Klein: Story of a Poet

Klein: Story of a Poet

ZAILIG POLLOCK
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 324
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttp2k
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  • Book Info
    Klein: Story of a Poet
    Book Description:

    This is the first book to survey all of Klein's poetry, prose, and journalism, published and unpublished, and place it in the context of its times.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7651-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 Unrolling the Scroll
    (pp. 3-9)

    This book is about a story, the story of the poet which A.M. Klein tells and retells throughout his career. Storytelling for Klein is an act of selfdefinition, and as his definition of his own role as a poet changes – often in unpredictable and sometimes in disturbing ways – so does the form his story takes. But through all its retellings the story of the poet remains recognizably the same, drawing on the same basic set of characters, images, and gestures, and unfolding the same central vision, a vision of the One in the Many.

    The poet who is the hero...

  6. 2 Escape
    (pp. 10-18)

    Klein’s earliest poetry, it can be argued, falls outside the scope of this study, since, at the beginning of his development as a writer, his story of the poet had not yet taken shape, even in a rudimentary form. Yet, in these works, dating from about 1926–8, when Klein was in his late teens, we can already sense the tensions which eventually drove him to formulate his story, tensions which the story would never entirely resolve.

    Although the story itself is absent from the poetry of the period, with the benefit of hindsight we seem to catch tantalizing glimpses...

  7. 3 By a Well ... over the Wall
    (pp. 19-33)

    Near the end of 1927, Klein finally abandoned the Romantic themes and techniques with which he had become increasingly dissatisfied. The crucial factor in his decision to do so seems to have been the influence of the group of young writers whom he met that year at McGill – A.J.M. Smith, F.R. Scott, Leon Edel, and Leo Kennedy – who helped to spread the gospel of modernism through their literary magazine, theMcGill Fortnightly Review.But, unlike the members of theFortnightlygroup, Klein did not immediately go on to adopt a modernist idiom after he had abandoned Romanticism. The poetry which...

  8. 4 The Prism and the Flying Motes
    (pp. 34-75)

    At the chronological and conceptual centre of the works of Klein’s early maturity – the poems on primarily Jewish themes which he wrote between 1927 and 1934 – stands ‘Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens,’ first published in 1931, when Klein was twenty-two. In this poem, by far the most ambitious and successful of the period, Klein attempts, for the first time, to define the basic elements of his story of the poet, and, by so doing, to explore the implications of his role as a Jewish modernist. Most of Klein’s other works during these years can be seen as...

  9. 5 Fragments Again Fragmented
    (pp. 76-92)

    The mid- to late thirties were difficult years for Klein, perhaps the most difficult of his career. During these years, the story of the poet which he had elaborated in ‘Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens’ lay in fragments, shattered by the forces of history. Unwilling to abandon his conviction that a true poet must play a central role in his community, yet no longer able to define that role in the face of the increasing social disintegration which he saw all around him, Klein temporarily abandoned poetry, as he groped for new bearings in journalism, fiction, and...

  10. 6 Hallowing the Wilderness
    (pp. 93-112)

    Klein’s decision to take on the editorship of theCanadian Jewish Chroniclewas one of the most important of his career. Although it could be argued that the thousands of editorials which he wrote for theChroniclefrom 1938 to 1955 were a distraction from his more creative work, the close engagement with the ‘most terrible and most glorious years in modern Jewish history’¹ which his journalism demanded provided a crucial stimulus for his art. It is not surprising, then, that Klein’s taking on the editorship of theChroniclecoincided with the beginning of the most productive period in his...

  11. 7 The Frustral Summit of Extase
    (pp. 113-145)

    Between completingThe Hitleriad,towards the end of 1942, and beginning ‘Portrait of the Poet as Landscape,’ towards the beginning of 1944, Klein produced a substantial body of work of striking power and originality which has remained largely unknown. In contrast toThe Hitleriadand ‘Portrait of the Poet,’ which, for all their differences, have in common a celebration of the social role of the poet, most of the work of this period is intensely personal, focusing on the almost unbearable inner conflicts which must be borne by any poet who seeks to assume such a role. Klein was unable...

  12. 8 Taiku
    (pp. 146-174)

    By the mid-forties, Klein knew that the time had come for a change. Change is the dominant concern of his life and work in these years, just as frustration had been in the years immediately preceding. In the early forties, Klein’s sense of frustration had given rise to some powerful writing, but his inability to bring the major works of the period to a satisfactory conclusion did not bode well for his future as a writer. If he was to have such a future, he clearly could not continue to drift passively through a life which seemed somehow to have...

  13. 9 Kebec
    (pp. 175-195)

    In 1945 Klein began a series of poems which mark the return to community foreshadowed at the end of ‘Portrait of the Poet as Landscape.’ But, as ‘Portrait of the Poet’ suggests, the return is by ‘indirection’ (155), since his subject in these poems is not the Jewish community which he had written about in the past, but a community which had played virtually no role in his earlier poetry, the French-Canadian community of Quebec. There are obvious parallels between Klein’s portrayals of community in the Quebec poems of the late forties¹ and in the Jewish poems of the late...

  14. 10 Tikkun
    (pp. 196-232)

    In 1948, after the publication ofThe Rocking Chair and Other Poems,Klein drafted a letter to Karl Shapiro (27 December 1948 [MS 422–4]), in which he described what was to be the next stage in his development as a writer:

    Now the continuation of our own culture stands before the Jewish writer asthechallenge. The hiatus of the Diaspora has been closed – closed even for those who still remain therein. We do not write any longerin vacua;we write in the aftermath of a great death, European Jewry’s, and in the presence of a great resurrection....

  15. 11 Keri
    (pp. 233-252)

    The above passage is a particularly useful introduction toThe Second Scroll,not only because it presents a concise catalogue of the major organizing principles which Klein drew upon in shaping the novel, but also because it calls into question the shaping impulse itself. Thus, Klein’s combination of detective story and Lurianic allegory is ‘uneasy’; his vision of the One in the Many (‘a single God who reconciles himself to the many varieties of mankind’), which is reflected in the analogies between the narrator (‘the Seeker’) and Uncle Melech (‘the Sought’), is ‘regrettable’ and ‘not greatly exciting’; and the method...

  16. 12 Where Shall I Cry Bereshith?
    (pp. 253-270)

    WithThe Second Scroll,Klein’s story of the poet is complete. During the years remaining to him before his final breakdown in the mid-fifties, Klein adds nothing new to this story, which no longer has the power to sustain him. But, although he has lost confidence in his story of the poet, he has not lost interest in it. Rather than simply abandoning it altogether, he turns against it, subjecting it to a series of profoundly sceptical revisions, with the aim of dismembering it beyond any hope of re-membering.

    Klein’s interest in revising earlier versions of his story of the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 271-300)
  18. Works Cited
    (pp. 301-308)
  19. Index
    (pp. 309-324)