“I Can Write in the Dark:” Radical Intertextuality in the Poetry of Adi Keissar

Authors

  • Chana Kronfeld University of California, Berkeley

Keywords:

Adi Keissar, Ars Poetica, Mizrahi Writers, Intertexuality, the Lyric

Abstract

Adi Keissar, the founder and convener of ’Ars Poetica, the new radical wave of Mizrahi writers, has helped bring poetry – as literary practice, performance, and polemics – back into the center of Israeli cultural life since she established the circle in 2013, in the wake of the 2011 social protest movement. In this article, I take seriously the group’s name as a cross-linguistic pun on the prestigious meta-poetic Latin term, linking it outrageously with the Arabic ‘ars, “pimp,” which is used in Hebrew slang as a degrading epithet for Mizrahi men. I show how this sarcastic re-appropriation of ‘ars nevertheless retains the Latin sense, namely Keissar’s – and the circle’s – serious concerns with poetics and with the intersections of lyric poetry and society, in particular. Contra the masculine stereotype of the ‘ars, Keissar has, in fact, insisted – not without a struggle – on an explicitly feminist, inclusive credo and set of practices for the group and its highly popular events, which she also produces. I discuss the ways the metaphors of “pimp” and “whore,” commonly used to denigrate Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs, are systematically reclaimed in the work of ‘Ars Poetica poets (in addition to Keissar, also Mati Shemoelof and Tehila Hakimi, among others). I demonstrate how Keissar, and the poets in the group and around it, use biblical intertextual resonances of the metaphorical “whore of Zion” in the Prophets and the history of its (ab)uses in colonial discourse as a powerful site for constructing a poetics of intersectional solidarity between women, Mizraḥim, Palestinians, foreign workers, and the poor. I read the poem “The Dominion of Night” (Memshelet Layla) as a pastiche of East-West citations and a meta-poetic rewriting of Genesis 1:16, the creation of the moon and the stars that have dominion over the night. I describe how Keissar’s use of queer ungrammaticality radically inscribes women’s poetic creativity in the foundational myth of creation (as the work of “elohit”). At the same time, she settles accounts with the Israeli government – the common, modern sense of memshala – and calls on dark-skinned women to “take back the night,” in all senses of that expression. In the process, I argue that Keissar’s project compels a rethinking of Western conceptions of the lyric as an essentially apolitical solipsistic soliloquy.

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Published

2024-02-05 — Updated on 2024-02-06

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How to Cite

Kronfeld, C. (2024). “I Can Write in the Dark:” Radical Intertextuality in the Poetry of Adi Keissar. Lyre – Studies in Poetry and Lyric, 1, 17. Retrieved from https://biupress.org/index.php/lyre/article/view/102 (Original work published February 5, 2024)