The contemporary Hebrew-language poet is entering a crowded arena. Psalmists, prophets, compilers of scripture, paytanim, and two thousand years of subsequent scholars, legists, rabbis, and poets—they’ve all been there before, they’ve all done it already. Where does one begin? So many ordinary words carry powerful ancient echoes, so many images or phrases are inseparable from their roots in the sacred texts. And meanwhile, other swaths of vocabulary stand out as modern coinages or foreign borrowings. To use a simple word like “wall” or “water” or “bread” is to summon ancient ghosts, who may or may not be wanted. And then, when the next word is “telephone,” a different kind of obtrusive echo occurs, and the problem becomes how to reconcile levels of language from radically different places, periods, and styles.

Using such a loaded language, a poet can hardly avoid taking as one...

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