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Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss reviewed at NDR

 

Dear DarwishAs its epistolary title suggests, Morani Kornberg-Weiss’s Dear Darwish is a book about bridging divides through writing. As an Israeli-American writer addressing Mahmoud Darwish, a renowned Palestinian poet, Kornberg-Weiss seeks to negotiate an “end” to the longstanding conflict between the two authors’ peoples, even if it means raising a white flag of surrender, as the book’s illustrated cover depicts (93). From the very first pages of Dear Darwish, the speaker adopts a respectfully subservient tone to address the late literary figure, formally asking “permission” to use his words and proposing humbly that they “work together” to forge a common “IsraelPalestine” narrative, in which the “share[d]…blood” on their hands teaches both sides finally to live together rather than die divided (18-19).

Despite the speaker’s explicit peace-making intentions and admissions of mutual guilt, she takes great pains to extricate herself from the conflict’s underlying motivations, even positioning herself as a helpless victim through the analogies of a “hostage,” a puppet, and a “kill[ed]…messenger” (21-23). Kornberg-Weiss clarifies that her poems’ proactive diplomacy should not be taken as an avowal of personal responsibility; on the contrary, both she and Darwish inherited their bloody hands at birth, entering the world already “torture”-bound prisoners whose only sin was simply “learn[ing] to live / with the darkness” (26).

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Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss reviewed +972

 

 

'Dear Darwish': A poetically and politically brave book

Israeli-American poet Morani Kornberg-Weiss breaks with conventional poetics and mainstream politics. But who, exactly, is Dear Darwish for? 

Dear Darwish, Morani Kornberg-Weiss’s first collection of poetry, opens with a prose poem that that doubles as an indictment of Israeli society. Cleverly disguised as a letter, it is addressed to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Like the poems that follow it, “Dear Mahmoud” does many things at once. It captures the violence inherent in establishing and maintaining the Jewish state. It accurately depicts Israelis’ objectifying and dehumanizing view of Palestinians. It shows how the state’s violence against Palestinians has seeped into Israeli society, permeating all aspects of life.

It’s no short order to do all this without losing the poetry to polemics. But Kornberg-Weiss manages to stay true to the horrible, tragic content of this book—including the nakba, the occupation, torture, death, and dispossession—while rendering a beautiful collection. That doesn’t mean that she dresses things up or distorts reality to make it palatable. Rather, she uses the lyrical to strip things down and offer them up to the reader, who is unable to tear their eyes away from Kornberg-Weiss’s searing, heartbreaking images.

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Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss reviewed in The Colorado Review

In an interview with Ammiel Alcalay in the excellent anthology Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing, the Israeli poet Tikva Levi describes how she was railroaded out of Hebrew University on account of her interest in Arabic literature. In her view, Mizrahi (Israeli Jews who claim Arabic origin) suffer from the political and cultural hegemony of Ashkenazi Jews, the marginalization of the Arabic language and its literature being an expression of this. Levi’s situation is not exceptional; following his publication of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), Ilan Pappé, in an interview with The Guardian, faced calls for the end of his job and threats to his life. For an Israeli to seek contact and solidarity with Palestinians, to question the state as it drifts to the right, poses the risk of exile from the cultural center and possibly from one’s family, friends, and/or faith.

Morani Kornberg-Weiss, an Israeli writing now from America, takes this risk in her collection Dear Darwish via a series of plaintive, lyric letters in the spirit of Spicer to the Palestinian cultural hero Mahmoud Darwish. These letters to Darwish begin with prosey lines that crackle in their directness: “Mahmoud, if I am an Israeli woman living in Buffalo and / you reside in IsraelPalestine on my bookshelf and I read and transform your poems, are we still telling the same story? Mahmoud, do I have the right to use your words? Mahmoud, would you grant me permission to do this? Can we work together to define it and its possibilities?” The frank enthusiasm of the prose is counterpointed with a more meditative examination of the finer difficulties of addressing “the Other”:

What if I stand above you
(in this poem):

I
You

Would you think it strange?

What if you
stand above me?

You
me

or:

You
I

I don’t know how to share

this poem with you.

These lines, sorting out the micropolitics of syntax, dramatize the difficulty of Kornberg-Weiss’s project of simply addressing one man, which stands in for the larger difficulties of working out the relations between people whose mutual history is marked most visibly by traumatic violence, displacement, and dispossession. The minute scale of this struggle nearly grinds the lines to a halt. Yet their near exhaustion can also be read as wit or play. In fact, it’s the wonder of this collection that Kornberg-Weiss moves from heavy material, which would become leaden in some writers’ hands , to a series of provisional speculations and envois, seeking dialogue over sententious proclamation.

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Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss reviewed in The Iowa Review

In her finely crafted debut collection, Dear Darwish, Morani Kornberg-Weiss offers readers a graceful synthesis of domestic imagery and political life. By challenging the boundaries between public and private spaces, and between public and private types of address, the poems in this deftly rendered first book show us that a morning cup of coffee, a dish, and a darkened room can serve as a point of entry to questions that are global in scope. Presented as a series of letters to the iconic Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Kornberg-Weiss's poems suggest that the traditionally feminine realm of the home remains at the very center of much larger political and ethical conflicts, presenting us with a perfect matching of form and content all the while.

With that in mind, I find it fascinating that Kornberg-Weiss engages with the epistolary tradition, as letters are frequently categorized as part of the private, and hence domestic, realm of discourse. As the book unfolds, Kornberg-Weiss politicizes this seemingly feminine type of writing, revealing the myriad possibilities for activism within the epistolary tradition. Consider "Dear Mahmoud":

Many poems are
dedicated
to other writers.
The indication: a 'for.'

I wonder about these offerings.
Do they begin with the addressee in mind
or does the gift-receiver appear midway?

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Morani Kornberg-Weiss interviewed in Rob Mclennan's Blog

 

Friday, April 25, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Morani Kornberg-Weiss

Morani Kornberg-Weiss was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and spent her early childhood in Southern California. After completing her military service, B.A. in Psychology and English, and the beginning of her graduate degree in Israel, she moved to Buffalo, NY to pursue a Ph.D. in English at SUNY Buffalo's Poetics Program. Her scholarship revolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the lyric tradition. Her poetry has been published in multiple venues including The Last StanzaVoices IsraelGenius FlooredOmnia Vanitas Reviewkadar koli,eccolinguistics, and arc. Her Hebrew translation of Karen Alkalay-Gut’s Miracles & More was published by Keshev in 2012. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA with her partner, two cats, dog, and a lentil. 

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My debut poetry book, Dear Darwish, is the outcome of a slow and complex process that lead to a shift in my historical, cultural, and political outlooks. In other words, the “change” occurred and the book was conceived as a result. 

I have spent my life moving back and forth between Israel and the U.S. When I started my Ph.D. in English/Poetics at SUNY Buffalo in 2009, I was exposed to a wide range of poetry that radically altered my writing practices. The book showcases the change in my writing “style.” I experiment with different forms, such as epistolary, prose-poetry, borrowed text, and longer, more sequential poems, since several poems naturally lend themselves to these forms. As Robert Creeley stated: "form is never more than an extension of content.” My poetry now feels “different” because I allow the poems to emerge in whatever form they need to be/come.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When I look back at my childhood, it seems like I have always been writing poetry: jotting down words on paper, assembling lines along the margins of notebooks, and even hanging up a favorite poem in my bedroom in elementary school (“Warning” by Jenny Joseph). (Okay, I love the color purple too!) I started writing regularly during high school when I moved back to Israel and had to relearn Hebrew. I wrote poems in English while trying to immerse myself in an old-new language and culture. I don’t think I was ever aware that these were poems per se. Rather, I felt compelled to write about my life and my surroundings, and poetry became the outlet for recording those experiences.   

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

A project begins with an idea. Sometimes, I start working on a project right away. Other times it takes months and years for the ideas to evolve and for me to even become aware that there’s a “project” that can emerge out of them. Writing is a craft that seems to have a pace of its own (which can also be a source of great frustration when the projects are slow-going). In the end, every poem is treated as a separate entity: some require heavy revision (or are left out entirely) and others only require subtle changes or none at all. 

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I am often preoccupied with a few major issues and end up writing poems about them. The poems, in retrospect, can then be compartmentalized into book projects revolving around one major theme. But all of my poems begin with a thought, one so overbearing that I am (unknowingly) made aware of my own cognitive thought processes and begin to write – a word, a line, a stanza – that might potentially evolve into a poem. I’ve been practicing the art of being mindful when this occurs. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? 
Poetry, for me, is first and foremost a communal endeavor (even when it occurs in isolation between writer-reader-book). I love attending as well as participating in readings. I have met many great friends and writers through these shared spaces. I am open to the possibility of letting other people’s words and languages seep into my own creative thought processes and therefore always have my notebook and pen in hand. Reading my work allows me to share my poems through my voice and my body in ways that do not exist on the page alone. The poems become alive (or I give them a particular “life” depending on my tone and mood at the moment). Plus, it’s nice to get feedback from friends and/or strangers, especially when I have worked on a project for so long. 

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I am currently completing my doctorate, which focuses on the lyric tradition, transnationalism, and Israeli and Palestinian relations. Several poems located in Dear Darwish were written as a result of my research. I consider my creative and scholarly endeavors as part of one larger project in which I examine questions of memory, nationalism, and trauma; I aim at understanding how particular memories and cultural practices are shaped and later perpetuated. Poetry becomes an alternative space where I can challenge the values that I “naturally” inherited. I’m not sure if there are specific questions that I ask; rather, the entire book is a collection of several possible answers. 

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
For me, personally, poetry is a form of activism. I think language is charged, multi-layered, and political; the act of writing, therefore, is a dynamic process where writer and world interact in meaningful ways. Poets, as Shelley puts it, “are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” I would like to think we are acknowledged and that part of the beauty and magic of poetry (and writing in general) is that we never know what seeds we plant in our readers’ minds and when those seeds will emerge as new modes of thinking and experiencing the world. I think the writer should just write, share, read, write more, and share again. Although we do not always have the privilege of defining our own roles as writers, we can, at least, define the type of poems we wish to create and disseminate. 
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