THE HYAM PLUTZIK LIBRARY FOR CONTEMPORARY WRITING
Information and Related Resources
2. The Hyam Plutzik Archive, 1982
3. Centennial Exhibitions–Hyam Plutzik: Poet, 2011-12
4. Centennial Exhibitions–Rochester Students Read Plutzik, 2011-12
5. Centennial Exhibitions–The Plutzik Memorial Reading Series, 2012
In 2000, the Hyam Plutzik Library for Contemporary Writing was formally opened in the Rare Books and Special Collections wing of Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester. The Plutzik Library contains the William and Hannelore Heyen Collection of approximately 10,000 items including a diverse assemblage of inscribed first editions, manuscripts, and correspondence from major American writers of the late 20th century. The Heyen Collection is housed in a study named for Jarold Ramsey, longtime director of the Plutzik Reading Series and Professor of English until his retirement in 1998.
The Special Collections Department also retains Hyam Plutzik’s archived papers, 40 boxes of manuscripts, correspondence, and other items of interest. The first major collections of these papers were donated by Plutzik’s widow, Tanya Roth Plutzik, in 1976, and subsequent contributions have added to it over the years. In 1982, the Department featured an exhibition of these papers, with an introduction by Jarold Ramsey. Visit the Rush Rhees Library online catalog for more information about the Plutzik Archive.
In 2011, as part of Centennial activities, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections presented a new student-curated exhibition, “Hyam Plutzik: Poet” which celebrated the life and achievements of Hyam Plutzik, drawing again on materials in the archives. The main exhibit was curated by Sergei Kriskov, UR Class of 2012, and was open from October 3, 2011 to January 15, 2012. The exhibition included a display titled “Rochester Students Read Plutzik” curated by Sarah Young, UR Class of 2013, which gathered written and visual reactions to Plutzik’s poems from students of various disciplines in the College of Arts and Sciences. A selection of these reactions are included below.
In Fall 2012, the Department will present a second Centennial exhibition which explores the 50-year history of the Plutzik Reading Series. Additional information coming soon.
THE HYAM PLUTZIK ARCHIVE, AN EXHIBITION, 1982
Out of my life I fashioned a fistful of words.
When I opened my hand, they flew away.
|“On Hearing that My Poems
Were Being Studied in a Distant Place”
When Hyam Plutzik wrote these lines at the end of a haunting poem, near the end of his life, he was saying (in the way of a good poet) several things at once—how a life devoted to writing comes down to words, just words; how they tend to fly, so ungratefully, back into the common language; but how once flown they may in their “fistfuls” speak to and for other people, even strangers, far away. Which experience is one reason we cherish poetry, and at least tolerate poets—and, secondarily, why we assemble, exhibit, and study their papers, the better to understand both the fashioning and the “flying” of their words. In Plutzik’s correspondence there is a letter, dated June 1960 and postmarked Oakland, California, from a former University of Rochester colleague, Allan Wendt, reporting with glee how he had made a “Plutzikophile” out of one of his Mills College students by assigning her Plutzik’s poems to read. How this cheering bit of news from a distant place engendered such a poem in the poet’s imagination back in Rochester is of course still a mystery of art—but, knowing about the letter, we know the poem better for what it is.
The Plutzik Archive is in fact a rich bewilderment of materials bearing on a distinguished poet’s life and career. Dating and systematically ordering his notes, drafts, and worksheets was not, alas, Plutzik’s habit, and some of the folders in the Archive appear at first to be haystacks lacking needles; but of course they were serviceable to Plutzik, and that is what counted. Coming along behind, the scholar can certainly hope to learn—as through no other means—a great deal about the character of Plutzik’s imagination, about his purposes both fulfilled and unrealized, and about the true nature of his achievement as an American poet. On such mundane items as an application for a fellowship or an academic vitae, for example, the poet turns self-critic and apologist, illuminating what he has written and what he will go on to write:
|I believe that there is unity behind this apparent multiplicity of things. I believe this despite the atom bomb, and the bickerings between group and group, and nation and nation. I believe that there is a veil over the surface of things; that it is presumptuous of us to feel that we see reality in our everyday, vegetative hours; that the temple is not so easily entered. And occasionally, in a fortunate moment, from some object in itself trivial—a tree, a stone, a house, a hand—the veil is brushed away, and we see the shape of truth. I believe this without the prejudgments based on the orthodoxies of some fixed psychology, religion, or system of economics. And I believe that all this should be said in poetry, now at this time. And I shall try to do so…. (1949)|
|. . . my own ideas about poetry have changed radically. Once I looked upon it as little more than beautiful language. Later it was a way of communicating the nuances of the world. More recently I have begun to look upon poetry as the synthesizer and the humanizer of knowledge …. (1954)|
|. . . I propose to write a long poem on the most immense subject for a poem in our time: the massacre of six million Jews by Hitler. (1960)|
Because Plutzik was a very good poet, at once part of his age and somewhat apart from it, the reader of his papers can expect to learn a considerable something about the “sociopoetics” of America between 1940 and 1960—how very hard it was in those years of World War II, Korea, and the Cold War, McCarthyism, and all sorts of rigidities in politics, literature, academia, and publishing, to make a career in poetry, especially if, like Plutzik, you aimed high and tried to follow your own proper path up. Cultural historians of the time will, I think, find this collection valuable both in outline and in details.
Few of our modern writers can ever have belonged so actively and generously to their communities as Hyam Plutzik did to Rochester—to the University, where as teacher and colleague he worked tirelessly for the ideal of a truly liberal education, poetry and science reconciled; to the Rochester community, in which his innumerable talks and readings amounted to a rare kind of academic and literary ambassadorship. And Rochester in urbe et universitate continues to honor him through the Hyam Plutzik Memorial Poetry Series, a program of public readings by major writers, now celebrating its first twenty years of life.
“A fistful of words,” indeed—it is to celebrate the continuing vitality of Hyam Plutzik’s poetry, and the significance of his life and career, that this exhibition is mounted.
Professor of English
University of Rochester
ARCHIVE EXHIBITIONS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER,
OCTOBER 3, 2011-JANUARY 15, 2012
HYAM PLUTZIK, POET
The year 2011 marks the hundredth anniversary of Hyam Plutzik’s birth. It is a date important for more than reasons of convention, the arbitrary fact that our calendar counts a convenient span of time since a certain event. The centenary of a poet can mark the moment of his passage from recent memory to literary tradition; it is a transition from one realm of history to another, more enduring. This event is dedicated to the hope that Plutzik’s legacy lives on in the succeeding ages.
An exhibition on Plutzik’s life and work was prepared by Jarold Ramsey of the University of Rochester English Department and displayed in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in 1982, not long after Mrs. Plutzik contributed the greater part of the materials now present in the Plutzik archive. The exhibition before you today is based in large part on this antecedent. It maintains much of Professor Ramsey’s commentary and organization, which, given the eloquence of its presentation and the sense given of the man’s life, contains little on which we need improve. A number of display cases unique to the new exhibition contain materials organized according to their similarity of theme rather than their biographical significance, and are intended by this juxtaposition to reveal some of the major ideas that drove Plutzik in his work—by no means can these displays represent the man’s work in all its complexity, but they can highlight portions of his thought which are inaccessible through the published sources alone.
The “Hyam Plutzik, Poet” exhibition has been prepared by Sergei Kriskov (UR 2012), and the adjoining display, “Rochester Students Read Plutzik,” by Sarah Young (UR 2013). The critical text on Plutzik’s Horatio is the work of Phillip A. Witte (UR 2010). The 1982 exhibition on which this one is based was prepared by Professor Jarold Ramsey. Those display cases which retain a significant amount of text from the original exhibition bear the initials JR in the lower left corner of the explanatory text.
The exhibit was mounted by Leah Hamilton, with signage by Melissa Mead; assistance in research was provided by Phyllis Andrews.
We gratefully acknowledge the help of Mrs. Tanya Plutzik, the Plutzik family, and the PG Family Foundation.
Curator, Hyam Plutzik: Poet
University of Rochester Class of 2012
Click here to read more about the exhibit.
ROCHESTER STUDENTS READ PLUTZIK
This two-case display, concluding the larger Hyam Plutzik: Poet exhibition, featured the text of several of Plutzik’s poems alongside personal responses–some in brief essay form, others using visual media–created by undergraduate students from various departments in the University. Here we include curator Sarah Young’s overview statement, the text of each poem included in the display, and the written responses accompanying each poem.
Hyam Plutzik drew from his own experiences a great deal in writing poetry. The political events and scientific breakthroughs of his day, his work as a professor, his family history, and firsthand observations of World War II all find a place in his work. This begs the question: how will his work stand up as readers become more and more removed from him by time? For this exhibit, students from all different academic backgrounds documented their reactions to various Plutzik poems and discovered that he speaks to their itch for inquiry. Plutzik covers such a vast array of topics with his body of work, and yet he has a startling ability to cut to the essential dilemma that inspires exploration of each field. It is no wonder Plutzik was driven to teach and write: students can look into his words and see fragments of their own endeavors and personal investigations reflected back at them.
Curator, “Students Read Plutzik”
UR Class of 2013
Class of 2013
BECAUSE THE RED
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
In the moldy tunnel,
The eggs of the grasshopper awaiting
Into the lands of hay and the times
of the daisy,
The snake contorted in the gravel,
His brain suspended in thought
Over an abyss that summer will fill with murmuring
And frogs make laughable: the cricket-haunted time)—
I, seeing in the still red branches
The stubborn, unflinching fire of that time,
Will not believe the horror at the door, the snow-white worm
Gnawing at the edges of the mind,
The hissing tree when the sleet falls.
For because the red osier dogwood
Is the winter sentinel,
I am certain of the return of the moth
(Who was not destroyed when an August flame licked him),
And the cabbage butterfly, and all the families
Whom the sun fathers, in the cauldron of his mercy.
THE OLD WAR
No one cared for the iron sparrow
Resposes to “The Old War”
Plutzik is able to describe such a horrifying and devastating event in such a beautiful, captivating way. I especially love that he refers to the ordeal as the returning of the men to the earth. There is a very interesting blend of the beauty and stillness of nature and the tragedy and harshness of war.
Class of 2013
I like the imagery in the poem. The way I saw it was that the “iron sparrow” was a war plane, but instead of being a symbol of spirituality, it brought death to the “ten good men” on it. I also notice the contrast in the poetry – truth and curse/prayer, mother and son, the freedom of a bird and the trapped men. This effect mirrors the duality of war – Plutzik himself enlisted in the air force after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but is clear from his poems that he sees the devastating effects of it.
May Zhee Lim
Class of 2014
“The Old War” expresses sentiments of both WWII and the oldest war; that between man and nature. The “iron sparrow” returns its passengers to the “mother-barley”. The sparrow is deliberately characterized as a male entity–and therefore less connected with nature. As the plane lands, it destroys the feminine barley field: “thunder rolling…/fire swarming”. Within a world of masculine, high tech, dangerous warfare, there is no room for natural, feminine entities.
Class of 2013
ON HEARING THAT MY POEMS WERE BEING STUDIED IN A DISTANT PLACE
What are they mumbling about me there?
Responses to “On Hearing that My Poems…”
What strikes me most about this poem is the sense of vulnerability in the poet’s position when sharing his work. The final line in particular gives an image of the poet as almost bereft. Interestingly, however, it was the poet who opened his fist to let the words go, therefore retaining agency in the action. This poem made me realize that publishing is the act of giving others an ownership and control over what could be very personal to you. ”Are words clothes or the putting off of clothes?” I found this line very striking. To me, the question asks whether in writing, authors use words as a communicative projection inserted between themselves and the world or whether instead they remove all barriers and render themselves vulnerable to very intimate and perhaps invasive scrutiny. The unanswered questions suggests to me that both are true: when the poet chooses to share, they are at once in control of the interaction and terrifyingly relinquishing control.
Class of 2013
|Mixed-media collage by Edith Hanson
Class of 2012
One scale of judgment for art today seems to center on whether it is a divestment or construction of the artist and their ideas. The former is seen as true and good, the latter almost a manipulation. This is an oversimplification in part because the artist cannot totally control the message of their art. The audience may interpret a piece entirely differently than its creator intended. Plutzik’s poem deals with the anxiety of the knowledge that he does not have complete agency in the work he releases. He writes, “Out of my life I fashioned a fistful of words./When I opened my hand, they flew away.” His lines speak not only to this difficulty in art, but also to the fallibility all people experience at times in attempting to communicate themselves.
Class of 2012/Take 5
A LETTER TO SOMEONE AT MT. PALOMAR
Though you reach forth past that hot pinwheel of Messier
Worry a scrap of parchment, extrapolating
Responses to “A Letter to Someone at Mt. Palomar”
There is little as confounding, as stirring, or as fixed in truth as a well-crafted metaphor. Plutzik calls it a “sudden awareness cast between nothing and nothing”: the jarring result of two separate entities drawn together. Metaphors inherently do not abide by the laws of logic or reason. “You” cannot be “a monstrous turkey”, logically speaking. “You” can be like “a monstrous turkey”, but where is the delight or the abandon in that? Plutzik finds simile to be “full of outrageous sounds”, but metaphor is “a god, a demon”. Metaphor is more powerful, but also more maddening.
Plutzik insists that the man looking to the stars for truth will only see himself, as in a mirror: a “protean gargoyle”. In the movement of the planets there is a mirror onto our own rituals, and we try to mirror these rituals to create realism in theater, and in the words of those plays we find a mirror onto ourselves: “To the world we have, within”. Perhaps it is in our nature to draw these metaphors, to look for the “dance” between people, objects, places, ideas.
What will astronomy tell us if the universe can only be defined by what is here on earth? Any discovery, a comet or a galaxy, is restricted by what Plutzik calls the “world-symbol”. The heavens are the earth. So is there a point?
What’s most intriguing is when Plutzik employs logical rhetoric: “Each fraction must be of this same deceptive stuff––/Or say that every atom of a symbol / Is of itself symbolic”. If we are “ever standing for something beyond [ourselves]”, constantly symbols for something else, then the concluding line of the poem (“I would be with you there”) takes on a deeper meaning.
Will Plutzik then explore the universe as an astronomer does, but with his words? Can the poet draw the same knowledge as this anonymous astronomer at Mt. Palomar merely by looking “within”, at himself as a fraction of the whole, as a piece of the universe? Perhaps he is made of that same stuff you glimpse in “the telescope on the hill”, but stuff only drawn out with the elusive crafting of metaphor.
Class of 2013
Plutzik’s poem, ‘A Letter to Someone at Mt. Palomar,’ strikes me as a work that should resonate as much today as it did when first penned. Reading through it, I became aware of the importance of each discipline contributing its strengths and recognizing its weaknesses: “A machine would be more explicit; / A formula have less of passion and nonsense; / Only a poem would give us this strange odor / Of death and the rose together.” Science can tell us much without necessarily invoking feeling, and poetry can move us and make us feel, maybe without telling us anything. However, there is still a strong crossover between science and poetry. As a student of science, I have seen in many things a degree of beauty and elegance that even the most sophisticated poems cannot embody, and yet also poems that have given me more insight into life than any experiment could have hoped to reveal.
Additionally, Plutzik made evident a notion that I think few have ever come to grasp, and that is our human place in the universe. It is interesting how cautiously and indirectly he broaches how insignificant many of our actions are, how we are unable to enact great change. Even a passing mention of free will offers a reflection on how ‘free’ it really is. As I look up at the sky, it becomes obvious that what we do here may show nothing of the ceremonial progression of the stars, nor display the effortless effervescence of nature, but our actions have instead the profound and unique ability to affect our fellow and our future man through science, poetry, and all acts of being human.
Class of 2012
MR. POLLINGTON REMEMBERS A POET
Weather bothered him, and the delicate muscular,
Responses to “Mr. Pollington Remembers a Poet”
|pencil and ink drawing by Olivia Morgan
Class of 2013
Language is an inherently flawed way to express ourselves. It is metaphoric, rather than symbolic, each word filtered through our personal experiences. But because the written word is what we have, we make do with our “inept” system, cobbling together meaning out of “scraps and board, a nail, a snip of string.” In “Mr. Pollington Remembers a Poet,” I see a man trying to escape language by creating an objective notation for his inner experience. I can relate: I’ve always taken solace in the clarity of mathematics, which teaches you to value not only an idea’s quality, but also its grace of expression. A beautiful proof should make you lean back in your chair and sigh, its logic blooming in your mind, its idea suddenly clear.
Plutzik’s poet is searching for a proof for his experience, so that rather than breaking and reshaping our language to express himself (like a typical poet), he can evoke notation for his feelings, a “constant/Of pure numbers.” Unfortunately, waiting for perfection leaves him alone. I feel helpless when I think about him “stumbling,” “forgotten,” adrift in his obsession with finding a way to connect. He is a “shy person,” like me, over-thinking every sentence as he fights and perpetuates his inability to speak up. I realize that we can’t expect to speak in poetry, proofs, or notation; we rephrase and return to the same ideas, accepting mediocrity, trusting others. However, that won’t stop me from hoping silently—from feeling helpless—until I hear that a poet has gotten his notation right.
Class of 2012 (Take 5)
THE PLUTZIK READING SERIES: AN EXHIBITION
In fall 2012, the Plutzik Library will host a final exhibition exploring the rich fifty-year history of the Plutzik Reading Series. Additional information will be announced in the coming months.