“Poetry is nothing in the skies. It’s here on the ground. It’s our lives. It’s not a high class commodity. And it deserves a bigger spot in our lives today.” This was the response of Hai Meirzadh, the composer for Tuesday night’s rock tribute to poet Roni Somekh at the One Square Meter Poetry Festival, when I asked him what his primary message was for the evening. I couldn’t think of a better way to get people interested in poetry than to combine rock music, the Botanic Gardens, and a touch of Jerusalem’s evening breeze.
Meirzadh began working on this event a year and a half ago when he met Somekh, one of the most celebrated Israeli poets, back stage at a Berry Sakharof concert. Somekh’s poems are filled with staccato rhythms and fast tempos, evoking hurry, commotion, and hazard in its readers, animated sensations which a composer, such as Meirzadh, would be eager to translate to music. Meirzadh commented that embarking on this project was predominantly a research project at the beginning because “Roni has written like 16 books or something!” Meirzadh joked. The partnership between the two remained close the entire time Meirzadh was preparing for the event and, to my surprise; he reflected that they really had no disagreements about which poems to use or what style of music would be fitting for each. He told me that their musical language was the same and that they grew up on the same rock classics, such as Elvis Presley. Meirzadh also mentioned that he only began writing music after he heard Metallica, so he was very much influenced and motivated by the famed American heavy metal band.
“I am a colorful composer, if I may say so myself,” Meirzadh smiled proudly as he continued, “theater, art, films, orchestra.” He went on to explain that in order to be versatile, to be able to adapt to such different musical genres, he has to possess a kind of strong dramatic instinct in his music. “Roni also has very strong dramatic instincts with his poetry,” Meirzadh noted as he explained how the fusion of their two passionate intuitions is harmonious and that together they aimed to relate strong, important text to a public that is becoming increasingly disinterested in poetry. “People don’t care about it these days,” remarked Meirzadh about poetry in the modern-day world.
Apparent by the sizable turn-out on Tuesday night, Meirzadh and the One Meter Square Poetry Festival, now in its fifth year, succeeded. For each song (performed by Efrat Gosh, Chanan Ben Simon, Yaheli Sobol, Eran Zur, and Hemi Rodner), the Somekh poem was projected on two large screens on either side of the stage, allowing the audience to spend time with the words, while simultaneously listening to the character of the singer’s voice, each of whom added his/her own interpretation to the poem. The atmosphere at the Botanic Gardens, a particularly exquisite venue for evening activities, was a mixture between quiet appreciation and spirited bounce, as the event seemed to attract (at least) two kinds of audience members: the poetry lover (a growing minority, according to Meirzadh) and the music enthusiast. This unique combination contributed to the overall serene mood of the concert, as everyone lounged on the grass, beer in hand, basking in calm enjoyment.