Wallach, Yona 1944-1985

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WALLACH, Yona 1944-1985

PERSONAL: Born 1944, in Tel Aviv, Israel; died from breast cancer 1985, in Tel Aviv, Israel.

CAREER: Poet, lyricist, and singer.


Devarim, 'Akhsav (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1966, reprinted, 1985.

Shene Ganim, Dagah (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1968.

Shirah: Shirim Mekubatsim, Mif'alim Universitayim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1976.

Or Pere: Shirim (title means "Wild Light"), Sifre adam (Jerusalem, Israel), 1983.

Tsurot: Shirim, (title means "Forms"), ha-Kibuts ha me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1985.

Mofa' (title means "Appearance"), ha-Kibuts ha me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1985.

Tat hakarah niftahat kemo menifah: mivhar ha-shirim, 1963-1985 (selected poems), ha-Kibuts ha me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1992.

Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach, translated by Linda Zisquit, Sheep Meadow Press (Riverdaleon-Hudson, NY), 1997.

(With Avivah Uri, Helit Yeshurun, Shim'on Zandha'uz) Ha-Panim hayu Hafshatah (title means "Face Was Abstraction"), ha-Kibuts ha-me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2001.

Also author of lyrics for Batsir Tov (title means "A Good Vintage"), CBS Records (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1982.

SIDELIGHTS: Yona Wallach was a provocative Israeli poet who, after dropping out of high school, became part of the avant-garde "Tel Aviv Poets" of the 1960s. Although her use of sensuality and sexuality in her poetic images brought her notoriety, such references actually make up just a small portion of her more-than-twenty-years' worth of poems. Critics and admiring readers recognized that Wallach's rhetoric and aggressive language served to bolster the literary qualities of her poems and the poems' black humour, tendency for direct confrontation, and unsparing introspection. As a result, Wallach had a major impact on many of the Israeli female poets who followed her.

Writing in Modern Hebrew Literature, Arieh Sachs noted that Wallach's poems commenting on issues concerning men and sex are "characterized by complementation between the sexes, male ambition to rule and a false demonstration of 'seriousness.'" Dov Vardi, writing in World Literature Today, said, "Nothing in the great range of personal experience was alien to Wallach, least of all the erotic and all that is perverse and forbidden." Although some critics and readers and even colleagues were shocked by Wallach's sexual metaphors and descriptions, Rachel Giora pointed out in Psychology and Sociology of Literature that readers too often took her poems literally while missing their irony. She pointed to Wallach's poem "Strawberries," which, said Giora "adopts males' pornographic language in order to protest women's oppression by the self-same language and industry."

Perhaps one of Wallace's most infamous poems is "Teffilin," in which she depicts a disturbing sexual scene performed in front of an audience that incorporatesteffılin—the strips of leather male Jews place around their arms during morning prayer. The image of desecration so infuriated Hebrew poet Zelda that Zelda ended her friendship with Wallach and announced publicly that she would never let her poems be published on the same pages as Wallach's poetry. In her commentary, Giora interpreted the poem differently. "In this poem, the speaker is acting out her anger with pornography," wrote Giora. "At the end of the piece, the speaker strangles her abuser by using the ritual ropes used by men in prayers that exclude women." According to Giora, Wallach is actually dissociating "herself from the language and practice of oppressive pornography."

But Wallach's poems have much more than mere shock value. As pointed out by Vardi, "With it all, Wallach has the true magic of an enchantress." In reviewing Tsurot, which was published in 1985 shortly before Wallach's death from cancer, Vardi said that after repeated readings of her work, the reviewer "remained fascinated and overwhelmed by the flexible language and the poetic power." In his review of Tsurot, Sachs noted that Wallach's poems "dictate their own pace," He also noted, "Wallach's poetry is characterized by speed. Whoever tries to read it slowly may get lost."

Although they may demand that the reader "move along," Wallach's poems also are challenging on many other levels. As pointed out by Yair Mazur in Modern Judaism, "A variety of Wallach's poems use unique incomplete syntactical patterns that fortify the feeling of a confessional speech, conveyed to the reader in a most personal and sincere spirit." Mazur went on to point out that Wallach's "lopped-off syntactical patterns . . . contribute to the portrait of her poetry as a puzzle that the reader is expected to put together in order to unearth and decipher its internal latent intentions and meanings."

In 2001 the first full selection of Wallach's poems to appear in English was published. Linda Zisquit, an accomplished poet in her own right, translated the works as Wild Light. Writing about Wallach in Tikkun, Zisquist called her "a masterful poet who fragmented the language with demonic power and broke all the laws of male and female conjugation. . . . From the first, I felt myself pulled into a whirlwind." Zisquist summed up the poet's legacy this way: "Wallach's articulation of human vision—always necessarily incomplete, broken, reaching for wholeness—continues to speak to and for a country struggling with vital questions of spiritual connection to a physical land and the place of women's voices within a patriarchal tradition."



Steen G., and D. Schram, editors, Psychology and Sociology of Literature, John Benjamins (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 2001.


Hebrew Studies, Volume 41, 2000, Zafrira Lidovsky Cohen, "Back from Oblivion: The Nature of 'Word' in Yona Wallach's Poetry," pp. 99-115.

Modern Hebrew Literature, spring-summer, 1986, Arieh Sachs, review of Forms, pp. 27-29; spring, 1989, Gabriel Levin, "Voices in Poetry: Three Tel Aviv Poets," pp. 28-32; spring-summer, 1991, Ariel Hirschfeld and Linda Zisquit, "The Man Who Does Not Love Has Upset the Equilibrium: Women Poets in the Eighties," pp. 20-23.

Modern Judaism, October, 1996, Yai Mazor, "The Sexual Sound and the Flowery Fury: The Role of Yona Wollach in Contemporary Hebrew Poetry," pp. 263-290.

Publishers Weekly, December 22, 1997, review of Wild Light, p. 57.

Seneca Review, spring, 1997, Yael S. Feldman and Tsipi Keller, "Israeli Women's Poetry," pp. 36-82.

Tikkun, September-October, 1995, Linda Zisquit, review of The Poetry of Yona Wallach, pp. 51-53; July, 2000, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, "Opening the Letters," p. 71.

World Literature Today, spring, 1987, Dov Vardi, review of Tsurot, p. 345.*