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This article is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

Essential Vertigo: Dennis Silk Gabriel Levin

You need the easy breath of the Levant


I


Sometime in the mid-fifties, the poet Dennis Silk was visited in his home in Abu-Tor by a Jordanian Colonel in full military dress. Silk had moved that year into the tiny, ramshackle stone house, owned by the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The house was situated quite literally on the seam running between Israel and Jordan, and members of the Mixed Armistice Commission were now knocking at his door to determine on which side of the border Silk lived. 'Apparently the front room was in Jordan and the back in Israel,' Silk liked to recount with a smile. The situation was perfectly suited for a poet who'd always felt himself dangling between places and identities: 'You are not south or north or east or west; / you violently rest,' Silk writes in 'Truant', and though no uncertain risk was incurred in living alongside the rusty barricade dividing the two cities, Silk chose to remain there for some forty years. The barricade, it's true, was removed after the Six Day War of 1967, but the divide would remain in the minds of both Arabs and Jews.

From the outside the house appeared semi-abandoned, standing alone at the end of a large compound, with its pockmarked walls, asbestos roof and traces of an adjoining room overgrown with weeds. Legend had it that this had been the location of the Hill of Evil Counsel. Huge, slanting ...


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