Natan Zach was born in 1930 in Berlin to a German father and an Italian mother; he immigrated to Haifa as a child. At the vanguard of a group of poets who began to publish after Israel’s establishment, Zach has had a great influence on the development of modern Hebrew poetry as editor and critic, as well as translator and poet. Zach has been one of the most important innovators in Hebrew poetry since the 1950s and he is well known in Israel also for his outstanding translations of the poetry of Else Lasker-Schüler and Allen Ginsberg.
The first poems by Natan Zach were quick to gain attention because of their informal tone, the apparently simple style and the almost total lack of rhyme. He was influenced by such poets as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. In an article from 1959, he declared himself in favour of 'a "poetics of modesty": simplicity in theme, syntax, and diction; understated rhetoric, avoidance of symbolistic intricacy, and flexible rhyme patterns; metrical and rhythmic structures that follow and reflect the flow of conversational language, refraining from lofty, elevated, cerebral, and flashy poetic devices and structures while employing irony in a subtle, distilled fashion; in short, an appealingly simple poetics without undue simplification. This does not, however, mean that his poems are always easy to understand. His images are often complex and may contain references to the Bible, literature and sometimes also to political and social injustices. Zach's way of writing has had a profound influence on Israeli poetry.
Zach's search for a non-symbolic, explicit poetic language was a conscious break with tradition. Zach uses the surrealist tradition in an original manner and his poetry struggles against every sort of false expression. Guided by his desire for openness and experimentation, Zach avoids sentimentality and ideological modes in favour of bare emotions and brevity of expression. He rejects lyrical, formalized language, employing a colloquial vocabulary and an ironic and anti-romantic tone. Internationally acclaimed, Zach has been called "the most articulate and insistent spokesman of the modernist movement in Hebrew poetry."
Natan Zach was and is active in all sorts of literary fora at home and abroad. He has also used his influence to protest along with Palestinian authors against the occupation of territories and the neglect of Palestine. In 2003, he organised the International Poetry Festival in Jerusalem. As far back as 1985, he accepted an invitation to come to Poetry International in Rotterdam. Some of the poems read then have, in the translation by Tamir Herzberg, been included in Aan de oever der wijde zee. Zeven Hebreeuwse dichters van nu (On the edge of the wide ocean. Seven contemporary Hebrew poets), Poetry International Serie, Meulenhoff 1988.
Among prizes Natan Zach has won are the Bialik Prize (1982), the Israel Prize (1995), the Feronia Prize (Rome, 1993), the Camaiore Prize (Toscana, Italy, 2000), the Levi Esjkol Prize (2001), and the Premio dell'Unione di Lettori Italiani (Rome, 2001). He was made an Ambassador of Cultural Rome in the World (Rome, 2002) and received the ACUM Prize for his collected works (awarded by the Israeli Federation of Writers and Composers, Tel Aviv, 2003). In 2004, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Geneva, and in 2007 was made Cavaliere by the Italian government.
Bibliography: Hebrew poetry
First Poems (1955)
Other Poems (1960)
All the Milk and Honey (1966)
Dog and Bitch Poems (1990)
Because I'm Around (1996)
Death of My Mother (1997)
The Nightingale Doesn't Live Here Anymore (2004)
In 2008, Hakibbutz Hameuchad published a three volume New and Collected edition of Zach's poetry, and in 2010, a memoir, From Year to Year. Three separate volumes of new poetry have followed, including, in 2013, From Where We've Never Been To Where We'll Never Be, and in 2016, They Say it's Really Tempting There.