Page 8 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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Israeli poetry, on the other hand, clarions loud and clear. It
is at the very core of literary culture. In his essay “Poetry in
Israel,” Robert Alter wrote: “Israel may conceivably have the
highest per capita production in the world.” Hebrew poetry
readership maintains the same extraordinary pace. “A popular
book of poetry,” Alter continues, “sells out a first printing of
3,000 copies within a few months.. . . If one considers that the
Jewish population of Israel is about two million, and that, of
considerably less than half know Hebrew well enough to read
it for enjoyment, a printing of 3,000 in Israel looms as large as
perhaps half a million copies of a book published in America. . . .
Compared to the successes of Hebrew poets like Avraham Shlon-
sky and Nathan Alterman, even Robert Frost looks like a mere
coterie figure.” Aharon Megged, one of the outstanding Israeli
novelists, is authority for the statement that “The output and
circulation of books in Israel is relatively one of the highest in
the world; and in poetry it is on the average higher in absolute
figures than in Britain or the United States.”
The wide disparity in numbers (and in quality) between Amer-
ican Jewish poets writing in English and Israeli poets writing
Hebrew verse since the 1940’s, becomes evident in the mere
mention of the roster of the latter. It includes, in addition to
Shlonsky and Alterman: Jacob Fichman, David Shimoni, Abra-
ham ben Yitzhak, Zalman Schneour, Avigdor Hameiri, Uri Zvi
Greenberg, Yehuda Karni, S. Shalom, Lea Goldberg, Amir Gil-
boa, Yitzhak Lamdan, Yocheved Bat-Miriam, Abba Kovner,
Yehuda Amihai, Hayyim Guri, David Rokeah, Avraham Huss,
T. Carmi, Binyamin Galai, Omer Hillel, Dan Pagis, Yehiel Mar,
Avner Trainin, David Avidan!. Yair Horowitz and Jonah Volach.
This is not the place to explore the reasons for this wide dis-
parity. Hopefully, the Jewish Book Council, perhaps in collabo-
ration with the Herzl institute, may consider sponsoring a panel
of Israeli and American Jewish poets, novelists and critics to
probe this question in depth at some future date.
II
The editors of the
Jewish Book Annual
regard each issue like
a piece of architecture, its meaning compressed in the totality
rather than in the parts, and yet every part essential to the whole.
The topics vary, the materials deal with diffuse areas of Jewish
thought and Jewish creativity the world over. At the same time,
an effort is made to achieve at least a modicum of organic unity.
Even more, we endeavor to preserve this strand of unity intact
from volume to volume. Thus, Dr. Walter J. Fischel's paper
“The Literature of the ‘Bene-Israel’ in India,” which is a fasci-