by Len Lear
Holocaust poet Hanoch Guy and poet/photographer Charlie O’Hay will read from their works starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3, at Chestnut Hill Gallery, 8117 Germantown Ave. The event, sponsored by Musehouse, a supporter of writers and the literary arts in the Philadelphia area, will also include an open mic for local residents who would like to read from their own works. Guy will read from his fourth book of poetry, “Sirocco and Scorpions: Poems of Israel and Palestine” (Aldrich Press, 2014).
Bilingual poet Hanoch Guy, 78, spent his childhood in Israel and taught Hebrew and Jewish literature at Temple University for 42 years before his retirement. He has published poetry in Poetry Newsletter, Tracks, “the” International Journal of Genocide Studies, Poetry Motel, Visions International and Poetica Magazine. He has won several awards from Poetica, as well as one from the Mad Poets Society. Prior to “Sirocco,” he had three books published: “The Road to Timbuktu,” “Terra Treblinka” and “We Pass Each Other On The Stairs.”
Guy has lived in Elkins Park for about 40 years, but he tells us, “I do yoga, shop and meet friends in Chestnut Hill. My friends say that Elkins Park is an extension of Chestnut Hill.”
According to Laura S. Levitt, Professor of Religion, Jewish Studies and Gender at Temple University as well as author of “American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust” (2007) and an editor of “Impossible Images: Contemporary Art after the Holocaust” (2003), in his new poetry collection, “Terra Treblinka: Holocaust Poems,” Guy brings readers into the rough terrain of Holocaust memory.
“At once vivid and piercing, these poems neither pretend immediacy nor do they shy away from exploring the intimacies of traumatic memory. Through these poems, Guy constructs links in the chain of memory. He shows us how extended and intimate engagements with the works of survivor poets and writers make this possible.
“What he recreates is not so much the physical landscape of Treblinka but rather its abiding haunting presence. These are fierce and heartbreaking poems. Bristling with passion and rage, in their specificity these poems demonstrate what it means to keep the legacy of the Holocaust alive in the present.”
Following is an interview we conducted with Hanoch Guy last week:
Were your parents “sabras” (born in Israel)? If not, where did they come from?
I was born in Israel, but my parents were from Poland and Romania. They were Zionists who came to Palestine about 1930 to help build a new country.
Were you named for the son of Reuben in the Bible?
I was named after Cain, who named the first city in the world Hanoch, and Reuben’s son. (Ed. Note: The meaning of Hanoch in Hebrew is “experienced, profound.”)
When did you come to the U.S.?
I came to the U.S. in 1968 to complete a Ph.D in literature at Dropsie College.
Why did you leave Israel to come here?
Dropsie offered me a scholarship and fellowship, and I accepted.
How is it that you wound up in Philadelphia?
That was the best offer.
What are your degrees in? Where and when did you earn them?
I earned a Ph.D in Modern Hebrew poetry at Dropsie in 1974 and a Doctorate in Group Psychology at Temple University in 1986.
How would you compare living in Israel with living in the U.S.? The differences, the pluses and minuses?
Israel is a small and complex country with many contradictions.
The U.S. offered me more opportunities to study and work and write in a new language, which continues to be an adventure.
Were you always writing poetry, even as a child?
I started writing poetry in Hebrew at 14 and never stopped, though I switched to English in 1976 and was surprised by it.
What is the most difficult thing about writing poetry?
Mostly using words we use and abuse every day and forging a special, organic diction to distill a unique experience that will last.
Also, as Aristotle wrote, “to find the best words in the best order.”
Who are your own favorite poets, living or dead?
Among my favorites are Pablo Neruda, the Israeli Yehudah Amichai, Yeats, the Polish Nobel winner Wislawa Symbroska and Lorca.
Is there still an audience today that can appreciate poetry?
There aren’t many, but they still come to readings and buy poetry books.
How do readers and audiences usually react to your Holocaust poems?
“Terra Treblinka” is a tough book, but audiences have been moved and have appreciated the poems.
Do you think there will ever be a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?
As to this, I am really despairing of a fair solution.
How have students changed over the years?
Students are less committed to devote a lot of time and effort to a course seen as impractical. The university has done its best to choke and kill the program.
The poetry reading and open mic event on Saturday evening is free and open to the public and will include complimentary refreshments. More information at 484-432-1792 or firstname.lastname@example.org