If Yudit Shahar may be compared to any other poet, it is to the American Philip Levine, who also writes about the working class – at work. Levine, who labored in Detroit’s car factories when he was young, has said: “I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought too that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life – or at least the part my work played in it – I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life.”
On the other hand, car production in the 1940s probably offered more satisfaction than the minimum wage telephone/computer jobs that Yudit Shahar found when she entered the labor market as a newly divorced mother of two in 1999. Israeli poet Yakir Ben-Moshe has said about her poetic language in a review that it “moves over the surface of reality without stopping and without digging down too deep into the psychology of the self. It’s no accident that the best poems in the book are about society; in them she cries out against the injustices perpetrated against the lower socio-economic class in Israel”. In an interview with Nir Nader for Challenge, Shahar discusses her overtly social-political poetry, how she managed after suffering many indignities to find her way to the profession of teaching, and to “a God who falls silent about the cost of bread”.
Yudit Shahar, a special education teacher and the mother of two children, was born in Tel Aviv and lives in Petah Tikveh. Her first book, It’s Me Speaking (Babel, 2009), was published when she was fifty; it won the 20,000-shekel Teva Poetry Prize.
Links (in Hebrew)
Audio: ‘Not interesting’, a song about foreign workers in Israel. Lyrics by Yudit Shahar, music by Gal Ziv.
Video: Yudit Shahar at a Guerilla Culture reading in Tel Aviv
Complete Challenge in Hebrew
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