Ronny Someck

2002 EP. NO. 2
Born in 1951, Ronny Someck was uprooted from his native Iraq when he was four. Transplanted to Israel, Ronny spent his childhood in a transit camp for new immigrants. There he was surrounded by music, the great singers Umm Kulthum, Farid al Atrash, and Fairuz shouldering up against Elvis Presley and Billie Holiday. From these early experiences, Someck has quickly become a leading Israeli poet whose work is rich in slang and distinguished by staccato rhythms, quick cuts, close-ups and disturbing segues. His translations have appeared in anthologies and poetry magazines in the United States, South America and Europe.

Someck, who studied Hebrew Literature and Jewish Philosophy at Tel Aviv University, is the author of eight books of poetry, and his work has been translated into twenty-two languages, including Arabic, Catalan, French, English and Albanian, and has appeared on the internet, anthologies and poetry magazines in the United States, South America and Europe. His collections of poetry includes: Exile (1976); Solo (1980); Asphalt (1984); Seven Lines on the Wonder of the Yarkon (1987); Panther (1989); Bloody Mary (1994); Rice Paradise (1996); and The Revolution Drummer (2001). Someck has been translated into many languages, including: Jasmine (1994 Israel) in Arabic; The poem is a gangster’s girl (1996 Paris), and Nes a Bagdad with A. K. El Janabi (1998 Paris) in French; En paper de vidre (2000 Barcelona) in Catalan; The Sign of the Bite (2001 Tirane) in Albanian; and The Fire Stays in Red(2002 U.S.) translated from the Hebrew to English by Barbara Goldberg and Moshe Dor.

His distinct Sephardi voice invokes the odors of falafel and schwarma, the army with its supporting cast of recruits and commandos, the bustle of southern Tel Aviv with its small garages, shops, cheap restaurants, its gangs and its Arab workers, with many pieces reminiscent of film noir, filled with quick cuts of speed, danger and uncertainty. Someck is the troubadour of the lovelorn, with poems that are hot, erotic, comic, tragic, agape at the wonders of a tear and a tattoo and a snapshot and a bra and a scarecrow. His prolific statement, “My mother dreams in Arabic, I dream in Hebrew,” reappears consistently throughout his poetry, if not literally, in most cases it lingers in most of the pieces he has written.

Someck continuously pushes the envelope and challenges the vanguard by collaborating his poetry with music and art. He believes that collaboration with musicians and artists is a natural transition because poetry is musical and visual. It is worthy to note that Someck’s musical collaborations with New York musician Elliott Sharp and their groundbreaking CD, “Revenge of the Stuttering Child” (Tzadik Records, NY, 1997); has been proclaimed, as a “collaboration of sounds – sounds as word and sounds as music, a tangled-up feedback loop that continuously builds and mutates.” Much more than poetry set to music, each piece draws a bead, aims and fires in a different direction, hitting the familiar, the strange, the wry, the warm, the dark, the furious. As Someck’s words are fleshed by his own throat, Sharp’s music is manifest in his own varied instrumental voices augmented by the talents of pianist Anthony Coleman, the cello and accordion of the Parkins sisters and percussionist Salifoski. In the prolific, unpredictable world of Elliott Sharp, this project stands apart.” Since 1997, Ronny and Elliot have collaborated on two other CDs, including: “Poverty line” (ZuTa Music, Tel-Aviv, 1999); and “A Short History of Vodka” (ZuTa Music-NMC, Tel-Aviv 2001).

Someck has had successful art shows that were created by him or after his work at such venues: “The wall of bliss”, The Artist Museum, Lodz, 1993; “Jasmine,” Um-El-Fahem Gallery, 1996; “A poem of bliss”, Artists-Messengers of peace, Eretz-Israel Museum, 1996; “Rosalia”- “Mini-Arutr”, Gubbio, Italy, 1997; “The Razor that cut the Metaphoric Face of Poetry”- Five etchings by Yigal Ozeri ensuing five poems by Ronny Someck, Tel-Aviv Museum, Binet Gallery, Israel, Z Gallery New York, 1997; Nature’s Factory, with Benni Efrat, THE ISRAEL MUSEUM ,1998; “Bodies,” experimental video & performance (video with 3 poems ) by Amir Cohen. Habima – The National Theatre , 1999; “The Ballad of Alcohol Valley,” Haifa International Installation Triennale, HAIFA MUSEUM OF ART.1999; “Markers” – On Outdoor Banner Event of Artists an Poets for Venice Biennale 2001.

He is the recipient of several awards and prizes, including: Acum (Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers in Israel) special Jubilee Prize for a special achievement (1987); Prime Minister’s Prize (1989, 2000); Afrat Prize (1999); Ahi Prize (The Association for the Promotion of Research, Literature and Art, founded in Israel by Jews from Iraq) (1999). Someck has also participated in international poetry events, such as: The Artist Museum (Poland 1993); Reading in Moscow (Russia 1994); Johannesburg Biennial (1995); Center George Pompidu (1996); The International Poetry Festival in Jerusalem (1990, 1993, 1997); Queens College and the Israeli Festival in Washington D.C. (U.S. 1998); the Library of Congress, American University, JCC and Langston Hughes Community Library & Cultural Center in New York (2002).

Someck has certainly achieved what many poets strive to accomplish, to publish award-winning collections of international acclaim. Yet, Someck clearly sees himself as merely the ordinary man who lives day-by-day in an almost impossible political situation, who helps children learn how to write and to write his own stories through observation. Not stories that regale anthems of nationality, not stories that dictate politics, rather, he writes stories about the invisible people, the street people, the ordinary people, sometimes in unordinary circumstances. Through all of that, Someck manages to maintain a sense of humanity, which is reflected in the great body of works he has produced in the past twenty years.

artistic statement
There is a story about a cat that ran after a mouse.

The mouse found a hole and entered it.

After a while the mouse heard a bark of a dog and he thought:
“If I heard a bark, the cat probably ran away.”

So he left the hole, opened his eyes and saw the cat.

“I know,” he said to the cat, “that you will eat me for your
dinner, but tell me how did I hear a bark of a dog?”

The cat smiled and answered: “Today you can’t manage without two languages.”

From time to time I feel like this cat.

The first name of my two languages is the East atmosphere
(meaning unclear to David) and the second name is the west atmosphere
(meaning unclear to David).

This is my space in the public arena.

George Orwell, in his story “Shooting an Elephant” describes
his hero in a special way.

He wrote: “He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it.”

My mask is called Baghdad, and my face grew to fit it during
the Gulf War at 1991. I was born there.

A German doctor helped bring me into this world at a Jewish
hospital and my nanny was an Arab girl.

My parents brought me to Israel when I was a baby and the
“black box” of my memory is empty.

But there were my parent’s stories about the cafe near the Tigris,
about the smell of the fruits at the Shugra Market.

And about singers like Farid El Atrash and Abd El Wabb

In Israel I tried to erase, to cancel, Baghdad from my life’s map.

My parents spoke Hebrew at home, and only my grandfather followed
Baghdad’s life style.

He spoke broken Hebrew and took me to the cafe where they played
the music of an Egyptian singer named Um Kulthum and served black
coffee just like in the cafe near the Tigris.

As for me, Baghdad turned into a metaphor, into a place that existed
only in my grandfather’s heart.

I felt that I threw Baghdad out of my life’s window, but Baghdad came
back to knock on my door during the Gulf War.

I was sitting with a gas mask on while watching pictures from there on TV.

In every shot, I tried to place my stroller, or put lipstick on my
young mother’s lips, or see my father brushing his fingers through his
hair. The next moment, I saw how this place was destroyed.

At that moment I felt that I miss the place where I was born; I miss
the east side of my life, and I would like to mix it with my west side story.

Last updated 2009.

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