Because the red osier dogwood
Is the winter lightning,
The retention of the prime fire
In the naked and forlorn season
When snow is winner
(For he flames quietly above the shivering mouse
In the moldy tunnel,
The eggs of the grasshopper awaiting metamorphosis
Into the lands
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he left Yale at the end of his fellowship before receiving his degree, he won Yale’s Cook prize, awarded to the best unpublished poem or group of poems, in 1933 for his poem “The Three.”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).
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)
Letter from a Young Poet (Books & Books Press, 2016)