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Leyb Kvitko and the Night of the Murdered Poets

Prominent Soviet Yiddish poet Leyb Kvitko, an editor of the literary magazine Heymland (Homeland) who became the head of the Yiddish Writers Section at the Soviet Writers Union, was born near Odessa on this date in 1890 (some sources say 1893). Kvitko “was welcomed by the [Jewish] urban literary community as a folk talent when he arrived in Kiev wearing […]

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Celia Dropkin’s Scintillating Poems

Yiddish poet Celia Dropkin died at 68 on this date in 1956. Born and educated in the Russian Empire, she was active in Yiddish circles in New York as a poet and fiction writer while raising five children. Her “explicitly sexual imagery and themes,” writes Kathryn Hellerstein at the Jewish Women’s Archive, ” . . . redefined the ways modern Yiddish poetry could […]

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The Poetry of Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin (1925-2014) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize on this date in 1973 for Up Country: Poems of New England. Kumin, who was appointed the Library of Congress’ Poet Laureate in 1981–82, wrote eighteen books of poetry as well as novels, memoirs, essay collections, and children’s books. While studying at Radcliffe, she helped try to […]

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Socking It to T.S. Eliot

Poet Emanuel Litvinoff, who criticized T.S. Eliot’s antisemitism in a poem, “To T.S. Eliot,” which he read in 1951 to a crowd that included the 1948 Nobel Laureate, was born in London on this date in 1915. Litvinoff wrote several volumes of poetry as well as novels that dealt with Jewish immigrant life in East […]

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January 9: Heine’s Baptism

“I regret very deeply that I had myself baptized,” wrote German poet, memoirist, and essayist Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) on this date in 1826. “I do not see that I have been the better for it since. On the contrary, I have known nothing but misfortunes and mischances.” Famous as a lyric poet (many of whose […]

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November 10: Poet Laureate Shapiro

Karl Jay Shapiro, the fifth Poet Laureate of the U.S. (1946-47), was born in Baltimore on this date in 1913. His book, V-Letter and Other Poems, written while was serving in the Pacific during World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1945. (V-letters were letters written by American soldiers and microfilmed by […]

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Paul Celan as Existentialist Poet

THE COMPLEX BEAUTY OF HIS LATE POEMS by Marc Jampole from the Autumn 2016 issue of Jewish Currents Discussed in this essay: Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry, by Paul Celan, translated from the German by Pierre Joris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, 736 pages. MOST PEOPLE know poets by one or two poems […]

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October 7: The “Howl” Premiere

Twenty-nine-year-old Allen Ginsberg read his poem “Howl” in public for the first time on this date in 1955, at Six Gallery in San Francisco — a former auto-repair shop with a dirt floor measuring 20′ x 25′. The reading, which he shared with Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen, was a “coming out” […]

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September 16: The Neglected Samuel Menashe

Poet Samuel Menashe, who in 2004 became the first poet honored with the Poetry Foundation’s “Neglected Masters Award,” was born in New York on this date in 1925. William Grimes described him (in a 2011 New York Times obituary) as “a Greenwich Village poet whose jewel-like, gnomic short verse won him an ardent following in […]

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