In this latest installment of Lyric Essentials, Aaron Abeyta shares his thoughts on four of his favorite poems by Yehuda Amichai. He discusses his love for Amichai’s work and the ways in which Amichai’s poetry explores “what it means to be human,” often using vivid images of childhood and everyday life in his observations of humanity that have captivated readers for over fifty years. As always, thank you for reading and supporting this series!
Aaron Abeyta reads “The Box” by Yehuda Amichai
Riley Steiner: Why did you choose these particular poems?
Aaron Abeyta: Amichai, in general, is one of my literary heroes, and his [book of] selected poems, where these poems appear, never leaves my bag; it’s my blankie, haha. As for these poems in particular, i chose them because they are among my favorites. The complexity of the everyday, the way that imagination is shaped in childhood and called upon in adulthood, the way that an apple, or a memory or a box or whatever, can be this conduit to a deeper appreciation and understanding of what it means to be human. In summary, i chose them for their simplicity and their complexity, but mostly i chose them because i love them.
Aaron Abeyta reads “My Father in a White Space Suit” by Yehuda Amichai
RS: Yehuda Amichai is such a historically influential and established poet—widely translated, published, and reputed outside his home country of Israel. Has his work influenced your own in any way?
AA: What draws me to Amichai, other than the amazing poems, is his understanding of faith and how that can contribute to any poem or text. So, in this regard, being a writer that calls upon faith, memory, home and family, i believe that i am kindred, or at least “get it,” when i read his poetry. I was exploring these themes before i first read his work, but his mastery and seamless use of the poem as vehicle has definitely given me something to aspire to.
Aaron Abeyta reads “Inside the Apple” by Yehuda Amichai
RS: I love these lines from “Inside the Apple”: “I trust your voice / because it has lumps of hard pain in it / the way real honey / has lumps of wax from the honeycomb.” It uses such a vivid and beautiful comparison to describe emotion in a way that feels very genuine—to me, “lumps of hard pain” is a perfect description of the sound of grief in a voice, and I never would have put that phrase to it before I heard it in this poem. What are some of your own favorite lines or phrases in these poems?
AA: I would defer to my answer to question one, expand upon it, perhaps. I have a way of annotating poems where i will identify lines, commas, images, whatever i feel is perfectly rendered. The poems i chose were poems where the entire poem was annotated; i.e., the entire poem, every comma, caesura, break, etc. was perfect. As to the images, i especially like how Amichai, when discussing something of import to an adult, uses his “escape routes” and moves the poem back to childhood. Any line or image that does that, always seamlessly in my estimation, is what makes me love his work. The line you pointed out doesn’t do that necessarily, but i love images that make you look at something in a way that transforms it. For instance, every box i look at now is somehow made more meaningful by Amichai. Same goes for the honeycomb … that image belongs to him now … it’s no longer honeycomb, if that makes any sense.
Aaron Abeyta reads “The Diameter of the Bomb” by Yehuda Amichai
RS: While reading about Amichai, I came across a quote of his in which he described his belief that all poetry is political. Do you agree with this statement?
AA: Short answer … yes … i agree. I agree because what we chose to omit, by the act of omission, is as political as it gets. If i were to write about lollipops (i don’t believe i would … but who knows?), then that is political because i chose to write about that subject when i clearly could have written about something with more import. However, if the lollipop poem is “good,” then i have rendered it into something new, and it can then be the vehicle for a message that others didn’t or couldn’t anticipate. Put another way, we are always sending messages, through poetry or otherwise, and i suppose i believe that all messages are important and therefore political.
Aaron A. Abeyta is a Colorado native and professor of English and the Mayor of Antonito, Colorado, his hometown. He is the author of four collections of poetry and one novel. For his book colcha, Abeyta received an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. In addition, his novel Rise, Do Not be Afraid was a finalist for the 2007 Colorado Book Award and El Premio Aztlan. Abeyta was awarded a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for poetry, and he is the former Poet Laureate of Colorado’s Western Slope, as named by the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival. Abeyta is also a recipient of a 2017 Governor’s Creative Leadership Award. Aaron has over 100 publications, including An Introduction to Poetry, 10th ed., Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, & Drama, 8th ed., Conversations in American Literature: Language, Rhetoric, & Culture, The Leopold Outlook, Colorado Central Magazine, The High Country News, and numerous other journals.
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) is a poet from Israel whose work is renowned across the world. He is the author of Now and Other Days (1955) and the collections Poems (1969) and Selected Poems of Yehuda Amichai (1971). Amichai’s other work includes two novels and a short story collection. His poems are globally acclaimed and have been translated into forty languages.
Riley Steiner is a recent graduate of Miami University, where she studied Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. Her creative work has recently appeared in the Oakland Arts Review and Collision.