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Frayed Light

By Yonatan Berg
Translated by Joanna Chen
First English language poetry collection from an acclaimed Hebrew poet

Unity

We travel the silk road of evening,
tobacco and desire flickering
between our hands. We are warm travelers,
our eyes unfurled, traveling in psalms,
in Rumi, in the sayings of the man from the Galilee.
We break bread under the pistachio tree,
under the Banyan tree, under the dark
of the Samaritan fig tree. Songs of offering rise up
in our throats, wandering along the wall of night. We travel
in the openness of warm eternity. Heavenly voices
announce a coupling as the quiet horse gallops
heavenward. We travel with the rest of the world,
with its atrocities, its piles of ruins, scars of barbed wire,
traveling with ardor in our loins, with the cry of birth.
We sit crossed-legged within the rocking
of flesh, the quiet of the Brahmin, the bells
of Mass, the tumult of Torah. We travel
through eagles of death, dilution of earth in rivers,
in eulogies, through marble, we travel through the silk
of evening, our hearts like bonfires in the dark.

This poetic collection is an honest and deeply reflective look at life overshadowed by disputed settlements and political upheaval in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yonatan Berg is a poet from Israel and the youngest person ever awarded the Yehuda Amichai Poetry Prize. This collection brings together the best poems from his three published collections in Hebrew, deftly translated by Joanna Chen. His poetry recounts his upbringing on an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and service in a combat unit of the Israeli military, which left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He grapples with questions of religion and tradition, nationalism, war, and familial relationships. The book also explores his conceptual relationship with Biblical, historical, and literary characters from the history of civilization, set against a backdrop of the Mediterranean landscape. Berg shares an insider's perspective on life in Israel today.

Sample Poem:

Unity

We travel the silk road of evening,
tobacco and desire flickering
between our hands. We are warm travelers,
our eyes unfurled, traveling in psalms,
in Rumi, in the sayings of the man from the Galilee.
We break bread under the pistachio tree,
under the Banyan tree, under the dark
of the Samaritan fig tree. Songs of offering rise up
in our throats, wandering along the wall of night. We travel
in the openness of warm eternity. Heavenly voices
announce a coupling as the quiet horse gallops
heavenward. We travel with the rest of the world,
with its atrocities, its piles of ruins, scars of barbed wire,
traveling with ardor in our loins, with the cry of birth.
We sit crossed-legged within the rocking
of flesh, the quiet of the Brahmin, the bells
of Mass, the tumult of Torah. We travel
through eagles of death, dilution of earth in rivers,
in eulogies, through marble, we travel through the silk
of evening, our hearts like bonfires in the dark.

About the Authors

YONATAN BERG is a leading Hebrew poet. He is the youngest recipient of the Yehuda Amichai Prize and a number of other national awards. He has published three books of poetry, one memoir and two novels. His latest book, Far from the Linden Trees, was published in 2018 and received excellent reviews. Yonatan Berg is a bibliotherapist and teaches creative writing in Jerusalem. JOANNA CHEN is a literary translator and essayist. Her work has been published in Guernica, Poet Lore, Narratively, and Newsweek, among others. Her translations have been published in Poetry International, Consequence, Mantis, and many more. Her translations also include Agi Mishol's Less Like a Dove. She is currently translating Meir Shalev's My Wild Garden. She writes a column for The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Reviews

"Yonatan Berg's first collection of poems to appear in English is Frayed Light, translated by Joanna Chen. Drawing from Berg's three Hebrew books of poetry, Frayed Light offers more than just English renditions of the poems. This unique selection tells the story of Berg's development as a poet. As the book moves from reflections on personal experience to imagining the lives of others, we witness the maturing poet turning his gaze outwards, away from himself, as he is drawn backwards, into history."—Lonnie Monka, The Tel Aviv Review of Books

"Frayed Light offers readers both a poetic journey and new ways in which to think about the tension between innocence and experience, while enacting what it means to hold one's deepest beliefs up to an inquiring light. Poets must work within the limits of language, yet one senses in these poems that what Berg is seeking in his explorations is a bridge, an intimacy that will overcome barriers of language, religion, and otherness itself."—Janice Weizman, World Literature Today

"Frayed Light frames a slice of Israeli life rarely encountered by outsiders. The poems, originally written in Hebrew, come across beautifully in Joanna Chen's exquisite translations."—Gwen Ackerman, Rain Taxi Review of Books

Endorsements

"Yonatan Berg's poetry is fervent and relentless in its language, each poem moving forward in a series of proclamations that are as absolute as they are heartbreaking, 'We told ourselves it would pass./We put everything in place, near/the couches, the armchairs. On the balcony, flowers/spiraled towards the sun.' In the midst of this book's almost unbearable traumas, its attention to that which is rapturous and romantic about the natural world asks us to rethink how our wars kill us and our ability to see the beauty of the planet on which we live. These are necessary translations. And these translations by Joanna Chen bring to light the fact that poetry travels beyond language. This is a beautiful book."—Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament, reviewing a previous edition or volume

"Berg's poems aren't the conventional kind. I absorb them slowly and with great excitement, till I'm left with tenderness."—Amos Oz, author of A Tale of Love and Darkness, reviewing a previous edition or volume

"Berg is the only poet I know of today whose personal experience and our political experience, the Israeli crisis of faith, are the same. This is what makes his poems so powerful."—Nurit Zarchi, author of Otobiographya Shell Delet, reviewing a previous edition or volume

"Yonatan Berg's poetry moves between roughness and tenderness. His military poems written with boyish insouciance, mingling horror with grief. A serene moment swiftly becomes an elegy. Bitter ambivalence makes the song of this poet. I like this song."—Adam Zagajewski, author of Asymmetry, reviewing a previous edition or volume

""Here is a book that shows us the urgency and fear of a life in a time of crisis, an overview of life in a settlement, on the occupied territory from the perspective of a person born in a settlement. Here is a voice that speaks honestly about guilt, a voice that admits 'I am a person with no homeland.' It is a powerful, sobering book. How does Yonatan Berg do this? What what means? He combines the nuance of attentiveness with the clarity of perspective. He combines a spell of an incantatory chant and the intimacy of a whisper. His is a voice from a place that overflows with crimes of history—but longs for justice. His is a voice that shows us perversities of silence: 'We do not look at each other, / not even when the coffin is hoisted / onto our shoulders, heavy / with youth and laughter.' It would be a wise thing for us to listen to this voice.""—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
Wesleyan University Press
Wesleyan Poetry Series

9780819579126 : frayed-light-berg-chen
Hardback
88 Pages
$30.00 USD
9780819579133 : frayed-light-berg-chen
Paperback / softback
88 Pages
$14.95 USD
9780819579140 : frayed-light-berg-chen
Electronic book text
88 Pages
$12.99 USD

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