Chris Rice Cooper

Chris Rice Cooper
Chris, September 18, 2017

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"The Pajama-Iraqi Israeli Poet” Ronny Someck & His New Poetry Collection THE MILK UNNDERGROUND


Christal Cooper

Excerpts given copyright privilege by Ronny Someck, Robert Manaster, and White Pine Press.


Ronny Someck:
The Milk Underground


       On September 15, 2015 White Pine Press published The Milk Underground by Ronny Someck and translated by Hana Inbar and Robert Manaster.    


        
       The Milk Underground is the winner of the 2015 Cliff Becker Translation Prize.


Translators Robert Manastar and Hana Inbar write in in their introduction of The Milk Underground, titled “The Pajama-Iraqi Israeli Poet”: 



“The poems throughout The Milk Underground give a cohesive voice to Ronny Someck’s oeuvre in Israeli poetry.  He is a bridge builder.  He is of the East as well as West.  In an interview he explains, “I’m not looking for roots.  I never lost them.  Baghdad is the East and it is planted in the garden of the mind next to the tree of the West.  Two trees that are two languages, which is the mixer of my mouth has turned into one language.”


A Patriotic Poem

I’m a Pajama-Iraqi, my wife’s Romaman
And our daughter the thief from Baghdad.
My mother’s always boiling the Euphrates and Tigris,
My sister learned to make Perushki from her Russia
Mother-in-law
Our friend, Morocco the Knife, stabs
Fish from the shores of Norway
With a fork of English steel.
We’re all fired workers taken off the tower
We were building in Babylon.
We’re all rusty spears Don Quixote thrust
At windmills.
We’re all still shooting at gleaming stars
A minute before they’re swallowed
By the Milky Way.

       Someck has published ten other volumes of poetry, which have been translated in over 41 languages:  Exile; Solo; Asphalt; Seven Lines on the Wonder of the Yarkon; Panther; Rice Paradise; Bloody Mary; The Revolution Drummer; Algeria; and Horse Power.

                                          Exile 


                                            Solo

                                  Asphalt 


                                                     Seven Lines

                                                         Panther 

                                                             Rice Paradise


                                                              Bloody Mary



The Revolution Drummer 

                                                 Algir
                                                  Horse Power

       Someck, 65, was born in Baghdad in 1951, and his family emigrated from Iraq to Israel in the early 1950s as second generation Mizrahim (Jews from Africa and Asian – the “East”).    Someck managed to succeed in Israeli society without sacrificing his Mizrahniess identity despite the domination of the Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent – the “West”). 


His first love was basketball, which he played competitively, but then something happened when he turned 16.
“I wrote my first poem by chance. It was a note I sent to a girl classmate. I was 16 at the time, and a second before sending the note, I tore it to pieces. Being a basketball player at one of the youth groups of Maccabi Tel-Aviv, it seemed to me strange that I would suddenly write a poem.  Back home I told myself: You’re an adolescent, and the poem you’ve written is just one of the symptoms. But on that very day I wrote another poem, and yet another one on the day after. It scared me. I hid the poems in an old shoebox and hoped this temporary “disease” would go away. One day, when the shoebox started overflowing, I decided to send two poems to two people I knew of. I sent the first envelope to a poet I already admired, David Avidan. He answered immediately with a very beautiful and moving letter. I sent the second envelope to the literary editor of a very popular newspaper in Israel. I wrote to him that I’m wearing shirt number 7 in a basketball team and that I write poems in secret. I asked him to read the poem and tell me whether or not it was good. I specified that the poem was meant for his eyes only.
       For two weeks I didn’t get any answer. I was sure my poem was bad and unworthy of a reply. But on the third week, to my astonishment, the poem was printed on the very top of the literary section. I was embarrassed (for I specifically asked not to have it printed). Yet I felt happy for receiving “confirmation” that the poem was good. I was very confused.  Then I raised my eyes and saw that instead of “Ronny Somech” which was my name at the time, they wrote “Ronny Someck”. Rather than being annoyed I felt the happiest person on earth. This way, I told myself, no one would know it was me.
Two days later, during the first basketball training session that followed, the coach pressed his shoulder against mine and said to me, “There’s someone with a similar name to yours who writes poems.” He said it in a “warning” tone, implying it was a good thing it was someone else. Evidently in his mind, as well as in mine, there was no connection between basketball and writing poems.


I went back to the shoebox, took out all the poems and sent them to all newspapers under my new name, and like the Cinderella story – all the poems were eventually printed.
When my tenth poem was printed, my coach said to me in the middle of the training, “You know, Ronny, the guy with the similar name to yours printed another poem this week.” And after a timeout he added, “A beautiful poem.” I then told everyone it was actually me, and from that moment my life on the basketball team got complicated. Every time I held the ball for more than a second my teammates used to call out at me: Pass the ball! What are you thinking of, a new line?”
This changed Someck’s life – he became a poet and an avid reader of poetry.  His poetic influences are Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Wisława Szymborska, Seamus Heaney, Fernando Pessoa, John Berryman, Jacques Prevert, Charles Baudelaire, Charles Simic, Adonis, T.S. Eliot, Hayim Nachman Bialik, Yehuda Amichai, Amir Gilboa, David Avidan, Yona Volach, Lea Goldberg.

                                            
  
 


                                                             









 







                                               https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Avidan






       He is also influenced by fiction writers Fiodor Dostoyevsky and Antonio Skarmeta.





       Romeck worked as a social guide for street gangs until 1976, when at the age of 23 his first book of poetry, Exile was published.
       He studied Hebrew literature and philosophy at Tel Aviv University, and drawing at the Avni Academy of Art.
       He used both of his artistic abilities in poetry and drawing by collaborating with his daughter Shirly, 24, on two children’s books: The Laughter Button and Monkey Tough, Monkey Bluff.  





       Someck, who also writes music, does not write drafts of his poems, but rather lets the ideas cook in his brain until the final poem is finished and ready to appear on the page.
“I see my head as an oven of ideas. At a certain moment, when I feel the dish is ready and might burn if left for another extra minute, I transfer it from the metaphoric oven onto the page. But always during the writing something new comes in a word, a line, or a period. Something that takes even me by surprise.”

       The Milk Underground is divided into three parts:  The Introduction:  The Pajama-Iraqi Israeli Poet; a section consisting of 25 poems; Field Sentences: Nature Poems; Street Sentences: City Poems; and biographies on the translators and Ronny Someck. 

       The poem that was the most compelling for Someck to write is “Baghdad”. 
       “I was born there. A German doctor helped bring me into this world at a Jewish Hospital. My nanny was an Arab girl. My parents brought me to Israel when I was a baby and the “Black Box” of my memory is empty.


But there were my parent’s stories about the cafe by the Tigris, about the smell of the fruits at the Shugra Market and about singers like Farid El Atrash and Abd El Wabb . My parents spoke Hebrew, and only my Grandfather followed Baghdad’s lifestyle. He spoke broken Hebrew and he used to take me to a cafe where they played the music of the Egyptian singer UM KULTHUM and served black coffee just like in the cafe by the Tigris.

       As for me, Baghdad turned into a metaphor, into a place that existed only in my Grandfather’s heart.


I felt as if I threw Baghdad out of my life’s window, but during the Gulf war it came back knocking at my door.  I was sitting with a gas mask, watching TV footage from Baghdad. In every shot I tried to place my stroller, or put lipstick on my young mother’s lips, or see my father brushing his fingers through his hair. And a moment later I saw this place destroyed.
 

At that moment I felt I missed the place I was born in, I missed the eastern side of my life, and I very much wanted to mix it into my west side story.”


Baghdad

With the same chalk a policeman outlines a body in a crime scene
I outline the borders of the city my life was shot into.
I interrogate witnesses, extort out of their lips
Drops of attack and imitate with hesitation the dance moves
Of pita over a bowl of hummus.
When they capture me, they’ll take a third off for good behavior
And lock me up in the corridor of Salima Murad’s throat.
In the prison’s kitchen, my mother would fry the fish her mother
Pulled out of the river, and she’d tell about the word “fish”
Displayed on a huge sign over the new restaurant’s door.
Whoever dined there got a sliver of fish until
One of the customers asked the owner to reduce
The sign or enlarge the fish.
The fish will prick his bones, will drown
The hand that scrapes its scales.
Even boiling oil on the interrogation pan
Wouldn’t get an incriminating word out of its mouth.
The memory’s an empty plate, scarred with a knife’s scratches
On its skin


Language is very important to Someck – in The Milk Underground each poem is presented in Hebrew on the left page and English on the right.  
“I write in Hebrew, which expresses itself on many levels: The Bible on the one, army slang on the other. It also adopted words from the various cultures that immigrated to Israel during the last century, as well as from the Arabic language of our neighbors. Yet, if King David arrived this weekend to Jerusalem, he’d understand the language.  The poet's job is, perhaps, to be King David's travel guide.”

 Someck takes his job as poet very seriously and describes his job as poet in Israel to that of the American pianist we see in American western movies.
“He puts his piano at the corner of the saloon, which smells of gun-powder. He knows this saloon is not a concert hall but perhaps it's the real place. For his safety he says: "Don't shoot me, I'm only the pianist".”

Someck lives in Israel with his wife Liora and their daughter Shirley where he teaches creative writing and literature and leads creative writing workshops. He can be reached at someck@netvision.net.il   




Photo 1
Ronny Someck

Photo 2
White Pine Press web logo

Photo 3
The Milk Underground

Photo 4
Cliff Becker

Photo 5
Robert Manaster

Photo 6
Hana Inbar

Photo 7
"Patriotic" Poem in Hebrew

Photo 8
Jacket covers of poetry books

Photo 9
1950s Family Photo
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck 

Photo 10
Ronny Someck at age 16
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck 

Photo 11a
Allen Ginsberg
Attributed to Duk, Hans vann/ Aefo
CCASA 3.0 Netherlands. 

Photo 11b
Jack Kerouac
Navy Reserve Reenlistment Photo 1943
Public Domain 


Photo 11c
Wisława Szymborska
GFDL 1.2 

Photo 11d
Ronny Someck and Seamus Heaney
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck

Photo 11e
Fernando Pessoa in 1928
Public Domain

Photo 11f
John Berryman
Attributed to Jerry Bauer
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 11g
Jacques Prevert
CCASA 1.0 Generic

Photo 11h
Charles Baudelaire
Woodburytype portrait attributed to Etienne Cavat in 1862
Public Domain 

Photo 11i
Charles Simic
GFDL 1.2

Photo 11j
Adonis and Ronny Someck
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck

Photo 11k 
T.S. Eliot inn 1934
Public Domain

Photo 11l
Hayim Nachman Bialik in 1923
Public Domain

Photo 11m
Yehuda Amichai
Public Domain

Photo 11n
Amir Gilboa
Public Domain

Photo 11o
David Avidan
Public Domain

Photo 11p 
Yona Volach
Public Domain

Photo 11q
Lea Goldberg in 1946
Public Domain

Photo 12a
Fiodor Dostoyevsky in 1872
Public Domain
Photo 12s
Antonio Skarmeta 

Photo 13
jacket cover of Exile

Photo 14
Ronny and daughter Shirley

Photo 15
The Laughing Button

Photo 16
The Monkey Tough, Monkey Bluff

Photo 17
Ronny Someck
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck

Photo 18
The Milk Underground 
 
Photo 19 
Ronny Someck baby photo 1954 
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck

Photo 20
Egyptian siger Um Kulthum in 1968
Public Domain

Photo 21
Photo of Grandfather Salah
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck

Photo 22
1955 Someck family, Ronny Someck in the middle. 
  
Photo 23a
"Baghdad" in Hebrew

Photo 23b
Ronny Someck giving a poetry reading.
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck 

Photo 24
King David playing the harp
Attributed to Domenico Zampieri
Public Domain

Photo 25
Painting Don't Shoot The Piano Player
Public Domain

Photo 26
Ronny Someck and wife Liora on their wedding day in 1985
Copyright granted by Ronnny Someck.

Photo 27 
Ronny and Liora Someck near Mezada in 2016
Copyright granted by Ronny Someck.

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