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Yehuda Amichai
Open Closed Open

Translated in collaboration with
Chana Kronfeld.

New York: Harcourt, 2000; paperback, 2006.
Winner of the 2001 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.
Short-listed for the 2001 Griffin Poetry Prize.


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listen Chana Bloch reading "I, May I Rest in Peace" at Griffin Poetry Awards Ceremony, 2001

listen Chana Bloch reading her translation of "The Precision of Pain"

The Precision of Pain

The precision of pain and the blurriness of joy. I'm thinking
how precise people are when they describe their pain in a doctor's office.
Even those who haven't learned to read and write are precise:
"This one's a throbbing pain, that one's a wrenching pain,
this one gnaws, that one burns, this is a sharp pain
and that––a dull one. Right here. Precisely here,
yes, yes." Joy blurs everything. I've heard people say
after nights of love and feasting, "It was great,
I was in seventh heaven." Even the spaceman who floated
in outer space, tethered to a spaceship, could say only, "Great,
wonderful, I have no words."
The blurriness of joy and the precision of pain —
I want to describe, with a sharp pain's precision, happiness
and blurry joy. I learned to speak among the pains.

"The two translators, Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, who enjoyed the active cooperation and assistance of Amichai himself, have performed more than a commendable job. . . . The English version of the poem is vivid with living idiom, and is so astonishingly varied in tone, so multi-leveled in implication, so full of puns and verbal exuberance, that it brilliantly conveys great depths of feeling, a wide and generous knowledge of scripture, of ancient and modern history, of all the poet's countless resources. It succeeds as a poem in English, and does so in ways that persuade us that it must be those very ways in which the Hebrew succeeds: in making the reader feel that the total sum of these assembled fragments cohere in spirit and in art, leaving the reader awed, delighted, and profoundly grateful." -- Anthony Hecht, The New York Review of Books

"Open Closed Open, translated with great skill and expertise by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, is the fruit of a decade's labor, and in it Amichai satisfying repeats and advances his characteristic method of converting ordinary daily experience into the extraordinary via the power of his transforming resemblances, and of rendering the extraordinary -- larger than life biblical figures, for example -- as 'ordinary' in the sense of highlighting their common, human frailties. . . . His poems have a veteran's weariness but a lover's energy. He should have won the Nobel Prize in any one of the last twenty years." -- Jonathan Wilson, The New York Times Book Review

"[Open Closed Open] contains ten years' work by the now 76-year-old Yehuda Amichai, who has long been recognized as one of the great poets not just of Israel but of the twentieth century. . . . Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld's lucid translation, clearly the product of great and intelligent labor, brings Mr. Amichai's metaphors to the forefront, making them the real essence of this English version." -- Adam Kirsch, Forward

"In these English versions by Bloch (who directs the creative writing program at Mills College) and Kronfeld (who teaches Hebrew and comparative literature at UC Berkeley) I feel I am getting the mood, the tone, the pace, the punning wit, the linguistic mischievousness of the original, or as close an approximation as one could hope for. They catch, in colloquial English, the contradictory currents and emotional riptides under the calm surface of Amichai's measured voice." -- Stephen Kessler, Express Books

"Amichai is a poet of powerful feeling, of nearly boundless appetites and affections. [He] has lived, and has distilled in his writing, a life of really singular richness. . . Not knowing Hebrew I cannot vouch in the strictest way for Chana Bloch's and Chana Kronfeld's translations; but this volume is so satisfying in English, the language is so lively and the cadences are so tight, that it is hard not to trust them. They recently published an illuminating article in The American Poetry Review on translating the book, in which they described their diligence in taking into account what they call 'Amichai's affinity for word-play as serious business.'" -- C. K. Williams, The New Republic