Friday, January 25, 2008

Hear Israel Voices, O Somerville Bard by Patricia Wild

Hear Israel Voices, O Somerville Bard

Somerville Journal

Jan 17, 2008

Patricia Wild

Chances are you know Doug Holder, know of him or know someone who has been published by his Ibbetson Street Press. Poet, writer, arts editor of the Somerville News, producer of a writers’ interview show on SCAT, tireless promoter of Ibbetson Street’s latest offering, Doug is a much a fixture in this community as Green cabs or Lyndell’s Bakery.

“I’m sort of provincial,” the ubiquitous poet says of himself. A Somerville resident for many years, Doug’s world encompasses Sherman’s CafĂ©, Davis Square’s McIntyre and More Bookstore, his home-based publishing business on School St, his commute to McLean Hospital where he works, and daily jogs along Somerville’s less-traveled streets. Until recently Doug’s forays beyond the ‘ville were to the wilds of Newton for the occasional poetry reading, or to Maine or Florida for a well-earned vacation. “ I had never been out of the country before” Doug explained. “I hate to fly.”

But about a year ago, when Helen Bar-Lev, a prominent Israel poet, invited Doug to travel to her war torn country, the provincial Somervillian accepted. Wisely, however, Holder “took a year to get mentally prepared.” Asked to serve as a judge for Voices Israel’s annual Reuben Rose Award, during his year’s preparation for the trip, Holder also read more than 250 entries for the contest, finally selecting two winners and 10 runner-ups.

On Dec.14, his beloved part of the world blanketed under half-a-foot of snow, Holder flew to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, where it was “almost tropical.” For his first couple of days in the Promised Land, Holder was put in a guest room at Y’Izrael kibbutz, where “ everyone is treated the same” and where he ate “simple and fresh” meals in the communal dining hall. During his week’s stay, Holder’s hosts kept him busy: he met with other poets; he toured the country and was asked to conduct all-day poetry workshops.

Very quickly, the reality of visiting a country “under siege,” became clear. Everywhere, the poet saw “children” that is to say, young Israeli soldiers, who sported M16s like young people in this country sport cell phones. Security checks, metal detectors, endless stories of death and bombings; “ You’re looking around all the time, you always have a sense of fear. Life is on the line.”

That pervasive intensity informs the Israel poetry scene. “Here, ( in this country) it’s you won’t get your next latte,” Holder quips. Israeli poetry is “very idealistic, very passionate. The poetry coming out of there is great.” Not particularly political himself, Holder observes: “You can’t separate art from politics in Israel.” Such passion made for some lively workshops.

Among the Israeli voices Doug heard was that of Ada Aharoni, a founder of the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace. “We ( of the IFAC) believe that all conflicts can be alleviated if the sides know and understand each other better, through bridges of culture and literature. Our culture is at the basis of our identity, and in a long and tragic conflict like the Arab-Israeli one, the wounds are very deep on both sides, and to heal them we need a vehicle that can go that deep, and the most appropriate ones are poetry, literature and culture.” Asked if Ada Aharoni has influenced latest poems, Holder quickly responds: “It’s too early to tell.”

Although he had walked where David and Goliath once walked, stood at the Wailing Wall ( and had inserted a book of his poems into one of the wall’s crevices) had been impressed by the beauty of the country and the “ Israeli people trying to live in peace,” Holder’s delighted to be home. “ I really appreciate this country, where you can walk around, unencumbered. I do understand that these (Israeli) people are afraid,” he noted, then paused: “We could be like that.”

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