poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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he left Yale at the end of his fellowship before receiving his degree, he won Yale’s Cook prize, awarded to the best unpublished poem or group of poems, in 1933 for his poem “The Three.”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.

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 Apples from Shinar, “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.


Bibliography

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)

My Sister

Now the swift rot of the flesh is over.
Now only the slow rot of the bones in the Northern damp.
Even the bones of that tiny foot that brought her doom.

Imagine a land where there is no rain as we know rain.
Not the quick dashing of water to the expectant face,
But the weary ooze of spent drops in the earth.

Imagine the little skeleton lying there—
In the terrible declination of the years—
On the solitary bed, in the crumbling shell of a world.

Amid the monsters with lipless teeth who lie there in wait—
The saurian multitudes who rest in that land—
And the men without eyes who forever glare at the sky.

And the ominous strangers ever entering.
Why are they angry? They keep their arms to themselves.
Comfort themselves in the cold. Whisper no word.

And the black dog has come, but he does not play.
And no one moves but the man who walks in the sky—
A strange man who comes to cut the grass.

Seventeen years....

And already the fair flesh dispersed, the proud form broken.
The glaciers move from the north and the sun is dying.
And into the chasm of Time alone and tiny....

The Man of War sits in the gleaming chair.
Struts through the halls. The Dispencer of Vengeance laughs,
Crying victory! victory! victory! victory!

Victory.

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

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

Hyam Plutzik

Hyam Plutzik

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.

by this poet

poem

A nation of hayricks spotting the green solace
          Of grass,
And thrones of thatch ruling a yellow kingdom
          Of barley.

poem

What are they mumbling about me there?
"Here," they say, "he suffered; here was glad."
Are words clothes or the putting off of clothes?

The scene is as follows: my book is open
On thirty desks; the teacher expounds my life.
Outside the window the Pacific roars like a lion.

Beside

poem

You called me a name on such and such a day—
Do you remember?—you were speaking of Bleistein our brother,
The barbarian with the black cigar, and the pockets
Ringing with cash,