Hyam Plutzik was a 20th century American poet, journalist and university professor who made the list of finalists for a Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1961, although he did not actually win that award.
He was born on the 13th July 1911 in Brooklyn, New York into a family of Jewish immigrants from Belarus who had arrived six years earlier. The family began farming in Connecticut during Hyam’s early years and he received a rudimentary education at a one-roomed schoolhouse, moving on to a grammar school at the age of seven. Here he learned English for the first time as the languages spoken at home had been Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish. He changed school once more in 1923 when the family moved to Bristol, Connecticut. His father was head of a Jewish community school which had a well-stocked library and Hyam soon immersed himself in reading.
He was such an able student that he won a scholarship to Trinity College, with English as his major subject, and he became heavily involved in the college magazine The Trinity Tablet. He found this to be useful outlet for some of his own work and some of his poetry was published under the group title Three Paintings along with a short story called The Golus. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1932 but decided to continue his literature studies at Yale University Graduate School where he was awarded a two-year fellowship to do so. A year later his Three Paintings work won him the Yale Poetry Award and he became close friends with one of the judges, the poet Stephen Vincent Benét.
College life never really suited Plutzik and he left Yale without completing his degree, moving into a variety of jobs including writing features for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. His parents were now living in New York and he also settled there for a short time, writing poems such as one based on the New York City subway called Seventh Avenue Express. He decided that his writing might be better served with a move back to the rural settings of Connecticut and he found himself living a “Thoreauvian” lifestyle between the years 1936-37. He produced a satirical novel on a topical subject for that time – dictatorship – and also wrote a lyric poem in tribute to a sister who had died 15 years earlier. He called this My Sister and he followed this with another long poem called Death at The Purple Rim. Both of these pieces appeared in Plutzik’s first published collection of verse under the title Aspects of Proteus in 1949.
He was back at Yale in 1940 to complete a Masters’ degree and then enlisted into the Army to aid the war effort. He served in England for a time, helping with preparations for the D Day landings and continuing to write poetry. Titles inspired by his experiences at this time included the grandly titled
His post-war life was dedicated to writing and teaching. He taught in the English department at the University of Rochester and submitted work to a number of periodicals. He won many awards for his work and received much critical acclaim for powerful pieces on such emotive subjects as the Holocaust and his observations of the natural world. A good example of this was his short poem called The Geese which both celebrates the majesty of flight and mourns the birds’ eventual destruction. Here is the poem:
Hyam Plutzik died on the 8th January 1962 at the relatively young age of 50. He was survived by his wife Tanya and their four children.