top of page

Poet Iris Calif redefines the borders of grammar, syntax and Hebrew vocabulary

By Elie Rosental

Iris Calif's poetry book God's Daughter, published on June 2020 by Hadarim Publishing House, has received favorable reviews and critique for the unique style, characterized by language innovations.

איריס כליף - Iris Calif-Color.jpg

 המשוררת איריס כליף
     poet Iris Calif

Calif's poetry is distinguished by its individual traits of style and lingual richness. In her writing, she often redefines the borders of grammar, syntax and Hebrew vocabulary. The outstanding element in her writing deserves in-depth study, and I am happy to present here the first step. In this article I will review some of Calif's word modifications from her current book God's Daughter.

A distinctive and homogenous group of innovative words in Calif's poetry, are light verb constructions whose roots exist in Hebrew, but their use was not common. That's exactly what Calif has done in her verses: fusing the roots into light verb. Here are some samples:


Sharash (שָרַש), in the meaning of "took root". It appears twice in the book as an active verb, equivalent to hishrish: "I will root [eshrosh] your yearnings" (in Steps of your Breath, p. 44), and " The soil roots [shoreshet] my years' streams" (in Summer Tune, p.98). Third appearance seems to be a passive verb, in the meaning of being planted: "And In silence your certainty is planted" (in Angel-made Woman, p. 74).

Alaf ((עָלַף, meaning "fainted", appears twice: "The sun fainted [hit'alfa] as she was weaving her rays into the dark heavens" (in Windy Land, p. 23), and "Like faint naked Eve" (in Naked Eve I am, p. 94)


Badar ((בָּדַר, variation of the verb Bider (בִּידֵר), meaning spread, scatter, appears in the following lines: "Your youth freedom scatters [boderet] in the rain which shades your juvenile veil" (in Zion Wind, p. 86), and "Scattering [boderet] crammed full visions" (in Soul Daughter, p. 109).

Aside from verbs, Iris Kalif renewed several names on the base of existing root, by fusing the roots into a pattern which was not used before in that context. In two names renewal she used the Miktal pattern:


Mit'har (,(מִטְהָר derivation of Purity (טָהַרָה), as in "My femininity is hidden behind purity wrinkles" (Steps of your Breath, p. 44), and in "Scattering my face against your purity" (Mother, p. 79).

Mitslal (מִצְלָל), from Shadow (tsel. Plural – tslalim). Appears only once in the book: "The night bewitches your image with love shadows" (Summer Tune, p. 97).


In two occurrences Calif renewed adjectives in Kittel pattern, based on existing roots:


Eeneg (עִנֵּג), verbally: caused great pleasure. Appears only once in the book: "And your drop eeneget neighing continents to the wind" (Door of Love, p. 40).

The poetry book 'God's Daughter' by the poet Iris Clif

The poetry book 'God's Daughter' by the poet Iris Clif

Eegen ((עִגֵּן, meaning anchored. "The wind is dropping anchor" (Summer Tune, p. 97).


Several more examples of renovated names based on existing roots:


Mahara ((מַהָרָה, derivation of pregnant (hara). It can be attributed to Miktala or Maktela pattern. "Hunting in the shadow of maharot" (Steps of your Breath, p. 44).


Artool ((עַרְטוּל, renewal of nakedness (eertool), derived from the Aramaic adjective artila'ee (naked). "To my artool body in clandestine pole" (God's Moon, p, 12). By this, Iris Calif joins the trend of Israeli poets of creating new words from Aramaic origin.


So far, we have presented words renovations by using the latticed configuration (root + construction/pattern). On top of that, Calif demonstrates linear configuration (basic + suffix) as a method of renovation, e.g., Zeevon (זִיוֹון), the word zeev (radiance) + the suffix on. "Is my life trickling in your years' radiance" (Heavens' Roots, p. 89).


To sum it up, it seems that Iris Calif excels in molding existing roots into new patterns. In Biblical Hebrew, it's an almost exclusive method of creating new words. Considering the significant Biblical influence on the book God's Daughter, it can be said that Iris Calif is flirting in a very sophisticated way with the Scriptures.

The author of the article, Eli Rosenthal (b. 1983), holds a Bachelor degree in Hebrew language and linguistics at the Jerusalem's Hebrew University and has a teaching certificate. After graduation, he was employed for about five years at the Hebrew Language Academy in the historical dictionary venture. Currently, among other things, he is busy punctuating songs, assessing psychometric exams and teaching Hebrew on Zoom to students from all over the world.

This article was originally published on The Misdaron (Hebrew, "The Corridor"), Vol. 12, December 2020. Corridor is an Israeli periodical for poetry, literature, culture and art. It's editor-in-chief and publisher, Yair Ben-Haim, is a well-known poet and author. In addition, he runs a poetry and literature events' website, Hadarim (Hebrew, "Rooms"). One of its ongoing productions, Daber el ha'shir (Hebrew, "Talk to the Song"), introduces Israeli poets as they read their song in several locations in Tel Aviv 

The Misdaron (Hebrew, "The Corridor")
bottom of page