Naomi Replansky’s Career Began in a Factory

Poet Learned To Be Wordsmith on the Assembly Line

By Benjamin Ivry

Published October 02, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In a storage area of Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, there is a striking portrait known to only a few art lovers. It’s the work of Joseph Solman (1909–2008), the Vitebsk-born American Jewish artist whose studio was located for decades over the former site of New York City’s 2nd Avenue Deli. Painted in oil on linen in 1954, “Naomi” shows a woman whose face is too determinedly hard-edged to resemble a Modigliani subject, yet she shares some of the wit and elongated grace of that Italian Jewish painter’s work. “Naomi” pays tribute to an artist who has likewise long been known to only a select few: Naomi Replansky, the 94-year-old poet whose “Collected Poems” Black Sparrow Books recently published.

Blithe Spirit: 94-year-old Naomi Replansky published her first poems in 1936.
michael berg
Blithe Spirit: 94-year-old Naomi Replansky published her first poems in 1936.

Replansky was born in the Bronx in 1918. Her mother worked as a secretary in a Harlem junior high school, while her father was unemployed for many years. Replansky toiled in factories, starting on an assembly line during World War II in the heyday of Rosie the Riveter, and eventually graduated to operating a lathe. Years later, she trained herself to become a pioneering computer programmer for not-for-profit organizations, starting with the earliest punched cards used by the first giant computers. This variegated background helped Replansky develop into an eloquent poet of the working class. Her first publication was in a 1936 anthology, “Contemporary American Women Poets: An Anthology of Verses by 1311 Living Writers,”, Marianne Moore and Muriel Rukeyser. edited by Tooni Gordi. In the anthology, the teenage Replansky is featured alongside such established fellow writers as Babette Deutsch

From childhood onward, Replansky’s chief inspiration was drawn from the oral poetry tradition: “Mother Goose / Was my metrical muse,” Replansky has asserted in a poem. At age 10, she relished the ballads of Rudyard Kipling, whereas at 13, she was transfixed by the words and structure of spirituals, especially “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” as sung on the radio by African-American contralto Marian Anderson. Later in her teens, Replansky discovered the Border Ballads, old songs recounting tales of violence and the supernatural along the England-Scotland border.

From these and other sources, Replansky derived a style with the immediacy of folksong and a quirkily personalized turn of expression that owed much to her Jewishness, as in her 1946 poem, “The Six Million,” which is eloquent in its plainness and simplicity:

They entered the fiery furnace
And never one came forth.
How can that be, my brothers?
But it is true, my sisters.
They entered the fiery furnace
And never one came forth.

Another evocation of wartime carnage in the age of the A-bomb, the quatrain “Epitaph: 1945,” was written at the end of World War II:

My spoon was lifted when the bomb came down
That left no face, no hand, no spoon to hold.
A hundred thousand died in my home town.
This came to pass before my soup was cold.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.