David Avidan
(Mandatory Palestine, 1934–1995)   
David Avidan

The concise epithet ‘wordman’ – an invented compound word, in Hebrew, adamila – is chiselled on his gravestone and could not be more precise. Even The New York Times took note of the 1995 death of the poet (and playwright and filmmaker) David Avidan, whose liberating influence on the form and content of contemporary Israeli poetry is legend. Avidan, who stretched the Hebrew language with word-play, and glanced toward its future as well as tweaking its past, was born in Tel Aviv, a contemporary of Nathan Zach and Yehuda Amichai. His first poems appeared in the local organ of the Communist Party, of which he was a member as a youth. His first book (of about two dozen) was published when he was only 20, and when he was still in his early 30s a volume of his work was published in English translation – Megaovertones. The latter is available now from ‘antique’ booksellers who market via Internet, a mix of past and future he would probably have enjoyed. In Hebrew, Avidan’s collected works were reissued in a four -volume edition last year.

Along with word-play, Avidan is known for his streak of contrariness (a concept so much easier to say in Hebrew, and in a much lower register, with the untranslatable interjection dafka.) He showed just how supple his Bible-bound language could be, and used it to talk openly about everything, as well as in the service of the time-honoured tradition of biblical reinterpretation. As Gilad Meiri points out in his essay in this issue, Avidan was a practitioner of what Meiri terms ‘nano-poetics’, which features “miniaturised forms, minimal content, nonsense and duplication [via intertextual reference]. Avidan, a pioneer of space and futuristic poetry, sees the realm of the future in the universe of the tiny, the sub-atomic particles which may be found in outer space.”

Producers of a highly successful 2007 theatrical performance of Avidan’s hypnotically rhythmic work (adapted and directed by Avi Remez), put it like this:

On May 11, 1995, the ambassador of the coming millennium to the kingdom of the here-and-now ended his term of office. Searches conducted in the ambassador’s residence at No. 11 Shimshon St., Tel Aviv, failed to discover a portal for transmitting broadcasts to the planet Avidanko. A small quantity of his writings remain in public libraries and on curriculum lists, catalogued by a sorry mistake as part of the ‘Generation-of-the-State’ poetry.

The three actors are obligated not to stage a poetry reading, nor to present the biography nor play the role of Avidan. They also promise that every word they utter comes from his writing.

‘At the end of the journey, perhaps you’ll feel that you know more about words than you’d known before. Words know much more about you than you know, or will ever know about them.’ (David Avidan)

Enamoured of language and technology and outer space, Avidan nonetheless maintained formal control over his Hebrew, an aspect of his work less evident in translation. Literary scholar and critic Ariel Hirschfeld notes that, for example, in Avidan’s ‘Nonconformism’, despite the title, “Each stanza is constructed of quatrains interspersed with couplets, which function as a kind of refrain. The metre is in iambic pentameter, and the rhyme pattern is fixed.” (The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself, 2003)

Prolific and self-promoting and popular, but, like some, unable to manage daily life, Avidan died in squalour and penury in 1995 at the age of 61, on his birthday, survived by his son Tar, and his partner Ziporen Lotem. He seems to have gotten his wish, expressed in ‘Fast and Plenty’, accompanied now by an even newer (if silent) technology, the Internet –

When my soul skyrockets to the heavens
an unending rustle of paper will accompany me.
And perhaps if I’m lucky, the crackle of microfilm.

© Lisa Katz


In Hebrew 


Lipless Faucets, Arad, Tel Aviv, 1954
Personal Problems, Arad, Tel Aviv, 1957 
Interim, Achsha, Jerusalem, 1960 
Pressure Poems, Alef, Tel Aviv, 1962 
Something for Somebody, Schocken, Jerusalem, 1964 
Impossible Poems, Thirtieth Century Press, Tel Aviv, 1968
Personal Report on a LSD Trip, Thirtieth Century Press, Tel Aviv, 1968 
External Poems, Eked, Tel Aviv, 1970 
Useful Poems, Levin-Epstein Modan, Tel Aviv, 1973 
My Electronic Psychiatrist, Levin-Epstein Modan, Tel Aviv, 1974 
Poems of War and Protest, Levin-Epstein Modan, Tel Aviv, 1976 
Poems of Love and Sex, Levin-Epstein Modan, Tel Aviv, 1976 
Cryptograms from a Telestar, Levin-Epstein Modan, Tel Aviv, 1978 
Axiomatic Poems, Achshav/Masada, Ramat Gan, 1978
Scribbled Energy, Thirtieth Century Press, Tel Aviv, 1979  
The Book of Possibilities, Keter, Jerusalem, 1985 
Avidanium 20, Keter, Jerusalem, 1987 
The Last Gulf, Thirtieth Century Press/Tirosh, Tel Aviv, 1991 
Collected Poems, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv , 2009 


Gifted Danny, Y. Golan, Tel Aviv, 1992
Gifted Danny in New York, Y. Golan, Tel Aviv, 1993 
Fox Head, Y. Golan, Tel Aviv, 1994 

Carambole, Achshav, Jerusalem, 1965
The End of the Season is the End of the World, D. Avidan, 1962

In Translation 

What did Kurt Waldheim expect from the Polish Pope: One poem in nine languages, Thirtieth Century Press, Tel Aviv, 1987
Impossible Poems (in Arabic), Alqarn Althalathun, Tel Aviv, 1971
Cryptograms from a Telestar
Russian: Lewin-Epstein-Modan, Tel Aviv, 1976
French: Hui, Tel Aviv, 1978
Arabic: Suroji, Alqarn Althalathun, Tel Aviv, 1982


Wikipedia entry for Avidan, including links to critical articles (in Hebrew)

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