Elisha Porat was born in 1938 to a "pioneer" family in Palestine-Eretz Yisrael (pre Israel); his parents were among the founders of kibbutz Ein Hahoresh, a kibbutz on the Sharon plain, near the city of Hadera. Today Porat, devoted to the community ideal, still makes his home near the original tent erected by his parents back in the early 30s. In 1956 he was drafted into the IDF (the Israeli army) and fought in three wars: the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the War of South Lebanon in 1982.

A poet going into war
An Interview with the Israeli poet Elisha Porat, ARS magazine, Tirana, Albania, May 2004. Interviewed and edited by Gilmana Bushati.

Memory of My Youth

for Sima and Ephy Eyal

Poetry is a sudden process
of verbal compression.
I remember well one such illumination:
her father was a famous artist
who used to load his brush
with one bullet many --
to explode on the canvas with first touch.
He drew the beautiful head of his daughter
and shook his head with pity at my sweaty pages:
I feel for the two of you,
she dosen`t know yet
that a poet is a continuous process
of the pain of existence.

( translated from the Hebrew by Tsipi Keller)

Q: why [do] you write?

-Well, I don't know exactly why I write. It's something that I must do. I think writing is my duty, my talent, my obligation. I think it's my secret destination, a mission given to me at birth. Let me put it this way: I cannot live without my writing.

Q: is there any difference in between your daily life and your life as a poet?

-Oh yes, my real life is not my writing, and my writing definitely is not my real life. The commitment an author makes to writing is like an another existence, a second life. I know it sounds like a pat explanation, but I think it's the reality that writers encounter. Authors whose private lives mimic their writing, and vice versa, suffer greatly. To live your life as you write is to accept a certain agony. The separation between art and reality is essential.

Q: what will be the distance between Elisha the poet, and the voice who [is] speaking in the poems?

- If you think you can know my homeland from reading my poems, you have made a mistake. The Israel of my poetry is not the one in which I live, oh, no. But there are deep ties between the real homeland and its representation in my work. So you can say that the distance between the land in which I live and the one I create in my poems is the same distance that exsists between reality and imagination.

Q: why, a poet goes to the war?

- I think this is a poor question. The poet is not going to war, for the poet is a citizen of his homeland and a soldier like any other when he puts on his uniform. Archibald MacLeish, the great American poet from World War I, was a regular draftee into the army, as were a million other men. So you can't say 'a poet goes to the war' -- no, you can only say a man goes to war, a citizen goes to war. Now, if he is a poet, the war will influence the whole of his life. And I know from my own experience that his life will become very, very difficult and very, very different because he also is a poet.

Q: a poet that goes in three wars, how he can stand and survive this situation?

-This terrible situation is an extension of Israel's position. Our enemies continually make war against our country. We must fight from time to time. I'm envious of peoples and states whose continued existence is assured. In the burning Mideast, life is completely different. We have no security such as you are able to enjoy in Europe. It's a tragic situation, and I pray for peace every morning.

Q: did you [win] those things that you fight for them, at the fields and at the poems?

--No, sorry, I can't say so. Peace and normalcy are still far from our horizon. But we hope for better times, for better days. There are too many dead, too many innocent victims, too much cruelty and bloodshed, but we haven't another choice.

Q: when did the writer feel disappointment?

--The writer is not different from other intellectuals and other conscientious men of his generation. There is not a special disappointment that such men face. If there is a disappointment, it is common to all persons of intellectual inclination, to all who dream about peace and agreeable relations between Israel and its neighbors. But for now the fighting is not a choice, it is a necessity.

Q: how [have] you realized the creation process [during] the war periods?

--Well, I began to write memory poems while under bombardment from Syrian guns in 1973. I had no paper on which to write my first drafts, so I took scrap papers from every corner -- an ammunition guide paper, a cigarette package, torn military maps. When I went home on leave, I sat at my desk at night and re-copied the poems. The fears of every soldier, wrought through with the particular fears of a poet, were committed to paper during those nights. I remember them with so much emotion that even now I am sometimes left sleepless. That time made me hard, yes. I acquired a poet's special hardness.

Q: we have read more poetry from the mideast, and about the hate between the both sides, [does] your poetry contain hate?

--I don't think people engaged in modern war personally hate their enemies. The whole situation is absurd. When you engage in battle you haven't the other ways of seeing your enemy that less passionate observers enjoy. You have only one way to see the situation, and only one mission to accomplish -- to win the battle, to win the war. It's easy to sit thousands of kilometers away and ask why is there so much hate. And I think that was the position of millions of Europeans about the Balkan wars. Why do the Croats hate the Serbs? Why do the Bosnians hate the Slovans? Why do the Serbs hate the Albanians? Why? Have you a good answer? Are there Albanian poets who wrote war poems about Kosovo? Maybe they could better explain what it means to be at war.

Q: you have talked so much about the war poetry, what are you think about the poems of [Mahmoud] Darwish?

--Perhaps Mr. Darwish is a great poet, I don't know. But I know that he is a great hater of Israel and of the Jewish people. I think his poetry, which also is full of hate, contributes nothing positive to either Israelis or Palestinians, and certainly does not advance the potential for future agreements between the two peoples. It is always disappointing when a poet uses his talent to advance a short-sighted political cause.

Q: Jose Saramago in an interview said that the Israelis hidden byond Auschwitz, to justify their struggle against the Palestinians. Is it right?

--Jose Saramago is a well known foreign writer in Israel, and very famous. Nine volumes of his bestsellers were superbly translated from the Portuguese for Hebrew readers. Brilliant translations. But I think his characterizations of the Israeli-Arab conflict are mistaken. He holds a conservative position, but does not understand the reality of our situation. He repeats old-fashioned communist slogans that are not representative of Israel's current leadership. He is a great novelist, but we see from time to time that great persons can fall into tragic misunderstandings, and I think that is this case with Jose Saramago.

Q: why do you think that the poetry express more than the prose, in a crisis and tragic extremely situations?

--Poetry is a compressed form of storytelling, much more compressed than prose writing. As a result, I think poetry is a superior form in which to explore crises. Poetry is able to express great tragedy and great joy with brevity and precision. A poet lives life with heightened sensitivity. Please see my ars poethic poem at the up of these pages.

Q: have you ever read any book of Albanian author? Poet or writer?

--Oh yes, I have read The Pyramid by Ismail Kadare, a very good book, that was translated from the Albanian into the Hebrew. A very good translation directly from the Albanian language, not from the English… And I have read a few pieces in translation by Visar Zhiti, Dritero Agolli and Lindita Kardako.

Q: is it difficult for a writer to be forgotten?

--I'm not the right person to ask. I'm not a well known author, not a famous writer and not a familiar poet. So, you can ask me another question: Is it good for an unknown poet, humble and modest, suddenly to be exposed as your kind interview exposes me and my poetry to Albanian readers? The answer to that is yes.