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Can life return to normal? A poem for our times

Leading Israeli poet ADI KEISSAR is a voice for Israelis haunted by the October 7 attack.
Shahar Burla
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Adi Keisser wearing an orange coat with her hair blowing in the wind.

Israeli poet Adi Keisser. Image supplied.

Published: 2 January 2024

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Leading Israeli poet ADI KEISSAR is a voice for Israelis haunted by the October 7 attack.

Prominent Israeli poet Adi Keissar's latest work "October" has made waves in the Jewish world, masterfully capturing the trauma and impact of the current Israel-Hamas war and the indelible mark October 7 has left on the country and its people.

First published in Hebrew just two weeks after the October 7 massacre, the poem made its debut in the literature and culture supplement of Yedioth Ahronoth and quickly went viral across social media platforms, including being shared by politician Naama Lazimi.

Like the songs which have become a playlist of the Gaza war, poetry gives voice to the emotions that news reports and images cannot capture.

Reflecting on the overwhelming response, Keissar told The Jewish Independent that she was astonished at the widespread recognition and appreciation the poem received from audiences around the world. Since its original publication, "October" has been translated into English, German and Spanish, amplifying its impact on a global scale and highlighting the poem's universal resonance.

Keissar is a prominent Israeli poet of Yeminite descent who was born and raised in Jerusalem, and the founder of "Ars Poetica" — a new wave of Mizrahi poetry that expands the medium to include music and dance from the Middle East.

In an interview with The Jewish Independent during her visit to Melbourne for Limmud Oz in 2018, Keissar described Ars Poetica as "basically one big party with poetry reading and music. Music is one of the main incentives for my writing. You can feel the music in my poetry, and I love reading my poems with music and musicians".

The name "Ars Poetica" cleverly plays on the Latin phrase meaning the "art of poetry". However in Arabic, the word "Ars" takes on a different connotation, referring to a "pimp" and in Israeli slang, depicts the stereotype of young Israeli, typically Mizrahi, men from lower socio-economic classes.

The core themes of Keissar's poetry revolve around Israeli Mizrahi identity, feminism and motherhood, and creates a rich tapestry that resonates with a diverse audience.

October by Adi Keissar

I’m not sure

if I could go back to life this time

A morning run, bike trip, party

without the face of the dead

haunting me

I’m not sure

if I could come back alive this time

An empty baby bed, a blanket

coloured red.

What I’m sure of

Automatic weapons, fire and smoke

shattered windows and a broken door

sirens going up and down

ashes and wreckage

The world is burning

and I am the flames

The hours blended

also, the days

At night came the dreams

and the mosquitos

to suck my skin

As from a hidden signal

swirled around me

all night

buzzed in the darkness

asked for my blood.

All through the night

the air stood still

between me and the world

not going in and not coming out

In the morning I opened a window

the sun was shining in the sky

the silence filled the empty streets

I’m not sure

if I could ever hear silence

that doesn’t hide a disaster within.

About the author

Shahar Burla

Dr Shahar Burla is a Sydney-based researcher, lecturer and Contributing Editor of TJI. Shahar holds a Master’s degree in political science from Hebrew University and a PhD in political science from Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of Political Imagination in the Diaspora: The Construction of a Pro-Israeli Narrative (2013) and co-editor of Australia and Israel: A Diasporic, Cultural and Political Relationship (2015).

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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