Translator’s Note

Aviya Kushner

Yudit Shahar’s poems are a beautiful mixture of woman and rebel that I responded to in my gut. It was poetry I wanted to read, poetry I needed. She grew up in a religious home, as I did, and her work often uses the imagery and language of that experience. But her writing is also about the challenge of surviving as a single mother on the economic periphery. It is a cry for justice for low-wage workers, for artists, for people who are just trying to survive as themselves. I could not stop reading these deeply personal poems about mothers, daughters, flowers, lovers, and even the joy of bread and butter.

I translated the first poem alone while living in Tel Aviv, interrupted only by sirens blasting with the warning of incoming rockets. It was days later that I finally met Yudit at a café in Tel Aviv, and after a few minutes, she said she was relieved by what I was wearing. It was ninety degrees, and I was in a red sleeveless dress. Yudit had worried that I would be some sort of religious fanatic, covered up to the eyeballs.

I showed Yudit my handwritten drafts of the next five poems. I asked her to read each poem in Hebrew, so I could hear it in her voice, and then I asked questions — about slang from the neighborhood she grew up in, about lines that were ambiguous in Hebrew, about the deep meaning. We talked a lot about what individual lines and phrases meant. The conversation took place entirely in Hebrew, and was powered by cappuccinos, salad, and of course, bread and butter.

Then I read my English translations out loud to Yudit, and I proposed some changes based on what we had just discussed. When we encountered a problematic section, I offered several possibilities, explaining each option. Every time I changed a line, I read the entire poem again in English, and we listened to its music until we were both happy. We both felt that we communed — we understood each other.

That summer and again the next summer, I prepared more drafts working alone, in various cafés in Tel Aviv, writing by hand. Occasionally I asked another coffee-drinker for input. Then I met Yudit in another café, and we spent six hours talking through each word. And we worked, poem by poem, reading the poems out loud to each other in each language. These translations are the result.

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