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An “impressive thicket of identities”

hovering without landing on any side

© Talking with Home.

Amichai Chasson’s debut book incorporates a decade of writing that draws from a multiplicity of worlds. The book’s title, Talking with Home, is accurate not only because the poet returns home again and again in his work, but also because the worlds that nurtured him may easily be considered highly separate identities; most of the time they are viewed as such by Israeli society.

Chasson, the son of an American mother and a father from Tripoli, Libya, grew up in a religiously observant home, was educated in religious institutions and is observant himself. At the same time, culture was not censored in his home and the poet is a graduate of the [secular] Sam Spiegel Film & TV School. In light of these facts, it is clear that the home he has returned to is a unity, but with many roots.

In this sense, the book’s title, which insists on one single home and not a plurality of them, expresses Chasson’s unwillingness to to view any of his sources as broken or cracked, which would require him to live forever as a divided soul.

In conversation Chasson says, "People who don't come from a fifty-fifty world" – who don't have to move between secular and religious spaces, between an American family and culture on the one hand and that of Tripolitans on the other – "feel that these worlds constitute a dichotomy. I feel that there's a mix of religious and Mizrahi identity. We aren't really talking about totally separate worlds."

Chasson makes these remarks despite the fact that his biography presents an impressive thicket of identities. On his mother's side, the family – in his words – conducted a love affair with Zionism, led by his great-grandfather, Samuel Bloom, a businessman and leading member of the Jewish American Congress. Members of the family were close to famed Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, who in his day is said to have named all the babies born in it. Chasson's paternal great grandfather was Amos Nakhisi, chief rabbi of Tripoli. Unlike Chasson's mother, his father was born in Israel.

The poet grew up in Ramat Gan, five minutes from the homes of his grandparents. The possibility of hopping between these cultures he describes as "incomprehensible. Physical proximity deepened the feeling that on Saturday morning you ate breakfast in America and dinner in Tripoli." Chasson studied in a religious high school and then in a hesder yeshiva combining advanced religious studies with army service. […]

He began to write poetry in high school, after reading the work of Raymond Carver, "although", he  says, "today my poetics are far from his." Chasson's work was first published by the religious poetry journal Mashiv Haruach, where he is now an editor, and later in the Haaretz newspaper literary supplement, and in Helicon and Maayan.

[Translator-scholar] David Weinfeld, who edited the series of books in which Talking with Home appears, says that he liked the collection from first glance. The book's importance, accoording to Weinfeld, lies in its "depth, the fact that the poet has a long and intensive historical memory. I really liked that. And there is a poem dedicated to the Rami Levy supermarket branch in Talpiot where his family shops, and so I felt at home, and I understood that the store is not only a place to buy food, but a place of inspiration."

No thoughts come to me tonight, Walt Whitman
and Alan Ginsberg, solitary, childless rogues,
in the supermarket in Talpiot I waver among packages of diapers
watch the supervisor call to the stock boy
to work on the crates of summer squash and the loudspeaker announces
Mr. Rami Levy Mr. Rami Levy is in the store '
O gates
lift up your heads' so he may come who says
a shekel and ninety cents for a kilo of tomatoes.  
                    [Rami Levy in Talpiot]

Poetry editor Tami Israeli notes that Chasson's book "speaks many languages with home and with wherever he is". She says that to her the book is very "masculine, regarding his army unit and as a new father, a a masculine apprenticeship in the good sense, by someone who chafes against the world and not only against himself, someone who lives in the world and listens."

One feeling that arises from the book is of being positioned on the border between cultures, identities, sources and places. At the same time, this position on the border does not bring Chasson to any definite choices, and it is apparent that he is more interested in hovering rather than grabbing a spot on either side.


© Revital Madar (Translated by Lisa Katz)

Source: Excerpted from Haaretz 17 July 2015

• Editors & Translators (Israel)

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