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When You’re a Poet, You’ve Got to Not Know It

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It’s the birthday of Israeli poet and novelist Yehuda Amichai (books by this author), born Ludwig Pfeuffer in Würzburg, Germany, in 1924. He moved to Palestine in 1936 and later became an Israeli citizen. He had a childhood friend in Germany, Ruth Hanover, who died in a concentration camp in 1944. She sometimes appears in his poems as “Little Ruth,” and he calls her his “Anne Frank.”

He was one of the first poets to write in colloquial Hebrew, and he sometimes used an archaic word rather than its modern equivalent, and this gave another, biblical layer of meaning to his poems that is unfortunately lost in translation. He told the Paris Review in 1989: “I’d been raised in a very Orthodox home and the language of the prayers and the Bible were part of my natural language. I juxtaposed this language against the modern Hebrew language, which suddenly had to become an everyday language after having been a language of prayers and synagogue for two thousand years.”

He said: “I think when you’re a poet you have to forget you’re a poet — a real poet doesn’t draw attention to the fact he’s a poet. The reason a poet is a poet is to write poems, not to advertise himself as a poet.”

From today’s Writer’s Almanac.

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