Selected Critical Praise (1941-2011)

“There are so many poems in this short collection [Apples from Shinar] to reflect on. Such range and eloquence, lessons on how to be in the world and truly witness the events that roll out before us. Daily. The writing is rich, and unpredictable. Reading Hyam [Plutzik] is not unlike the the experience of reading Wallace Stevens—each time you re-enter a poem, it’s not where you thought you’d left it.”

—Daniel Halpern
guest post on “a fistful of words” (weblog), 2011

“Plutzik is a significant American poet, and his poem Horatio is one of the genuinely original and important American long poems. Time is Plutzik’s subject, ‘the monomaniac passion, time’ (‘The Geese’), and in his carefully measured poetry, precise but never precious, he wins his victory over it.”

—David Scott Kastan
Afterword, Apples from Shinar, 2011

“Whereas [Hermann] Hesse’s master-language is music, and his chosen form the quest novel, Plutzik’s seem to be science, and poetry. His last phrase ‘the humanizer of knowledge’ implies knowledge needs humanizing. I read ‘knowledge’ here as scientific knowledge, which, in some view, is abstract, general, legalistic. Poetry then, in this view, provides the human context, or, more accurately, translates symbols into symbolism. Plutzik does this brilliantly in his poem ‘The Equation.’ The fantastic transformations begin with mathematical variables, and end with nocturnal weeping. The poem argues like a sonnet, but the last two isolated lines equate the sestet to the octave, uneasily.”

—Jee Leong Koh
Song of a Reformed Headhunter (weblog), 2008

“Take the case of the late Hyam Plutzik, a marvelous poet whom Ted Hughes and others championed. He tried to recreate a credible Shakespearean voice in American verse but his success doomed his verse to obscurity.”

—Eric Ormsby
Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation, 2002

“The three long poems [in Horatio] are reports from the underclass that, in the keen sympathy they reveal Plutzik extending to the poor, go unmatched by any other postwar poetry except that of Langston Hughes or Gwendolyn Brooks. Plutzik sees that the lives of the poor are never simple and always too complex, and his genius is to imagine the stories they might tell as a mixture of efforts to allay their fears, to bolster their confidence, to complain of their powerlessness, to mock their enemies, and to parade their mastery of new interpretive frames like Christianity, even as they sturdily resist yielding their own pagan ways. Plutzik’s achievement is stunning: seldom has folk art been reconceived in such a virtuoso fashion as a window into an underclass. … Like [Langston] Hughes listening on the streets of Harlem, Plutzik portrays the disenfranchised not as victims but as inventive survivalists who ingeniously cobble together versions that work for them. … Unlike the storytelling shepherds who have to invent a way to survive, Plutzik’s high-born Horatio is a model of attentiveness, patiently reading others, thoughtfully suspending judgment, a figure of courtly respect. … Hughes and [Melvin B.] Tolson, fighting to be heard, keeping alive the concept of high public communication in poetry, stand as the exceptions that illuminate just the concerns that Plutzik dramatizes with a circumspection that itself verges on the symptomatic.”

—Edward Brunner
Cold War Poetry: The Social Text in the Fifties Poem, 2001

“He has a most unusual freshness of vision which enables him to be the master of two worlds, the natural and the supernatural, which overlap in Horatio… His imagery is both astonishing and appropriate, with the strange aptness of the images in some vivid nightmare. Some of it recurs, like a Wagnerian motif: there is the lark dead on heaven’s stairs, and the ‘streets of gibbets in the city of God’… It is unusual to read such a good, long poem such as this nowadays… and Hamlet is not more than the starting point of a very original poem, a starting point that could as well be historical fact.”

—Thom Gunn
Yale Review, 1987

“Hyam Plutzik’s poems have haunted me for twenty-five years. And they seem even more alive and special now than they did when I first found them. He has a kinship with Isaac Bashevis Singer, drawing his strengths in a similar way, directly and openly, from that ancient tradition, yet engaging the modern world as a stripped soul—with a point-blank, wholehearted simplicity of voice. His visions are authentic and piercing, and the song in them is strange—dense and harrowing, with unforgettable tones. The best of his work seems to me marvelously achieved, a sacred book.”

—Ted Hughes
Cover blurb, Hyam Plutzik: The Collected Poems, 1987

“The poems of Hyam Plutzik … deserve to be far more widely known and admired than at present they are. To the poems originally collected in three volumes published during Plutzik’s lifetime are now added an impressively large collection of (previously uncollected and unpublished) poems. … They exhibit all the wit, warmth, curiosity, affection, and skill that over the years made Hyam Plutzik a poet of such remarkable accomplishment. … And his gifts are so distinct and admirable a sort as to assure him of a large and responsive audience.”

—Anthony Hecht
Foreword, Hyam Plutzik: The Collected Poems, 1987

“…a poetry belonging to no school but the school of imaginative honesty to experience.”

—Jarold Ramsey
Forum: A Jounal of Social Commentary and the Arts, 1972

“…Hyam Plutzik is the poet/prophet of man in the seventies … [who] professes to live for today but builds monuments for eternity, and idolizes spontaneity but works to achieve it.”

—Thomas Friedman
Thoth, 1971

“The nature of Plutzik’s vision is Platonic, or at least transcendental appearance are imagined as the product of an illusionist—and actor or stage-designer or painter—and the world beyond, which can be glimpsed at odd moments, opens up to a wild and fearsome reality…imagined…in a passionate and natural and yet elevated language to accompany and express the intensity and depth of his imagination. His themes are the relation of appearance to reality, of inner to outer, of the mundane to the timeless, of the earth to the universe, and the ordinary is constantly seen against the backdrop of the eternal… He is a very good poet, a poet with large conceptions and a flexible power of execution to match.”

—Norman Friedman
Chicago Review, 1967

“Only rarely does a contemporary work warrant the adjective, ‘Shakesperian’; Mr. Plutzik’s Horatio does, not merely because of his subject, but because his poetry has the tone and style—even the touch—of Shakespeare. In slightly fewer than one-hundred pages, Mr. Plutzik narrates the saga of Horatio: how that sensitive Stoic for sixty years absents himself from felicity to try to tell—and learn—[Hamlet's] story aright. … Mr. Plutzik’s style is, I think, admirable. His blank verse flows easily, smoothly, impressively. His language is simple and modern: one is not reading any pages stained with midnight oil, and the reader’s eye is never tempted to look for footnotes. Yet, at the same time, the flavor is Shakesperian. The flexibility is there, the innate dignity, the musical range, the flashing surfaces and dark depths. … Horatio is indeed Shakesperian. For those of us who love Shakespeare, Mr. Plutzik’s poem can be a brilliant sequel to Hamlet. For those of us who have been concerned over the state of modern poetry, as it staggers between Eliot’s whimper and Ginsberg’s howl, Horatio can be a heady breath of fresh air.”

—Joseph Frank
Shakespeare Quarterly, 1962

“The book … is a conception of great reach on Mr. Plutzik’s part, the following of a signpost that has been waiting several hundred years for some poet to notice. This poet perceives and accepts all the vicious, the thoughtless, the expedient and the ignorant changes man makes and calls history. This perception of enduring human behavior makes Horatio’s story itself a universal tragedy, and it rises at the end toward heaven’s gate and a meeting at last with the ghost of Prince Hamlet, when all wrongs may be righted. There has been no long dramatic poem like it in contemporary poetry, and it is a major performance.”

—John Holmes
New York Herald Tribune—Books, 1961

“Hyam Plutzik, whose Horatio has just been published, has plenty of skill; he uses a long, loose blank-verse line with a good deal of variety, and he knows what he is doing.”

—Walker Gibson
The Nation, 1961

“Hyam Plutzik risks personal poems of direct address, which consistently seem written out of some quiet necessity for finding right words. He seems careless of all poetic nonsense, and even where he out-Stevens Stevens in his titles, his Apples from Shinar is meaty with a knowledge that ‘wit is the sin you must expiate.’ The result is poems consciously, but never self-consciously, Jewish; poems thick with gentle ironies and personal rhythms…and he proves, as few young poets are willing or able to, that ‘lovers of words make simple peace with death’. The love and the words and the simplicity are all here, and the poems come peacefully, and wonderfully alive.”

–Philip Booth
The New York Times Book Review, 1959

“Except for ‘Death at the Purple Rim,’ privately printed a few years ago, Mr. Plutzik’s poems appear for the first time in Aspects of Proteus. ‘Death at the Purple Rim’ is a long narrative poem, which may recall A. E. Clough in the use of a long line and its discursive tone, as well as the poet’s willingness to find a focus for the most earnest and momentous reflection in an incident (here, the killing of a groundhog in a garden) which at first sight seems only trivial or grotesque. Some of Mr. Plutzik’s shorter poems are light and chatty: ‘Critique,’ for instance, in which he takes an easy shot at the cult of obscurity, or ‘Those who write after Freud.’

“But in the best of them—‘Sprig of Lilac,’ ‘Commentary’ or ‘The Event on the Upland’—he treats some of the oldest poetic themes with strength and clear individuality, and with a freshness that does not depend on innovations … “

—Herbert Barrows
The New York Times Book Review, 1949

“Coming, now, to personal commentary in the modern idiom, we find it well turned in Hyam Plutzik’s Aspects of Proteus. Mr. Plutzik has learned a great deal since the publication eight years ago of his privately printed Yale University prose poem, ‘Death at the Purple Rim,’ which is included in this collection. Not the least sign of increasing maturity, of development in the craft, is Mr. Plutzik’s willingness to experiment with form, to submit himself to the discipline of a prior tentative design, to let what is said be controlled and determined somewhat by the peculiar cast in which the thought is to be set … An interesting poet, and a becoming one.”

—Rolfe Humphries
The Nation, 1949

“It is out of such feeling, one believes more and more, that the vital literature of the present and future will derive, official sanctions to the contrary notwithstanding.”

—Rolfe Humphries
The Nation, 1942

“Your poem ['Death at the Purple Rim'] about the woodchuck … is strangely and clearly powerful, and I am in debt to you not only for a copy of it but for your thought of me. I have read nothing better in a long while, and nothing I am likelier to remember.”

—Mark Van Doren
Letter to Plutzik, 1941