Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An American Poet

As a young man, the poet Karl Shapiro (born 1913, Baltimore - died 2000, New York City) contemplated changing his name to Karl Camden. It was a reaction to the attitude of disregard he experienced while studying at the University of Virginia, about which he later wrote: “To hurt the Negro and avoid the Jew / Is the curriculum” (“University” 1940). Shapiro did not go through with his plan, but he did change the spelling of his first name to the more Germanic “Karl.”  He himself stated that the “decision [to write under the name Shapiro] made me ‘Jewish,” and since I had made the decision, I wrote poems about Jewishness.”

Although Shapiro began publishing his poems while still in university (University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt Library School - however, he never finished school), it was the poetry that he wrote while serving in the Army (he was drafted in 1941) that gained him critical attention. During the war, he published four volumes of poetry. In fact, his 1944 V-Letter and Other Poems, which was written while he served as a Medical Corps clerk, earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

Shapiro published a total of 22 volumes of poetry (including one titled “Poems of a Jew”), two autobiographies, one novel and several essay collections. He served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1947-1948), editor of the literary journals Poetry (1950-1956) and The Prairie Schooner (1956-1966), and held teaching positions at numerous universities.

Shapiro was highly critical of modern poets such as T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Ezra Pound. In fact, Shapiro was one of only two acclaimed poets who voted against Ezra Pound receiving the first Bollingen Prize in Poetry (1948). His stand against Pound drew the attention and accolades of numerous Jewish organizations, as Ezra Pound was a rabid anti-Semite.

To read more about Karl Shapiro, click here.

To read a sample of Karl Shapiro’s poetry, click here.

The month of April is national poetry month.

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