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

(page 2 of 2)

After the war, Replansky’s attention was drawn to the practical necessity of earning a living, as her 1957 poem “Night Prayer for Various Trades” makes explicit. The poet is a longtime leftist, and her muse definitely works in a union shop:

Machinist in the pillow’s grip,
Be clumsy and be blind
And let the gears spin free, and turn
No metal in your mind
[…]
Laborer, drift through a dark
Remote from clay and lime.
O do not tunnel through the night
In unpaid overtime.

Although fully aware of the dangers of excessive retrospection (in “Fire in the City,” from 1972, Replansky noted: “We’ll turn into salt / if we turn to look back”) she nevertheless retained an awareness of wartime losses and, specifically, of the fate of Europe’s Jews. She translated Bertolt Brecht and other German poets, and also verse by the Yiddish poet Itzik Manger, which is included in the new anthology. “Korczak and the Orphans” also dates from 1970, with Replansky expressing, more than a quarter-century after the events described, her emotions about the story of Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish educator who refused to abandon the Jewish children in his charge, accompanying them instead in deportation to the Treblinka concentration camp from the Warsaw Ghetto:

He made his choice.
He went with them.
Their eyes so large,
Their ribs so plain
[…]
In the bookkeeping
Of the butchers
How small an entry
This would make:
192 children,
13 adults.

For some decades, Replansky has shared her life in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with the American Jewish author Eva Kollisch, a professor emerita at Sarah Lawrence College. Born in Vienna in 1925, Kollisch was rescued from the Nazis on a 1939 Kindertransport to the United Kingdom, eventually arriving in America in 1940. Like Replansky, Kollisch started out working in factories during World War II, but eventually became a specialist in German and comparative literature. In 2000, Kollisch published the memoir “Girl in Movement,” about her life as a young Viennese Jewish refugee in Staten Island, and in 2008, she published, “The Ground Under My Feet,” a meditation on being a Holocaust survivor.

Despite all this, Replansky has retained an inner blitheness that has drawn her to other high-spirited writings by such poets as W.H. Auden, Marie Ponsot and the late British author Stevie Smith. Not only did Replansky admire Smith (1902–1971) — a strong influence on her later work — and conduct a correspondence with her, she even made a pilgrimage to the ailing Smith’s home in Palmers Green, a London suburb, in 1969. Unlike Smith, whose most famous poem is titled “Not Waving but Drowning,” Replansky, through her art, has been waving, and decidedly not drowning. While some Jewish women writers, such as Tillie Olsen have expressed resentment about the interruptions to their literary productivity caused by life and work, Replansky seems to bear no grudges. Instead, she is modestly apologetic for her less-than-prolific output over the years. In the foreword to her collection, she writes, “Forgive me my unwritten poems:/ how many have I trampled, / how many ignored.”

Benjamin Ivry is a frequent contributor to the Forward.


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 does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • 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.