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Open Closed Open: Poems 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156030502
ISBN-10: 0156030500
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the centerpiece of Open Closed Open, the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai ponders his most treasured keepsake, "a triangular fragment of stone from a Jewish graveyard destroyed / many generations ago." This object is, needless to say, more than a souvenir: throughout the zigzagging lines of "The Amen Stone," it allows Amichai to reconstruct bits and pieces of the past, "fragment to fragment, / like the resurrection of the dead, a mosaic, / a jigsaw puzzle. Child's play." The ensuing narrative leads the poet directly into his nation's history. Yet this is not merely a political but a personal resurrection, for Amichai sees himself as the stone's well-weathered counterpart, a byproduct of time. And he, too, has experienced an inevitable erosion: "Jewish History and World History / grind me between them like two grindstones / sometimes to a powder."

Throughout the collection, Amichai returns again and again to this convergence. In "Once I Wrote 'Now and in Other Days.' Thus Glory Passes, Thus the Psalms Pass," for example, he chronicles the destruction of Huleh swamp, an open ecosystem drained by the Israeli government during the 1950s to fight malaria and provide arable land:

Now half a century later they are filling it with water again
because it was a mistake. Perhaps my entire life
I've been living a mistake
Indeed, Amichai's misgivings seem to extend to the very foundations of the modern Israeli state. Might not the "bright-colored birds" who fled the swamp "for their lives" be figures for the displaced Palestinians? Huleh, we learn, was eventually restored. But sowing the seeds of peace is as precarious an enterprise as rebuilding a fragile ecosystem.

Elsewhere, "My Son Was Drafted" records a father's concern and fear for his military-age child. Amichai wishes his son were joining an army without a war, where soldiers serve as decorations around monuments, where the ornate and impractical replace the camouflaged and tactical. But here, too, the father has a few spiritual heirlooms to pass on to his son, which incidentally allow him to open up yet another closed system:

I would like to add two more commandments to the ten:
the Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not change,"
and the Twelfth Commandment "Thou shalt change. You will change."
My dead father added those for me.
A man, Amichai suggests, is more pliable once he has been opened up, refreshed, newly defined. Cultures, alas, are not so flexible. But the rich language of Open Closed Open, which has been meticulously translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, holds out the hope that nations, too, might submit to the Twelfth Commandment. --Ryan Kuykendall

From Publishers Weekly

Constructing a lineage in which to place himself, Amichai begins these verses of personal and cultural history with a stone from a destroyed Jewish graveyard; and moves on to enact the story of David, recall poems by Ibn Ezra, and even consider Jesus as an instance of "Jewish Travel." Within this vast context, the 25 longish poems of the collection, originally written in Hebrew, offer everyday acts of alternately joyous and somber reverence for God, "with the same body/ that stoops to pick up a fallen something from the floor." Amichai, who emigrated to Palestine in 1936 and is now 76, places imagined Holocaust memories ("I wasn't among the six million who died in the Shoah./ I wasn't even among the survivors") adjacent to irreverent reconfigurations of Torah characters, investigates "The Language of Love and Tea with Roasted Almonds," and asks "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Why Jerusalem." The English-only text is generally well-rendered by poet Bloch and Hebrew scholar Kronfeld, but the rhymes can show jingly signs of strain: "Our father Jacob, on the beaten track/ carries a ladder on his back// like a window washer to the VIPs./ He does God's windows, if you please." Despite the moments of levity, mortality dominates each anecdote, whether it be a story of romantic, familial or ancestral love: "The memorial forest where we made love/ burned down in a great conflagration// but the two of us stayed alive and in love in memory of the burnt ones the forest remembered." The book becomes more personally confessional as it progresses (poem 22 is titled "My Son Was Drafted"), as the poet reminisces on his youth, first love and adoration of children. Death, finally, becomes a form of remembrance, where "not even a single act of remembering will seep in/ and disturb memory's eternal rest." This is a searching late book from a writer who acknowledges the high stakes of writing and of life as lived daily.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (November 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156030500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156030502
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #661,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The English translation of Yehudah Amichai's 1998 book of poetry. This is a magnum opus. A poet would be needed to describe the genius of his words. I never "get" poetry. It doesn't work for me. But then I read a poem by Yehudah Amichai and it made sense. Then I went to hear him at a reading at NYU several years ago, and it clicked. One wants to fall in love for the sole reason that one could then use one of his poems. Then I read an excerpt from this book last Fall in "The Forward," and for the past 6 months I have been anxious for this book's release. I bought this book and I consumed it. Reading his poems is like praying, like meditating. Here is one tiny excerpt that is reprinted with permission. If it clicks for you, get the book. "Tova's brother, whom I carried wounded from the battle at Tel Gath, / recovered and was forgotten because he recovered, and died / a few years later in a car crash, and was forgotten / because he died. And even if my bloodied hands / had been prophets then, my eyes saw not / and my feet knew not what the grain in the field knows, / that green wheat ripens yellow. / That's the life prophecy of a field of wheat."
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Format: Hardcover
This, the final of Yehuda Amichai's works, lays to rest a life and career memorable to no end. Open Closed Open is about the Israel that is and has been -- tensions that have not faded -- complexities that have not eroded -- and loves that remain in spite of it all. It is, in every sense, a book of poetry, of poetics unequalled. Please read Open Closed Open.
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Format: Paperback
Yehuda Amichai, Israel’s best-known and greatest poet of the past generation died at age 76 in 2000. The noted critic Irving Howe wrote about him: “At his best, he is the best.” Amichai writes in a simple, natural, style poems whose contents a frequently sharp, witty, sensuous, ironic, sometimes brutal, and yet pleasing. The New York Times wrote that Amichai’s poetry is “The kind of resonantly simple poetry that is the work of a great poet.” He writes about war, love, family, sex, God, and frequently mocks biblical stories or, at least, makes readers rethink what they previously thought about the tales. He has the ability to create memorable phrases, to say in a few words, or a simple phrase, what others would need a full page to say. His poems are far better in their original Hebrew, but are still superb in translation. He describes Jerusalem, for example, as “a port city on the shore of eternity,” and also “Jerusalem, the only city in the world / Where the right to vote is granted even to the dead.” He describes its inhabitants as full of used Jews, “used by history / secondhand Jews, with small flaws, bargains.” He describes the biblical Jacob who had a dream of a ladder with God at its top, “Our father Jacob, on the beaten track, / Carries a ladder on his back / like a window washer to the VIPs. / He does God’s windows, if you please.” Thinking of Jewish history, he writes “spilled blood is not the root of trees / bit it’s the closest thing to roots / we have.”

The following is a sample of some other poems:

The famous French king said, Après moi, le deluge!
Noah the Righteous said, Before me, the flood,
and when he left the ark he declared, The flood is behind me.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Yehuda Amichai was the greatest Israeli poet. While he does write about Jewish values, feelings, and pains, he writes as an Israeli, not only as a Jewish person.

In his poetry, he intertwines subjects such as love, holocaust, the bible, and day-to-day life, in a subtle way. His metaphors are amazingly beautiful, especially due to the fact that he uses really simple vocabulary. He plays with ideas, not with words.

In "Open Closed Open", I like the way he writes about bible figures as men (or women) and for a moment reminds us of their reality, not their power and superiority. I also love the comparisons he builds between orthodox and non-observant customs. IMHO, this is his best book.

I have read the book both in Hebrew and in English, and this version is very well translated, even though the translator changes the order of the poems (I cannot understand the reason).

If you want to learn Hebrew, he is a very good source. I know that in Israel there are several bilingual versions of his books (not this one, unfortunately). You should look for them. That's the way I did it!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful book. In it, Amichai laments and questions wars past and present, and he probes and questions our human religions. But in the process of making his own versions for some traditional religious stories, he still pursues a passionate spiritual quest,. Here, in his old age, he conveys to us an astonishing peace.
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