Shai Dotan was born in Eilat, the resort town at the southernmost tip of Israel, to French-speaking immigrants from Morocco, and now lives in Jerusalem, where he works as an economist in the public sector, and also moderates poetry workshops for youth and adults. His debut collection of poetry On the Verge won the Education Ministry Prize for first books. His latest, Poems I Didn’t Write, was published this year.
One aspect of Dotan’s work that critics have made much of is his careful attention to predecessor-poets in Hebrew and other languages. Rafi Weichert notes in a review of Dotan’s first book that he has “a sharply discerning eye and ear for the cadences of modern Israeli poetry, along with the talent to create memorable sketches, as if working in charcoal, and the understanding that the tools of the trade need to be nudged forward”.
Like Ariel Zinder, whose work appears in this July 2009 edition of PIW Israel, Dotan studied in the Helicon poetry workshops in Tel Aviv; together these poets are proof that good workshops do not make poets sound the same, but help them move in the direction of their own voices and talents. It may be that deep reading of the poetry that came before us is a requirement for the writing of poetry, and the best school, which we can join or rebel against.
A second aspect of Dotan’s work, and one that is not evident on the flat page (or screen), is his marvellous oral delivery of the poetic line. This line has been defined somewhat elusively as “a musical phrase” (Ezra Pound), a “unit of attention” (Frances Mayes) or a “unit of breath” (Charles Olsen), and when read aloud, is surely part of our delight in poetry. In translation from Hebrew, a language whose structure packs diverse meanings into few syllables, Dotan’s poetry expands, requiring special rigour and restraint on the part of the translator to restore its original concision and breath, if possible.
The Poems I Didn't Write Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 2009
On the Verge Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 2005.
Rafi Weichert writes about Shai Dotan’s first collection of poetry
Shai Dotan’s page on the Poetry Place website
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