Kirsch was born and brought up in Koppies in the Orange Free State, today a part of South Africa. Her father had emigrated there from Lithuania and, though a Yiddish speaker, brought his daughter up to speak English. She nevertheless wrote in Afrikaans, publishing eight books of poetry in that language, as well as a volume of selected poems (she was only the second female Afrikaans poet to be published). Kirsch emigrated to Israel at the age of 24, living there from 1948 until her death.
In 1990, she published her first book of poetry in English. She continued to write in English, and was actively involved with the Israel Association of Writers in English. Though well known as a poet in South Africa, she failed to achieve the same degree of fame in Israel or the English-speaking world.
Her poetry was marked by metre and often by rhyme. In her youth she wrote mainly about the inhumanity of racism, and of her longing for Zion. As she matured, more personal themes became central. She wrote a series of sonnets dedicated to her husband, the mathematician Joseph Gillis. She wrote in mourning of her mother, and of her beloved granddaughter who died at nine years of age. Throughout her writing there are poems on the theme of nature, and the destruction of nature.
An accomplished linguist, she translated her poetry from Afrikaans into English and Hebrew. When unable to write, she would draw from nature, carve in wood, and embroider. Her sensitivity to nature affected her work in these media as well.
She was married to Joseph Gillis and had two daughters.
Year links are to "[year] in poetry" articles:
- 1948: Mure van die Hart (Johannesburg: Afrikaanse pers boekhandel)
- 1972: Negentien Gedigte (Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau)
- 1976: Geil Gebied (Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau)
- 1978: Oorwinteraars in die Vreemde (Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau)
- 1982: Afskeide (Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau)
- 1983: Ruie tuin (Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau)
- 1990: The Book of Sitrya (Rehovot: O. Kirsch)
- Olga Kirsch from the Database of Family Names, Personality of the Week (retrieved 17 May 2006)
- English Writing in Israel Karen Alkalay-Gut (retrieved 17 May 2006)
- List of contributors from Metamorphoses
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