those translations.

R: I really felt at home with that (?) poetry very much. And just last week I did another one because Shirley is running an anthology of feminist poetry. And she asked me if I would translate an additional Leah Goldberg. I was very happy to do it because itís the first time Iíve writin a year. You know. I couldnít get myself to write anything. You know. I was really in sort of bad shape. So Iím emerging now, so... and she liked it. She thoughit was as good as those in the book. So it made me feel good, you know, because I really felt that I couldnít do it. So I could.

K: And then, the Alterman translations also, I think, were the only means people know about Alterman in the United States. And you had this amazing effect on English readers of Hebrew poetry.

R: Well, I must say Iím surprised, I mean, here I can understand, but you say abroad.

K: Oh, abroad , definitely.

R: You see, I never get, you know, I never hear about...

K: Thatís why in some ways youíre like the opposite of Gabriel Preil, but youíre in one place and your language is the opposite and youíre known somewhere else. Youíre known abroad much more than here and, of course, you donít know about it because youíre here.

R: But also, I feel Iím not that well known abroad, you know, it isnít as if Iím considered a leading poet in the States, you know. You know, Iím just one of many poets in the States.

K: There are a lot of poets there.

R: There are a lot of poets, but still one would like to be better accepted, you know. I was more accepted in my youth.

K: I think that being here makes a difference, doesnít it?

R: Yes it does. Sure.

K: And being here has made a difference in your not being known as a poet but being more known as an Israeli poet who writes in English.

R: Right.

K: There and here.

R: Itís a big difference in emphasis, yes. Itís true. But a curious thing, in my youth I was, you know, I was much more acknowledged as a poet than now in America.

K: Because you were there.

R: Because I think I was more fashionable.... No. there, before I came here.

K: Because you were there...

R: Oh, there.

K: ...and you answered the fashion there. You know. You follow a trend when you are in a country and thatís why I think that you are so original here, because you canít follow the trend.

R: Yes. I donít. I donít. And that, I think, is perhaps one of the difficulties in, you know, getting a work published, you see. Because they donít like it. It doesnít fit in with the categories.

K: Itís the categories that are limiting, prevent people from being able to understand it, how to, perhaps how to, you know, see it as it is. You have to see this poetry as it is: something original. If you just read the poetry, the poetry is amazing. And I think this is what...

R: Well, thatís very good to hear that from you. Lately, for some reason, my poetry seems to have caught on, you know, itís interesting... that suddenly a lot of people have become interested, you know.

K: In Israel and abroad.

R: In Israel and a little bit abroad, but mostly here in Israel.

K: Here, Weíre here.

Leah: There is something amazing about your work, quite amazing. ... Itís like good old wine which has matured. But itís something so accessible without being simple at all. My native language is Hebrew. We are not of the same generation, and from the start, from the first sentence it caught me. I mean, itís so accessible.

R: Yes. Well this has been one of my aims.

K: Right.

R: I mean I really always aimed at clarity. That is, you know, to make sure that Iím really understood. But, of course, even with that aim in mind people do misunderstand, you know.

K: About that poem ďDivorced,Ē I mean, you have done this to me many times. it was very, very complex with monosyllables youíve just jabbed (?) into something so basic and so significant that I find it, you know, it takes my breath away, and, you know, youíre managing to do this again. Itís not something... itís not easy to do. Itís something that has taken you... it must have taken you years to get to that kind of...

R: Yes, I must... I must admit that I used to work much harder on my poetry in my youth, and I used to spend, you know, days on a poem, really. And now they come much more easily. Which is not to say that they just write themselves. A few have come very easily, you know. When you just write from the beginning to end. In that I always feel that they are ďgiven poems,Ē you know, is that a gift that someone has given you, you know.

K: I always thought that given poems are poems that you had prepared for, for fifty years...

R: Yes.

K: All of a sudden itís given to you.

R: I had that kind of poem too, a poem that I couldnít ever get written. And then one day, after many years later it suddenly knowÖ it suddenly became possible to write it. Because I have many unfinished poems, you know, many that somehow have not yet, you know, become poems, you know.

K: You know, there is something else that I really canít let you go without talking about. Most of the poetry thatís written today is very beautiful, very aesthetic, itís about aesthetic issues, itís about political issues, but very, very few poems are about people, and your poems are so often direct and... discussions about people, and direct feelings...

R: Yes.

K: That...

R: Thatís true.

K: There is another subject you write about that is not popular, co-dependence, the need for other people. You write about friends a lot.

R: Yes.

K: You write about people that you care about and youíre not... thereís nothing hidden about it. Is that something that youíve learned from some other... someone else?

R: Well, I must tell you, Iím so little of a theoretician, you know, I mean many people work out elaborate theories of how they are going to write, and what they are going to write and they have... I donít have those theories. Except that I suppose I do but not in any... how would you say... that in any poem that sounds, you know, formal, you know, worked out. But, like lately my theory is that poems should be as short as possible, you know... and Iíve been writing a lot of very short poems.

R: Oh,.... Yes. ...That I really felt that... no, I always feel just as people... people speak too much and people write too much. I mean in their lengths. And I say, they donít need all those words, you know... And actually, you know, I must say that Gabriel Levin has been very helpful. I mean, heís been very strict. You know, I show him my poems, he shows me his, you know, and heís been very strict. He says, ďIs this necessary? Is this necessary? You know. He really has, you know, been more objective than I could be.

K: So youíve been cutting.

R: So Iíve been cutting, you know. And that when people show me their poems I usually cut theirs, you know. I always feel that poems could be cut. Well, not always, you know, but... So much can be cut, you know, and...

K: For a specific effect.

R: For a certain effect. I think they are more effective if you can say what you have to say in very few words. Itís much more effective immediately, you know, and people tend to remember them.

K: Edgar Allen Poe said that a long poem is a contradiction in terms.

R: Yes, I know that essay, of course.

K: And for years people thought he was just... he was kidding around. But now we... since people seem to be going back to it, this kind of short...

R: Yes. Well I find, you know, Ezra Pound gets so dreary in all those long passages, but... I say, why all that length?, you know, how many people can go through it really and really read it with enjoyment?

K: Iím sure there are very few.

R: Very few.

K: Who do you like to read today?

R: Today? Actually I havenít been reading very much today. You know, poets. I donít know whatís happening. But I donít seem to like most poetry that I read, you know, I mean.... I think Iím over critical or Iíve began (?) to lack (?) response, you know. It may be through my illness, or what not, but I find it hard to read poetry, Iíll tell you the truth. Yes.

K: I do to. I have times when I just canít read...

R: Yes, it requires a certain concentration, a certain entering into it, you know.

K: It requires some kind of sensibility and some kind of sympathy and being able to relate to things that have nothing to do with your life.

R: Well, Iíll tell you, a poet I do re-read, actually, is Philip Larkin. I... you know... evthough I dislike his narrowness and his provincialism and... but within narrow limits he is a great poet.

Leah: Thereís a pettiness in his poetry. Thereís a certain pettiness... (?)

R: Pettiness, yes. Well, itís also one anti-Semitic , you know, obviously anti-Semitic. Nobody knows that one about... that the Jew is a critic and the poet who is not a Jew, you understand (?), and who makes the dollar sign... you know, such very cheap tricks...

K: One anti-Semitic poem is enough for me to stop reading the poet.

R: Yes. One of the points is that I really like his poetry so much that I wouldnít let that happen, you know, because this poetry is often wonderful. And so why should I deny myself that? But itís true that that has offended me.

K: Thereís a circle of amazing poets in Jerusalem right now. I donít know if a circle, but thereís a group of people that, I mean you mentioned before Dennis Silk, you mentioned Shirley Kaufman you mentioned Reva Sharon

R: And Gabriel Levin. Simon Lichman, for example. No, there are poets around. Itís really interesting that they should have formed a group like that, you know.

K: Yes. And they read each other.

R: Yes. We read each other, yes. Thatís true.

Leah: What about Hebrew poetry

R: Well, Hebrew poetry for me is a great difficulty. You see. Because my Hebrew is not good enough to read it. But how do I translate it? People are puzzled by this.

Leah: Using a dictionary obviously.

R: No. I have friends who work with me. And one of the friends is a wonderful translator on his own right: Shimon Zandbank. And I work with him. And with him you donít get just a literal translation, but he evokes, you know, he evokes what meanings are associated with. He does it so well. And itís very nice, you know. He likes to work with me. He sometimes would call me up and say, ďDo you need a new translation.Ē You know he really enjoys working with me. And itís good, like with Leah Goldberg, you know, I asked him to come over, you know. He did. We did the poems, made sure I donít miss any meaning. And the truth is that my translations are, Iím told, the more accurate than those who know Hebrew very well. You know. Because I have to watch every step, you know.

K: I have checked some of those poems. They are very accurate. Itís art in itself, isnít it?

R: Yes. I more and more believe that, you know. I used to also feel I was just, you know, something of a hobby... I try to make poems, always in English. Even if I have to depart from the original poet. I depart from him to arrive at him. You know. Because if mean too little then of course thatís no good at all. I remember with Alterman once, I forget the expression, after I just came to Israel, you know. And T. Carmi (?) then translated his ďMakot Mitsraíim.Ē Karmi translated it for me, and I did the whole thing. I did the whole ďMakot Mitsraíim,Ē and I met Alterman in Tel Aviv to show him what I had done, you know. And I remember one remark he made, and we spoke in French because he didnít know English and I didnít know Hebrew then, and I was just translating from it. So we spoke in French, you know, and then he pointed to one phrase, an idiom, I forget what it was, and he saw my translation to the idiom, which was entirely unlike it, and he said to me: ďIf I were writing English, thatís the idiom I would have chosen.

Leah: Do you read French.

R: I can read French, yes. I like it.... I donít read it, I read no other language beside English really well. But I can read French. I can translate by myself in French.

Karen: What about these recent poems of yours. I canít get over them.

R: I had put them aside and then Reva thought, I was being so ill, that maybe she could save the poems.

Leah: Yes. And she called us straight away and she said, ďWhen is it coming outĒ

R: And I was surprised that I had so many. I had about thirty.

Leah: About thirty. Yes. I know.

R: But I was surprised that I had so many.

Leah: they were written two years ago?

R: Within the last two years. One of them was actually written, so Iím not telling the truth completely, I said I didnít write for a year, one of them was written this year. Actually May, when I was having an up swing (?).

K: You had in the past two years... transcendent vision (?), vision that goes over, you know, your poetry is comprehensive in a very good way. And some of these poems... I just read a few of them, they just struck me as being exactly what I meant in that respect. The one about music. The taste , you know, itís about whole life.

R: Itís a movie, like a scene as being on a film.

K: With a beginning, middle and end. Being able to... being a part of it and being... knowing the wholeness (?) of it.

R: Well, actually the idea also came to me... I had a friend who was half mad. He really was. He was somebody who has been in institutions... and one of his madnesses was that all of us were on a film and that the film was being watched. There were the watchers. And, you know, he felt that we were just on the film. Thereís nothing else we could do, and the film has to unroll, you see.: But he was really mad... half of the time. I tell you, one day Iíd visit him and he said, ďI canít let you into the house today.Ē He said, ďmy watchers,Ē or ďmy speakers,Ē whatever, ďthey wonít let me.Ē So, thatís not normal. And we were close, you know. ďNo, I canít let you into my house.Ē Heís a very strange person.

K: Did he know that youíd probably known an awful lot of strange people? I always think the Americans who come to live in Israel, because the can come on their own, they come on their own volition here, no one threw them out of their country, no one forced them in some way to come here, the come of their own volition, theyíre kind of very strange people. The whole community of English speaking artists, the writers, theyíre very strange. Donít you think?

R: I donít think of the American community as strange in general, but I suppose it is so selective, so in a way you have more interesting people, you know.. But I donít think thatís itís so strange. . There is some disorientated Americans who come here and they find no place, you know, and theyíre in a bad way, you know, that they havenít found themselves, and they come to Israel to find themselves. Well, I said bad, itís sometimes good, you know, that they do find something, you see.

K: I think that theyíre more independent, that the Americans who have come here, theyíre more eccentric, independent...

R: Oh, in that sense.

K: Sometimes more creative because of that.

R: Yes, well...

K: Because there have been so many, so many ... (?) have come out of... who are now in Jerusalem, weíve mentioned ... Rachel Zvia Back, thereís Linda Zisquith, I donít know... some... you know, there must be a number that I donít know because I never go to Jerusalem at all. But thereíre so many who seem to be good poets and good writers...

R: Yes. Good artists, yes .

K: ... per capita.

R: Well, I say in proportion to the population itís amazing really, you know, that so many good poets can come out of a small population. And also the readers, itís very interesting...

K: Ah, I was going to ask you about readers.

R: About the readers, you know, I thought once when I published another little book, what was it called, Abbreviations, it was very well reviewed in the Post and I asked the reviewer to give my address and a price. I got sixty orders, sixty, which, in a country thatís, you know, not English speaking after all, and from far away places and kibbutzim and Haifa and so on, you know. And I was really amazed, because it takes trouble to put... write a check, put it into an envelope, because you may think, ďOh, Iíll order it one dayĒ and then you donít.

K: Or ďI want to see it first before I order.Ē People like to look at books. They donít like order by mail...

R: But still, but the review was really very praising, so they got very interested. But then I had people who re-ordered, thatís once they saw it then they wanted more.

K: As presents.

R: Yes. I remember one doctor in Haifa who said he must give it to his friends, you seeÖ

K: Did you alwfeel there were readers here, listeners to your poetry?

R: No. Not particularly. That is to say, I know there were more here than there would be in the States, lets put it that way, you know, but.... Oh, I mustnít say that I never got response from the States. I... sometimes people would write mfrom the States when the saw a poem of mine in, lets say The New York Times, or wherever, you know, and they would write. I got a letter from a judge in Georgia, who said that... there was one of my poems he said was one of the best poems he read in his life.

K: Oh, wow!

Leah: How touching. Very touching, really.

R: So it was very moving. Somebody in Georgia, you know, wrote me. And also once I got a letter from a woman in Chicago, and she was a member of a poetry group, and they were studying my poem, one of my poems and they wanted to know my interpretation of it. So sometimes you feel there is somebody out there, but these are very rare incidents, very rare.

K: Yes. Because in Israel, I know, a poet has at least some kind of immediate response. I mean, you publish a poem in a newspaper, then the people at the grocery tell you...

R: Yes, you have your audience right around the corner.

Leah: We are going to have a site on the Internet and we shall publish one of the poems there. See what reaction we will get. Weíll have a few pages for the start, so weíll have your poems, some of Amichaiís from the first issue. <To Karen:> Do you get reaction to your site?

K: Do I get reaction to my site? Yes, I get letters all the time. All the time. Because itís so easy, you know. On the Internet you read a poem and all you have to do is to press the button and youíre already at the address of the person. You could say, you know, ďThis is a very nice poem, thank youĒ and there doesnít have to be any connection afterwards.

R: Iím completely out of the world of Internet.

K: Itís a new world, I think. Itís a new world for people who live in one country and publish in another country. You know, because youíre suddenly connected.

R: Yes, I really should interested in the Internet. But Reva also said she has a friend in the States who can get some of my poems, he has already has taken some, for the Internet.

K: Charles Fishman.

R: Right. She said heís taken some of my poems for the Internet. So, thatís nice.