“One Square Meter” aims to shed some light on our experiences within a world, a country, and a city that are growing ever smaller. It deals mainly with the Israeli experience, but raises issues which are global, such as intimacy, progress, and self-expression. During the course of this year’s festival, over 70 poets and musicians stood up to share their views and ideas regarding this, their own private “One Square Meter” of existence and consciousness. This was mirrored in the themes of this year’s festival, which included “little letters”, “small talk”, “one on one”, and more.
The “One Square Meter” poetry and music festival was created four years ago by Jerusalem’s Ketovet Poetry Group and its non-profit Makom Leshira association, together with the local community council of Lev Ha’ir. In the recent year, growing budget cuts at the council were threatening to end the activities of Makom Leshira, and it was uncertain whether the festival would see its fourth year.
Fortunately, in January 2011 the Musrara School of Art and Media agreed to sponsor Makom Leshira, providing its new offices and housing several of its many activities. For the past three years, the festival took place in the center of the city, in the vicinity of the Machne Yehuda market. This year, however, it was held in the open spaces of Jerusalem’s Botanical Gardens, from July 12 – 14, 2011. The transition from Machne Yehuda’s alleys, quaint homes, and coffeehouses to the flowering green surroundings of the gardens certainly made a difference in atmosphere.
Two stages, along with several more simple speaking areas, were set up at different places throughout the garden. The venues were lit primarily with light greens, reds, and yellows, colors which blended in wonderfully with the gardens’ natural nocturnal beauty, and helped highlight the words spoken by the readers.
The festival flowed very naturally, usually leaving time at the end of one performance before the beginning of another. Aside from poetry readings intertwined with musical performances, there were also guided tours of the gardens, an exhibition of photography and video by students of the Musrara School of Art and Media, creative writing workshops for children, and a very organic exhibition of nature and paper art, created by 20 female paper artists.
Highlights of this year’s festival included Orit Meital reading an epic poem she wrote for the next great Israeli war. It was a very surreal experience to hear Meital paint a picture of war and bloodshed, of tragedy and suffering, while sitting on the cool grass and gazing at the various species of flora and fauna which surrounded us in the garden.
Rivka Basman Ben-Hayim read Yiddish poetry at a very intimate venue overlooking the lake. Ben-Hayim, who had lived through WWII, read some of the most tranquil and serene poetry of anyone who read at this year’s festival. Listening to those Yiddish poems in the midst of such a blooming and vivacious Jerusalem – it was the epitome of life’s victory over death, and it signified the ultimate success of our shared struggles.
Roy “Chicky” Arad read several poems in what was perhaps the most expressive and original reading of them all, on a stage set up beside the “Caffit” coffeehouse. Arad is known for his animated and lively poetry readings, and I am certain he caused several patrons of the adjacent “Caffit” to pause mid-sip.
Ali Wassami was the only Arab poet to be invited to this year’s festival. Wassami read his poems in their original Arabic, but was not accompanied by any translation. This caused several people to stand up and demand an explanation, stating that the stage is public domain and should be treated as such. One man went so far as to point his finger at Wassami, and shout: “I want to know what was shat on me for the past 20 minutes!” A short-lived disturbance ensued, and several audience members left the premises in response. While most of the listeners felt that those aggressive comments were quite unnecessary, the majority of the crowd agreed that it would have been better if some explanation would have been provided by the poet prior to his reading.
Musically speaking, this year’s festival hosted a very talented lineup of artists, and they each added a splash of rhythm and sound to this otherwise spoken word festival:
Hemi Rudner performed a wonderful a-cappella version of Rachel’s poem “Ve’ulai lo hayu hadvarim” (And perhaps these things never were.)
Batsir ’76 peppered the sundown with their original brand of Israeli folk-rock on Wednesday evening. They were later followed by Corinne Alal, who finished her set with a very moving solo performance of her song “Zan Nadir” (Rare Species.)
Yermi Kaplan played some very nice tunes, and also gave the audience his two cents regarding the poems read by Ali Wassami and the verbal outburst which followed, saying: “this festival is also about listening … I’ve heard many poems, in Hebrew and in my native English, of which I couldn’t understand a word.”
After the festival’s final poetry reading on Thursday evening, Dr. Gilad Meiri – member of Ketovet and Makom Leshira’s administrator – said: “it was a wonderful experience, illuminating these gardens with poetry … regardless of whether it rains next year or not – we have watered the garden with that which it needed.”
Jerusalem’s Ketovet poetry group was founded nine years ago, and has since been promoting poetry, creative writing, and other literature-related projects in Jerusalem and around the country. Ketovet currently consists of: Dr. Gilad Meiri, Shai Dotan, Lyor Shternberg, Dorit Weisman, Noa Shakargy, and Ariel Zinder.