Page 7 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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I N T R O D U C T I O N
B
y
A . A
la n
S
t e in b a c h
I
I
n t h e
weekend these lines are being written, the
New York
Times Book Review
(May 9, 1971) featured on pages 4, 12, 14
and 16 an article titled “Saul Bellow of Chicago” by Joseph
Epstein, essayist, critic and editor residing in Chicago. The article
began: “Saul Bellow is the premier American novelist, the best
writer we have in the literary form that has been dominant in the
literature of the past hundred years.’׳
After reading Epstein’s panegyric, in which many will undoubt-
edly concur, a question entered my mind: why is it that American
Jewish writers have not won comparable accolades in the realm
of poetry? The apogee has been reached by novelists such as
Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Charles Angoff;
by literary critics such as Alfred Kazin, Maxwell Geismar and
Leslie Fiedler; by playwrights such as Arthur Miller, S. N. Behr-
man, Bruce Jay Friedman and Paddy Chayefsky. Why has there
been such a dearth of authentic poets among American writers
of Jewish origin?
This is an extraordinary phenomenon, because both Hebrew
and Yiddish literature have been fecund in the production of
poetic works. The gap becomes even more pronounced when
juxtaposed with the current renaissance of verse in Israel.
In America, Karl Shapiro (winner of the Pulitzer and Bolingen
prizes for his verse) and Delmore Schwartz, attained a high pla-
teau in the years preceding and following World War 2. In 1962,
Charles Reznikoff’s
By the Waters of Manhattan
appeared with
an introduction by the noted C. P. Snow, in which he wrote: “His
(Reznikoff’s) poems have moved me deeply and have engrossed
me. They stand on their own . . . I am anxious that people should
read them.”
More recently Allen Ginzburg has emerged, heading a new
poetic movement whose adherents regard their mentor’s verse
as being Olympian. Several other voices are being heard—Harvey
Shapiro, Irving Feldman, Robert Bloom, Ruth Finer Mintz,
among others—but their lyrical creations are minor in compar-
ison.
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