Ars Poetika’s Slam Poetry of Resistance in Israel


What do late-night slam poetry parties
in Israel have to do with the struggle for social justice? We have to go back a
little ways to answer this question. So in the 1950s, we saw large waves of
immigrants. They were called Mizrahi immigrants or Jews from the Middle East
and they were placed in transit camps in Israel. As is often the case with new
immigrants, they very much felt like second-class citizens and you can see
from the slides here that their conditions were very harsh. So one of the
ways that they coped with these conditions was they would gather around,
often in makeshift cafes, and they would listen to music together and they would
recite poetry, and that gave them a sense of community. Eventually these immigrants
moved to the outskirts of the big cities, and in their neighborhoods we started to
see again this continuation of getting together and listening to music. One of
the most famous clubs where this happened was called Café Noah on the
outskirts of Tel Aviv. And there’s a documentary about Café Noah and I’m
gonna give you a very juicy quote from this documentary, “If the police didn’t
arrive to shut it down we weren’t doing things right.” Okay so keep in mind this
idea of noise and creating noise. Fast forward to the 1970s, now we’re
looking at the second generation. So the children of the immigrants, remember how
I said that these immigrants really felt like second-class citizens? Well the
second generation said, ‘No we’re not having it,’ and they started protest
movements. And they very much based these protest movements off of the civil
rights movement in the United States. You probably recognize some of the images on
the left side here this is the Black Panther movement in the United States, on
the right side you see the Israeli Black Panther movement, HaPanterim HaShhorim,
and you can see very clearly that they adopt some of the same symbols. It was a
very conscious political decision to label themselves the blacks of Israel
and they saw their struggle as a struggle for racial equality. At this
stage again we’re dealing with the second generation and the struggle
for social justice for Mizrahi Jews started to be linked with the struggle
for Palestinian rights, the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights. Fast-forward to today, to
2018, and at this point we’re dealing with the
third generation, the grandchildren of these immigrants. Now the grandchildren
most of them don’t speak Arabic, the language of their grandparents, and they
feel very disconnected from their cultural heritage. And they are looking
for a way to connect to this and very often we see in this generation a strong
emphasis on political activism. So what about the art? There is an artist
collective started by the poet Adi Keissar, she called it Ars Poetika, and
it’s a group of musicians, poets, activists, artists, and they have these
late-night musical slam poetry parties and they’re very loud. And when asked
about well ‘Why do these events have to be so loud?’ she said Mizrahi culture is
loud and passionate and as such our poetry has to be a party, So the caption
at the bottom says “ואני יהפוך אותו לשלטון” ‘and I will turn it to power.’ Now how can
we read this? The way that I see it is that she’s saying we are here, we are
making ourselves heard, our sound here it’s poetry and music, is not going to be
silent and we will turn it to power. Thank you.

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