Selected Critical Praise (1941-2018)
"...The overall coherence and rhetorical sophistication of the 1987 Collected Poems is both remarkable and distinctive ... it presents a consistently darker vision than other critics have suggested. Although it includes both comic and occasional poems, its fundamental, controlling vision is post-apocalyptic, explicitly imbued with the themes and philosophical outlook that emerged from the rise of fascism in the 1930s and culminated in the defining events of World War Two."
Paper presented at the Jewish American and Holocaust Literature conference, 2018
“… [Thom Gunn’s and Ted Hughes’s] combined assessment of Plutzik – as a mystic go-between, between this world and another – is confirmed and strengthened by the (re-)appearance of this important and fascinating letter [Letter From a Young Poet]. Its publication will do much toconvince another generation of readers of Hyam Plutzik’s rare and extraordinary gift. … Plutzik was a great Shakespearean. One only has to read his long poem Horatio (1961), a sequel to Hamlet, to see that Plutzik, perhaps more than any other twentieth-century poet, convincingly integrated Shakespearean free verse with the modern poetic idiom.”
- Andrew Latimer
PN Review, 2016
"In Hyam’s fervid letter he addresses the concerns of an artist coming to terms with the world he’s inherited. The prose is filled with determination, philosophic wonderings, thoughts on the nature of the artistic endeavor enveloped throughout with a youthful ambition, a hopefulness, and a mixture of self confidence and sad doubt that in Hyam’s voice never rings contradictory. ... Hyam’s letter is a song of the self and the soul.”
Cover Copy from Letter From a Young Poet, 2016
"It has been a great gift for me to have the opportunity of reading Hyam Plutzik's moving letter to his former mentor at Trinity University. It is an odd mixture of naïveté and wisdom whose deep honesty makes it so memorable. I love the self-criticism, the search for the 'King's English' and the tremendous sense of narrative. It is to me another Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,' but a portrait which in its accuracy--again honesty--is as original, unique, and every bit as wise as Joyce's. It reminds me of Walt Whitman's lines: 'It is time to explain myself; let us stand up.'"
Foreword to Letter From a Young Poet, 2016
"[Plutzik's] posthumously published Collected Poems has long been out of print, and his terse and astringent poems--the best of them sound like Richard Wilbur without his haughtiness--were greatly admired by figures such as Ted Hughes and Anthony Hecht (who wrote the introduction to Plutzik's Collected and pronounced him a figure of 'remarkable accomplishment'). ... I find the ending of [''On Hearing That My Poems Were Being Studied in a Distant Place'] quietly triumphant, for embedded within all the equivocation and doubt is a lovely and subtly modulated epiphany."
"Plutzik is a great and memorable phraseologist. ... Ultimately, the letter to Shepard is an affirmation of Plutzik's talent as a poet. He quotes quite liberally brilliant chunks of his own work in this long, honest, self-justification ... The publishers ... have assembled a notable team of writers and academics to work on this elegantly produced publication."
“The poetry of World War II is rich in variety, extraordinary in scope, and it reflects almost incidentally a democratic diversity...In ‘The Airman Who Flew over Shakespeare’s England,’ Hyam Plutzik stands at an airbase in England, barking instructions on packing bombs in planes even as a voice in the back of his brain addresses himself and the rest of the crew: ‘Was there not a time when you turned aside to avoid / Crushing a beetle or marring a spider’s web?’
“Peace and War in American Poetry,” Library of Congress website, 2013
“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
“His poems were deep-drawn, gnomic things, and his tone was deaconish, if not outright godlike. ‘As nearly as I can tell,’ wrote the poet James Dickey, ‘the world he writes about is more God's than man's.’ ... This [Apples from Shinar] is a golden book.”
Jewish Review of Books, 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
"Plutzik's poetry is in no way reduced by his not being famous. Perhaps now, at the height of globalization, he may be introduced to new readers whom he will interest precisely because he is a local, connected to his time and place, and not a product of merchandising."
The Jerusalem Post, 2008
"It seems strange and unaccountable to find nothing by Donald Justice or Hyam Plutzik or Peter Kane Dufault or L. E. Sissman or Henri Coulette in [Harold Bloom's American Religious Poems]. Were they not Emersonian enough?"
The New Criterion, 2007
“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.”
Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation, 2002
"And his [Brunner's] kindling of critical interest in rarely discussed works...[as] Hyam Plutzik's engaging sequence, Horatio—ignites canonical questions I hope to see taken up by both current and future editors of anthologies."
Contemporary Literature, 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.”
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.”
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.”
Cover copy, 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.”
Foreword, Hyam Plutzik: The Collected Poems, 1987
“…a poetry belonging to no school but the school of imaginative honesty to experience.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 …"
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.”
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.”
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 Hyam Plutzik, 1941