Poetic License: On a Quest for Cipel’s Art

Almost from the first moments that aides to New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey began identifying his paramour as Golan Cipel, the media took to describing him as a poet, with some reports even tagging on the credential “published.” This week, one of Cipel’s attorneys derided this description, saying the Israeli had written some poems with friends when he was in high school. This revelation came only after our reporter, Noga Tarnopolsky, spent days attempting to track down his work. What follows is her summary of the quest:

What is the soul of a poet?

This question has preoccupied the greatest minds since antiquity. Just ask Plato. He looked into the matter, and decided the poets would have no place in his republic. Too dangerous. Too weird. Kick ’em out.

Sigmund Freud just found them threatening: In a curmudgeonly moment of candor, he wrote that “the poets” had discovered everything he discovered, but earlier, and without resorting to scientific means.

Either of them might have warned Jim McGreevey that having a poet around would bring only trouble. Newspapers have reported on McGreevy’s consultations with political adviser types who have experience in public comings-out, but I think McGreevy may well have agonized over Plato’s “Republic” before deciding to be rid of the poet still kicking around Manhattan, New York, not minding his own business.

Meet Golan Cipel, poet. (And security consultant.)

A Hebrew language search on Google.co.il for “Golan Cipel, poet” yields the six-month-old request of a woman seeking his book “Derekh HaKotzim,” and retrieving no responses.

It is a subtle, intriguing title. In English, it could be rendered as “Through the Brambles.” On the other hand, it could be “Road of Thorns.”

Unfortunately, the book, like the poet, has proved elusive to this newspaper’s search.

When I asked David Ehrlich, owner of Jerusalem’s number-one literary mecca, the bookstore/café Tmol Shilshom, he said: “Golan Cipel, poet? Never heard of him. Maybe self-published?”

Next, I went to Itamar Levy, an indispensable figure on the Israeli literary scene who has an interactive Web site, a radio show and a sprawling, rural bookshop all dedicated to locating any book, anywhere. Regularly, he warms the heart of ladies who can no longer find their 1947 edition of Pippi Longstocking in the original Swedish.

“Golan Cipel?” he said. “Never. Heard. A thing.”

“Come on,” I said. “He’s the poet who overthrew the throne of Drumthwacket!”

“Related to the drummer boy?”

Itamar made the basic rounds for us. Israel’s national repository of books, lists of published books, his own poetic storage facilities: nothing.

Perhaps Cipel is a bashful poet, not the kind to make a big deal and actually publish for the public to read with unforgiving eyes.

Maybe he only let close friends read his stuff. Meir Nitzan, the mayor of Rishon Letzion, was Golan Cipel’s boss for three years and remains a close friend. “He never mentioned a word about poetry,” Nitzan said. “And my hobby is declaiming poetry. Not writing, but reciting poems aloud. I think he might have said something.”

“You don’t know ‘Road of Thorns’?” I asked.

“Eh?”

I tried the family. Golan Cipel’s parents’ answering service was still working last weekend. In a honeyed, unconcerned tone of voice, as if I were preparing a book review for next December, I said: “Hello, I’m just looking for Golan’s book of poems. Do you know where I might be able to find it?”

Ridiculous, I know, but they never called back. And I left the message four times: cell phones, home phone, even the work phone of one Ilya Cipel, Rishon Letzion resident, who courteously called back and in a Russian accent thick as gruel said he thought I might have a wrong number.

Itamar Levy called to say he remembered once having heard of a man in Ramat Gan, another suburb of Tel Aviv, maybe an accountant, whose hobby was to collect every single book of poetry ever produced in the Hebrew language.

Name?

“No idea. He may have lived on Uziel Street. I think he was old.”

“Do you think the culture people in the Ramat Gan municipality might know?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Itamar replied. “He was just some guy, some gray guy, with his hobby. No one knows him.”

Benny Ziffer, editor of Ha’aretz’s literary pages, is something of a poetic Buddha in Israel. He is known for publishing poems by the few blessed young poets he anoints and for never, ever returning a call. No young Israeli poet forgoes the experience of mailing in a poem for Benny Ziffer’s silent contemplation.

“Golan Cipel?” I asked.

“Eh?” he replied.

“The poet who overthrew the throne of Drumthwacket!”

“Are you OK?” he asked, then uttered the words “Golan Cipel” followed by an extended moment of absolute silence.

“Scoured my memory,” he said. “Never heard of the guy. Have you checked the archives?”

Meanwhile, an active chat room scene was unfolding in Israeli cyberspace.

Unfortunately, most seemed preoccupied with small, irrelevant rumors, and few (OK, none) seemed to worry about the fact that Golan Cipel’s lyrics are not reaching the audience that thirsts for them.

“I know Golan Cipel, and there’s no way he’s gay!” wrote Oren Weitz, a friend-of-poet (FOP). “You will all see!”

Another FOP, Rishon Letzion resident Anat, wrote directly to Cipel, under the heading “Assuming Golan Is Reading This.”

“Golan, I don’t really know what to believe or what’s happened to you, but I hope justice will prove you’re right.”

With FOPs like this, let’s hope Golan is busy writing his next tome.

In despair, I called my friend Z in New York. Z knows everything.

“By now, I don’t even know if Cipel is a poet,” I wailed.

“Sure he is,” Z replied soothingly. “Sure he is. I remember when Rabin was assassinated, Cipel got up in the consulate and read a poem. A poem he had written himself.”

“REALLY?”

“Yes. It was awful.”

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Poetic License: On a Quest for Cipel’s Art

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