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This review is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

VULNERABLE TAUTNESS AVRAHAM BEN YITZHAK, Collected Poems. Edited and with an afterword by Hannan Hever, translated by Peter Cole (Ibis Editions) $13.95

When a poet is acclaimed for his pivotal role in shaping a nation's literature, he has to be of interest. When his entire published oeuvre comprises barely a dozen (shortish) poems, the interest sharpens. Avraham Ben Yitzhak (1883-1950) is a legend in the history of Hebrew poetry and one of its most admired figures. A complex, reclusive man, he resisted all attempts - including those of Haim Nahman Bialik, the foremost Hebrew poet of his time - to bring his work between the covers of a book. Only after his death was a volume published. Now Collected Poems offers, alongside the Hebrew, English versions of Ben Yitzhak's eleven canonical poems together with a selection of unpublished work, drafts and fragments found among his papers.

Born Abraham Sonne in Galicia (Poland), Ben Yitzhak lived for some thirty years in Vienna where he was close to several of the era's most prominent men of letters, including Hermann Broch and Elias Canetti. The latter devoted a long section of his memoirs to Sonne who, he said, `inspired an addiction such as I have never experienced for any intellectual'. When Sonne-Ben Yitzhak fled the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938 and settled in Jerusalem, his quiet charisma, virtuosic intelligence and exceptional literary sensitivity made a lasting impression on those who surrounded him. But by then he had stopped writing poems. All discussion of his poetry was taboo, and reclusiveness enveloped him in a deepening silence and solitude.

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