Shimon Adaf grew up in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which lies in close proximity to the Gazan border. He began writing and publishing poetry at a young age, and his first collections of poetry, The Monologue of Icarus and What I Thought was Shadow is the Real Body, were published in 1997 and 2002 to wide acclaim. His parents had immigrated to Israel from Morocco, and this background, as well as his religious upbringing, resonates in his early poems. But Adaf resisted the expectation of readers and critics that he draw exclusively from his Mizrachi, or North African roots. As he once put it, “I felt that they wanted me to put some couscous and harissa into my poems, and here I am writing about Greek mythology and not Sderot.”
In 2004, Shimon published his first novel, and for the next several years, he continued to publish short stories and novels, many of them showcasing his ability to work within various genres, notably science fiction and fantasy. Readers of his poetry would have discerned a strong affinity between his poems and these new narratives, and Adaf certainly has spoken of their “convergence,” as he puts it on several occasions. In an interview with the writer Lavie Tidhar, Adaf described his understanding of poetry in terms that draw from science fiction: “For me,” Adaf says, “poetry is about what you can't do with words. You stretch your capabilities of expression and they are not enough, dark enigmas are floating in space, like alien fleets, beyond your reach.”
It appeared that he had made a decisive shift to prose, but then in 2008, a catastrophic personal event—the suddenly death of his beloved, older sister— brought him back to poetry.
In this episode, which we recorded in Tel Aviv, Shimon revisits the circumstances that shaped the composition of Aviva-Lo (Aviva-No, 2009, Dvir Press), his third collection of poetry, published in 2009. The title refers to his sister, whose name was Aviva, but Aviva also refers to spring-time Hebrew, which carries with it associations to renewal and rebirth, which the “no” of the title appears to negate. But “no” can also be understood as a declaration of refusal, a rejection of Aviva’s death. Indeed, while the poems of Aviva-No acknowledge the finality of death, they simultaneously explore the possibility of an afterlife in poetry. With references to Patti Smith, King Lear, and the rituals of Jewish mourning, Shimon shares with us how he found, through poetry, a language for his grief.
This episode features a reading of poem number 26 in Yael Segalovits’s English translation. Segalovits’s translation of Aviva-No is forthcoming with Alice James Press.