Recent buzz about Hyam Plutzik’s work led the University of Rochester in New York to search for an archivist to organize video footage of materials relating to the life and work of Hyam Plutzik, who spent his entire teaching career as Professor of English there. Documentary filmmaker Christine Choy, who is best known for her political documentaries – including Who Killed Vincent Chin?, about discrimination aimed at Asian-Americans – recognized a winning story and joined forces with her daughter and co-director Ku-Ling Siegel and with literary researcher Edward Moran to create a more extensive film that included interviews with some of the leading American poets of the late 20th century.
The film was featured at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival in 2007 because of its creative portrayal of the life of an American poet whose Jewish heritage contributed to his poetic imagination and who also dealt with issues of anti-Semitism.In “For T.S.E. Only,” one of his poems featured in the film, Plutzik responds to anti-Semitic imagery in the work of modernist poet T. S. Eliot, at once calling the poet to task for his bigotry and at the same time endeavoring to find common ground with him. In another poem, “Portrait,” Plutzik describes an assimilationist second-generation American Jew who “tries to be a Jew casually.” Describing how this well-dressed, modern man “lives in his own house under his oak,” Plutzik also points out the ways in which such a Jew is haunted by tragedy and a history of discrimination.
Indeed, quite a number of Plutzik’s poems explore the collective upheaval of the mid-20th century and the trauma of historical events, including the experiences of American soldiers in World War II and genocide at Hiroshima. Edward Moran, the film’s literary researcher, told the Jerusalem Post that Plutzik wrote much of his best work in the mid-1950s as “consciousness of the Holocaust was beginning to sink in,” adding that Plutzik was planning a large poetic work on the Shoah at the time of his death.
In February 2006, the “Partners of Hope” concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City included the world premiere of an orchestral work entitled “Of Eternity Considered as a Closed System,” a poem by Hyam Plutzik set for solo voices and chorus by composer Robert Cohen. The piece was performed by the Westfield Symphony Orchestra, as conducted by David Wroe. Also on the program were arias by Bulgarian soprano Anna Veleva and songs by David Broza, one of Israel’s leading guitarists and singers. The “Partners of Hope” concert was presented by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation to celebrate the heroic and selfless rescue efforts of the many who risked their lives to bring to safety Jews and others targeted by the Nazis for extinction. The program brought together an array of music – classical and popular, instrumental and vocal – performed by musicians from different countries, and also featured readings and personal accounts of the Holocaust. The event was chronicled in George Loomis’s New York Sun article “Celebrating Survivors.”
Hyam Plutzik served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, stationed throughout the American South and then in Norwich, England with the 2nd Air Division, where he was an ordnance officer for the D-Day invasion in 1944. On Veterans’ Day 2010, The Betsy Hotel in South Beach, Miami honored those who served our nation by sponsoring a program in conjunction with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. The program invited families of veterans to share letters written to and from servicemen and women in America’s wars, past and present, and to record their gratitude on film. Some of these memories and messages became part of the documentary film “Nothing Can Be Done, But Something Can Be Said,” which had its world premiere at the event. The title is derived from a line in Hyam Plutzik’s poem “Requiem for Edwin Carrigh.” The film also included a segment in which Hyam Plutzik’s widow, Tanya, read letters written by her husband during World War II.
Read the full Miami Herald article.
Writer Edward Moran on the documentary film “Hyam Plutzik: American Poet” in its PA premiere July 14, 2007, at the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation in Jim Thorpe.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Plutzik Memorial Series at the University, the City of Rochester is declaring Saturday, May 11, as Hyam Plutzik Day. In addition, the City and the University are providing special recognition to the poem “Sprig of Lilac,” written by the late Professor of English Hyam Plutzik (1911-1962), in conjunction with the beginning of this year’s Lilac Festival.
In recognition of this occasion, a special ceremony with readings and remarks by city and University officials will be held in the Welles-Brown Room of Rush Rhees Library on May 11 beginning at 2:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
The Plutzik Memorial Series was established in 1962 shortly after Plutzik’s death. It is now regarded as one of America’s oldest and most prestigious literary reading programs. The Plutzik roster over the past 40 years boasts such literary luminaries as James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, Robertson Davies, James Dickey, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, John Updike, and Charles Wright.