A gigantic voice of beauty and humanism in contemporary Hebrew poetry
Yitzhak Laor is one of the most important contemporary poets of both Israeli and world poetry. He has published numerous novels, plays, essays, political and poetry books and has been awarded the most prestigious poetry prizes, among them the Bernstein prize, the poetry prize of the prime minister, and the Amichai prize, to name few.
In multiple ways, Laor can be seen as an heir of Yehuda Amichai’s poetic legacy. Not only is his lyrical poetry abounding with references to the various layers of the Hebrew language and allusions to both the Holy texts of Judaism and the classical canon of European literature, but it also bristles with political criticism. In this regard, Laor even surpasses Amichai and most of the contemporary lyrical poets of Israel. Hardly another Israeli author dares criticize so candidly the grievances, nuisances and contradictions of his country. Hardly another Israeli poet dares remind Irael’s political class, elites and artists of the gaping wound of the occupied territories and the suffering of the Palestinians. Thus, even in a most innocent love poem about an Israeli family idyll it may be that, and be it in a footnote, the scared voice of a Palestinian child can be heard as an admonition. As a poet Laor feels obliged to tell the truth when it must be told and resist all those, who want to silence him: Even if all is produced by the regime – the history of poetry, as well as the boundaries of speech – I have no choice but to resist.
Like all great art, Laor’s work is not only ravishing and enthralling, but also endearingly illuminative and morally relevant, because it is sincere, authentic and empathic in its attitude that is deeply grounded in a humanistic ethos. Laor’s poems capture the conditio humana and reflect the tragedy of being human and humane.
However, his poetry is by no means dark and gloomy, but rather characterized by a fresh straightforwardness, a skillful play with traditional Jewish and classical European topoi, which are scrutinized in light of modern life, and an enormous poetical fantasy. Among many other impacts, such as Hebrew and Anglo-American models, Laor’s poetry also draws heavily on German influences, such as Goethe, Heine, Hölderlin, Rilke, Kafka, Brecht and Celan.
Stylistically, in his lyrical poetry, Laor covers an enormous range of various poetic tools, such as juxtapositions of different semantic fields, sharp contrasts accomplished by switching between Biblical, Mishnaic, and modern Hebrew and even Yiddish. In some of his very political poems he also implements Arabic. He often uses neologisms, foreshortening of syntactical structures, slang from a variety of different areas including military language. He frequently embeds mundane, even erotic texts in religious forms, such as prayers, blessings and psalms, or remakes the latter as contrafactions. Moreover, Laor is a master of rhythm, sound and wordplay and succeeds in giving his poems a touch of musical lightness despite all their weight of content.
All this, together with a unique mixture of powerful and tender imagery, sums up a unique Laor style and tone that is unequaled in contemporary Hebrew poetry.
 Y. Laor in interview with A. Esperer, poetin 27, poetenladen, Leipzig 2019
 Y. Laor, Calf. In: Nitzan T, Back RT (eds) With an Iron Pen. Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry. Excelsior editions. State University of New York Press, Albany, New York 2009, p.60