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About this poet

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Hyam Plutzik was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 13, 1911, and raised in Connecticut. Plutzik, who spoke Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew at home, did not learn English until he began grammar school at the age of seven in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Connecticut. Plutzik later recalled that he first developed his interest in poetry while in this rural environment.

In 1932, he graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he had studied closely with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Odell Shepard. Plutzik received a two-year fellowship to pursue graduate studies at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where he studied literature and poetry. Although he left Yale at the end of his fellowship before receiving his degree, he won Yale’s Cook prize, awarded to the best unpublished poem or group of poems, in 1933 for his poem “The Three.”

In the years following his departure from Yale, Plutzik took various editorial jobs before retreating to the Connecticut countryside, where he worked on a satirical novel about dictatorship. In 1940, he returned to Yale to complete his master’s degree, during which time he won the Cook prize for a second time.

In 1942, Plutzik enlisted in the Army and moved to twelve different cities before heading overseas. Although Army life made it difficult for him to write, he did begin what would eventually grow into “Horatio,” a 2,000-line narrative poem.

After his discharge from the Army, Plutzik was hired as an English professor at the University of Rochester in New York, where he remained for the rest of his professional life.

In 1949, he published his first collection of poems, Aspects of Proteus (Harpers). Ten years later, he released his second collection, Apples from Shinar (Wesleyan University Press), which received the University of Rochester’s Lillian P. Fairchild Award. Horatio (Atheneum) was published in 1961. All three of these poetry collections were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

Plutzik’s work examines nature and the paradoxes of time, the relationship between poetry and science, and delves into questions of Jewish history and identity. In his report for the 1960 Pulitzer Prize (awarded to W. D. Snodgrass), prize juror Alfred Kreymbourg said of Plutzik, who was a finalist for his book Horatio, “While he is not a musical poet like most of his contemporaries, he more than compensates by the strength and depth of his writing and the power of his visions and personality.”

Plutzik was the recipient of the California Borestone Mountain Poetry Award with Rolfe Humphries. In 1961, he was appointed Deane Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry at the University of Rochester. The following year, the university established the Plutzik Poetry Series in his honor. In 2002, the City of Rochester proclaimed a “Hyam Plutzik Day.”

Plutzik died of cancer on January 8, 1962, at the age of fifty. His other published works include Letter from a Young Poet (Books & Books Press, 2016) and Hyam Plutzik: The Collected Poems (BOA Editions, 1987).


Bibliography

Poetry
Hyam Plutzik: The Collected Poems (BOA Editions, 1987)
Horatio (Atheneum, 1961)
Apples from Shinar (Wesleyan University Press, 1959; 2011)
Aspects of Proteus (Harper and Row, 1949)
Death at the Purple Rim (The Artisan Press, 1941)
The Three (Yale University Press, 1933)

Prose
Letter from a Young Poet (Books & Books Press, 2016)

I Have Read in the Book of the Butcher Boy (In Time of War)

I have read in the book of the butcher boy, William of Avon,
Of the deathless thyme; I have read of the wild thyme growing.
Be patient, gypsy, and we shall seek for that place.
We shall set our house there on that fragrant hill,
Deathless too, over the thyme-sweet stream,
With a road as brown and clean as an autumn leaf
Passing beside it for friendly feet to tread.
No mouse will lurk there, or fourteen-legged bug
Trespass its comers as in a lesser house.
No pug-nosed dog will snarl from its lawns, but a gentle,
Sad-eyed and shaggy-eared being as wise as Buddha
Will sit magisterial on the porch to guard us
From villain and bore. Never will hoarse old rooster
Raise up his odious cry at dawn to wake us:
A small red bird on a limb by our window will be
The bell of morning for us through the long years.
And we shall look down at the brown road to see
The butcher boy pass there idling upon his wheel
As butcher boys do, whistling a lilt to life;
The postman will pass there and other wise men also.
Sons will come to us there through the long years.
We shall grow old but mist and road and stream,
In that coign of things, will give us youth eternal,
By the happy thyme of the fragrant butcher boy's singing.

Copyright © by the Estate of Hyam Plutzik. All rights reserved.

Copyright © by the Estate of Hyam Plutzik. All rights reserved.

Hyam Plutzik

Hyam Plutzik

Hyam Plutzik was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1911. During his lifetime, he published three poetry collections: Aspects of Proteus (Harper and Row, 1949), Apples from Shinar (Wesleyan University Press, 1959; 2011), and Horatio (Atheneum, 1961), all three of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Other published works include Hyam Plutzik: The Collected Poems (BOA Editions, 1987) and Letter from a Young Poet (Trinity/Watkinson/Books & Books, 2016). He died in 1962.

by this poet

poem

He will set his camp beside a cold lake

And when the great fish leap to his lure, shout high
To three crows battling a northern wind.

Now when the barren twilight closes its circle
Will fear the yearning ghosts come

poem

Their heads grown weary under the weight of Time—
These few hours on the hither side of silence—
The lilac sprigs bend on the bough to perish.

Though each for its own sake is beautiful,
In each is the greater

poem

The abrupt appearance of a yellow flower
Out of the perfect nothing, is miraculous.
The sum of Being, being discontinuous,
Must presuppose a God-out-of-the-box