Rick Black, a Highland Park resident and former New York Times reporter, has written a book of haiku, Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel.
May 28, 2009
As a reporter for The New York Times covering the first Intifada, Rick Black can still recall watching the smoke rise from burning tires in an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem, even as the blossoming almond trees filled the surrounding hillside with breathtaking beauty.
The Highland Park resident found the scene both touching and disturbing, a dichotomy of war and peace in a land of spirituality that was hard to put into the vernacular of the cold, hard facts required by a newspaper.
Then Black “rediscovered” haiku, a Japanese poetry form using short metrical phrases, through which he could express “his inner muse” and capture the essence of a country where a Palestinian woman hanging out laundry could be killed by a soldier’s stray bullet or a Holocaust survivor walking home from the open-air market could get caught in the explosion of a nearby bomb.
“I realized I found a form of expression that was linguistic and powerful, generally has an allusion to nature, and usually it’s about a specific moment in time,” said Black.
The result is Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, a miniature book divided into two sections — one for war and one for peace — which are interconnected through a special “dos-a-dos” (back to back) binding.
“Having been a reporter in Israel so long and having seen so much in terms of violence and how it’s interwoven in everyday life, I found I had no language to capture all the paradoxes I saw as I walked through the Old City of Jerusalem,” said Black. “I would see tallesim hanging on the line next to army uniforms.”
Those paradoxes included everything from those almond blossoms blooming in defiance of the violence, to two doves cavorting playfully over the grave of a young soldier, to the mixture of hope and fear expressed by the people.
Black first came to Jerusalem to earn a master’s degree in Hebrew literature from the Hebrew University and landed a job working as “point man” for the Associated Press. He left after a few months to join the Times’ Jerusalem bureau, where he covered the waves of Russian and Ethiopian aliya, the West Bank settlements, and the first Gulf War.
Returning to the United States, Black freelanced “for just about every major paper in the country” and worked as press liaison for the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia.
He came to Highland Park when his wife, Laura Ahearn, was offered a position as an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Black started his own publishing company, Turtle Light Press, specializing in Judaica, poetry, photography, and Americana.
Each of his haiku books has been specially bound by hand by Black and can be purchased for $15 plus shipping through the company’s website, www.turtlelightpress.com or at Through the Moongate Artisan Gallery and Gift Shop in Highland Park.
In the works for publication by the end of the year is a larger, limited-edition version of the book with more poems and the work of photographers Black met at the Times.