Prose from Poetry Magazine

Introduction

by Adam Seelig
Yehuda Amichai's radio play, Killing Him, plunges us into the gushing fantasies of a parodic, dramatic creation: the Poet. If you can imagine Canada's late Irving Layton—minus the talent, plus a little Song of Songs—you'll begin to have a feel for this "great" national bard, the fictional D.G. Castleman, whose lyrics are more testicular than spectacular. But how to translate his lousy poetry? Can a translator do a good job of being bad? As Hadar Makov-Hasson and I discovered, you can have a great time trying, especially when it's lust in translation.

I won't give away the ludicrous twists and peripeteias to this erotic satire, but rest assured, Amichai spares no one in the small world of po-biz: not critic, not academic, not even the academic's seemingly dutiful fiancée, all of whom are driven by their vanity at the expense of their own decency. At the top of this narcissistic chain we find (naturally!) the Poet, who has withdrawn from the literary world for over two decades.

Unlike his fictional creation, Amichai—a beloved national poet himself—wrote consistently throughout his life, completing in his final years what may well be his magnum opus, Open Closed Open. His work earned him the Israel Prize and a wide, international readership, making him one of the world's most translated poets. As a dramatist, however, Amichai has been overlooked. Unjustifiably, I should add, because his radio and stage plays often rival his poetry in portraying love's many faces: playful, painful, prayerful, ribald. While Killing Him shows an irreverent and stylistically linear side of Amichai's dramatic writing, his other, often fragmented plays range from the wildly absurdist to the lyrical and solemn, and, as Hadar and I continue to translate this renowned poet's dramas, I believe that over time they will receive the wider attention they deserve.

Killing Him (Laharog Oto) first aired on August 12, 1968, as part of "The Curtain Rises," a weekly program of radio plays produced by Israel's national radio station, Kol Israel. The production was directed by Ephraim Sten and included Oded Teomi as Yosi (Joe in our translation), Gila Almagor as Rachel, and Shraga Friedman as Poet and Critic, with sound design by Nissim Kimhi. On May 17, 2006, the translation you are about to read premiered in a live production at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto. The performance, which I directed with my theatre company, One Little Goat, featured Jordan Pettle as Joe, Gina Wilkinson as Rachel, and Ron Lea as Poet and Critic, with sound design by Richard Windeyer.
Originally Published: July 1, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2008

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Biography

Adam Seelig is a poet, playwright, and stage director living in Toronto, where he is the Artistic Director of One Little Goat Theatre


Company. His plays include All Is Almost Still (78th Street Theatre Lab, New York 2004), Antigone: Insurgency (Walmer Centre Theatre, Toronto 2007), and Talking Masks (BookThug, 2009).


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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