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Apples of the Earth

From New York Jewish Week,
December 2, 2005:

“In her debut book of poems Apples of the Earth, Dina Elenbogen grapples with the separate and often disparate worlds of Israel and America. Her work is by turns lyrical, probing, and heartbreaking.

‘When the ground we have been standing / on shifts, where do we plant our feet?’ One poem begins. For Elenbogen the question is layered with multiple meanings: romantic (to stay or leave a relationship), political (to protest or remain silent) and personal (whether to make Israel and the Middle East her new home, or return to her home of origin, Chicago and the American Midwest).

For Elenbogen the answers are never easy--as another poem, appropriately tilted “No Answers,” attests. She begins, asking:

I want to know where the dead
Rest in such a small country
And why with so may fallen
There is still room for apples.

But in response she hears only this:
The harsh rhythms
Of voices telling me
Even in this ancient language
There are no answers.

In many poems Elenbogen grapples with questions of social justice and the disparities between Western and Third World countries. She reveals her ambivalence about living in the calm abundance of middle-class Chicago, while calamities unfold around the world. Yet she grounds these musings in specific imagery, expressed in spare, straightforward language. In asking her questions, Elenbogen encourages us to frame our own."

Sample Poem:

Holy Cities
   Sept, 2001-Dec. 2004

This is not Jerusalem
but the Avenue of the Americas
where my bag is searched on the way
in and out of the public library,
the one where lions sit
on Fifth Avenue, just north or south of Forty-Second.

And it is not Jerusalem but Chicago
where I remove my boots
with metal zippers, where my young son
takes off his hush puppies and runs
through detectors in this land of the brave
and the free.

In the sky, between two American cities
my daughter asks if I’m afraid
when our plane hits clouds.
I say no, swallow terror
deeper than sky.

My daughter was born at the end
of the millennium and she questions
always the beginnings of things.

My son was born at the beginning of the century
and words come to him, slowly.
Before he learned plane
He saw a sky change
Saw a day in America

Where nothing rose up
and nothing landed, Where birds
announced the day.

Is there a place in this poem
to utter something as unfathomable
as a plane into buildings?
It drags the line.
Buildings. Planes. Poems.
Beginnings. Life. Endings.
A generation that
Speaks slowly
Carries big sticks.

We bow down
remove our shoes
open our bags
every city has
become holy.

Thursday, November 17, 2005
Dina Elenbogen
Word from: Jake Marimer, Editor of Mima'amakim

It became a fine tradition among the mima'amakim staff to get together and moan about the state of the contemporary Jewish Art. It's scant and superficial, not digging anywhere past the beaten themes of Holocaust, Israel-Palestinian conflict, neurotic personalities and imposing mothers--you know the shpil. Hence, it's always a joy when a new exciting artist surfaces on our horizons. Dina Elenbogen's new book, Apples of the Earth has recently been published by Spuyten Duyvil.

Apples of the Earth is a literal translation of Hebrew tapuchei adama (potatoes), something very simple and at the same time, somehow enthused merely through its linguistic image. Someone used to hearing "potatoes" will inevitably be charmed by the "apples of the earth;" and to me, in many ways, that is what Dina's poetry is about: translating the real, simple Israel into American-speak in the most inviting, magnetizing fashion.