TWENTY GIRLS TO ENVY ME SELECTED POEMS OF ORBIT GIDALI
Edited and translated from the Hebrew by Marcela Sulak
The University of Texas at Austin
2016, pp. 102, $16
Until the 1980s, women were a small minority among Hebrew writers. There was Russian-born Rahel Bluwstein (1890-1931), considered the "founding mother" of modern Hebrew poetry by women. Esther Raab (1894-1981) was the first native-born Israeli woman poet, principally known for her rich use of modern Hebrew. Leah Goldberg (1911-1970), born in East Prussia, was the only major female poet in Israel in the 1930s and 1940s. Russian-born Zelda Schneersohn-Mishkovsky (1914--1984), known simply as Zelda, was an ultra-Orthodox Jew who drew from the world of Jewish mysticism, fable and Russian folklore. And there was Yona Wallach (1944--1985), whose work was bold, provocative and sexually explicit. When Dalia Ravikovitch's (1936-2005) poems began to appear in the late 1950s, she became an instant success. Later in life she became an outspoken critic of Israel's policies and an ardent advocate for the Palestinian population in the occupied territories.
Israel's heavily male-dominated literary establishment relegated these writers to the fringes. Male publishers and critics often dismissed their writing as too domestic and, as was said about Zelda's early work, too focused on the torments of unrequited love. Their voices, however, resonated with Israeli audiences precisely because of their evocative expression of and preoccupation with emotion. They protested the macho spirit of Israeli culture, with its glorification of both war and the warrior, in which women are consigned to the role of helpmate or guardian of home and hearth. It was women who could write about the price of war and reveal the pain of the bereaved.
Like the women who came before her, Orit Gidali's themes are distinct from those of Israel's male writers. At 42, she is among the top-selling poets in Israel, and the window she opens onto women's life is rarely glimpsed in Israeli literature. Details of daily life, such as reading the newspaper or preparing a Sabbath meal, populate the poems in her new collection, Twenty Girls to Envy Ale. There is the freshness and pain of love, its anxieties, its little daily delights, as in "Child," in which she tells of the pleasure of putting a child to bed, affirming that something does lie beyond outer space, and for its sake "I am reaching for the light about your head, / turning it on...