Reznikoff's poetry, precise, authoritative,
and subtle, has its roots in the modern free-verse revolution of the early
of the century, in particular the Imagist programme of Pound and Hulme. Equally, Reznikoff's preference for a poetry of statement rather than metaphor, for observation and image over inferiority, is deeply related both to his legal training, with its emphasis on unambiguous clarity, and to his sense of the jewish poet as an objective moral witness, one whose relation to language is traditionally held as sacred.
Reznikoff's work ranges widely from short,
darkly sarcastic, epigrammatic jottings to long autobiographical and historical
poems and verse drama which make use of biblical parallelism and a tonal
recitative close to colloquial prose rhythm.
Shunning rhetorical flourish, the poems achieve, though reticence and understatement, an almost documentary or photographic effect, which contributes to their felt solidity and sense of truthfulness. These effects are particularly pronounced in Reznikoff’s masterpiece, Autobiography of a Writer, and in the historical volumes Holocaust and Testimony, works which rely mainly on the use of edited court-room material. Throughout all of his work one is aware of Reznikoff's probing historical vision as it renders the effect of history's impersonal forces on the individual. Such a vision powerfully animates the city poetry with its vignettes of immigrant life, of petty hopes and failures, which seems finally illuminated not only by the poet's attentive eye but also by the light of time itself.
The most complete edition of Reznikoff's work
is Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff, ed.
Sermus Cooney (Santa Rosa, Calif, 1989). See also Holocaust
(Los Aangeles, 1975). Testimony (New York, 1965), and The Manner
Music, a novel, with intoduction by Robert Creeley (Santa Barara, Calif,
1976); and for criticism , Charles Reznikoff, by Milton Hindus (Santa
Barbara. 1977), Charles Reznikoff: Man and Poet (Orono, Me., 1984),
ed. Milton Hindus, and Conviction's Net of Branches: Essays on the Objectivits
Poets and Poetry, by Michael Heller (Carbondale, Ill., 1985).
***This biography is taken from Oxford Companion to 20th-Century
Poetry, edited by Ian Hamilton (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994).
One shoulder lower,
with unsure step like a bear erect,
the smell of the wet black rags that she cleans with about her.
Scratching 'With four stiff fingers her half-bald head,
A dozen pigeons on a roof
idling away the day.
But above them, part of the weathervane,
working away in the sun and wind,
the gilt rooster.
She sat by the window opening into the airshaft,
and looked across the parapet
at the new moon.
She would have taken the hairpins out of her carefully coiled
and thrown herself on the bed in tears;
but he was coming and her mouth had to be pinned into a smile
If he would have her, she would marry whatever he was.
A knock. She lit the gas and opened her door.
Her aunt and the man—skin loose under his eyes, the face
slashed with wrinkles.
"Come in," she said as gently as she could and smiled.
The sun was low over the blue morning water;
the waves of the bay were silent on the smooth beach,
where in the night the silver fish had died gasping.
The girls outshout the machines
and she strains for their words, blushing.
Soon she, too, will speak
their speech glibly.
Old men and boys search the wet garbage with fingers
and slip pieces in bags.
This fat old -man has found the hard end of a bread
and bites it.
The pedlar who goes from shop to shop,
has seated himself on the stairs in the clim hallway,
and the basket of apples upon his knees, breathes- the odor.
Her work was to count linings—
the day's seconds in dozens.
They have built red factories along Lake Michigan,
and the purple refuse coils like congers in the green depths.
The house-wreckers have left the door and a staircase,
now leading to the empty room of night
***All the poems above are taken from Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff, edited
by Seamus Cooney (Santa Rosa: Black Sparro, 1989)
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