Charles Reznikoff reads from By the Waters of Manhattan and other publications.

*Note that after the publication of By the Waters of Manhattan: Selected Verse (New Directions, 1962), Reznikoff re-organized and edited several of the poems and included them in later publications like The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff.

George Bowering

00:00:00.00

I'd like to welcome you all to our third reading, and announce just before I have to say what I say that the next reading will be with Darryl Hine on the first of December.  Tonight's reading will be by, as you probably all know, Mr. Charles Reznikoff, whom I'm very happy to have the job, the chore of introducing, because I've been interested in his work for many years.  He was born in Brooklyn, 1894, and graduated from the law school of New York University, admitted to the bar of the state of New York but never practiced, however, the law experience has stood him in good stead for his later poetry.  He's published a number of volumes of verse and several volumes of prose, but most to the point, books that you probably saw on the table outside, in print by New Directions and the San Francisco Review, By the Waters of Manhattan, which was this joint effort's first book in 1962, and in 1965, Testimony, which is the first volume in a projected series of volumes about the moral and legal history of the United States.  The main--my--the reason I said that I'm very happy about Mr. Reznikoff is because when I was going to university I was very hard looking for an alternative to the kind of poetry that was in vogue, especially in the universities, that is, that which tended towards T.S. Eliot and highly symbolic language, and Mr. Reznikoff was one of the first poets I found able to do that for me, and I found a short poem of his which I would like to be brash enough to read, as introduction.  He said, "Not because of victories I sing, having none, but for the common sunshine, the breeze, the largesse of spring.  Not for victory, but for the day's work done, as well as I was able, not for a seat upon the dais, but at the common table."  So to this common table, rather than dais, I'd like to welcome Mr. Charles Reznikoff.

 

Annotation

00:02:34.43

Applause

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:02:56.21

Very much obliged to the gentleman who introduced me, among other things, for reading something I did.  Perhaps I should ask him to read all that I brought along.  But to get down to what I have here, let me say, to begin with, a few days ago, I came across in a bookshop a collection of Chinese verse translated into English.  At the beginning was the following, written a thousand years ago, and I was very much impressed with it, and permit me to read it to you as a sort of an introduction.  This man who wrote in the 11th century, this Chinese, said this.  "Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling.  It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling."  I thought that was...expressed exactly what I feel, and what I have tried to do, not always, not always, I'm afraid, as well as called for, but a recipe.  Among other things, let me begin by reading a couple of things I did also on the way I think verse should be written.  And this is from this, By the Waters of Manhattan.

 

Annotation

00:04:47.93

Reads "Salmon and Red Wine" [INDEX: process, writing life, travel, Bible]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:05:39.22

That's the first in this.  And the second, I did on the same theme, in a way.

 

Annotation

00:05:47.22

Reads "I have neither the time nor the weaving skill, perhaps"  [INDEX: craft, descriptive]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:06:13.27

Now, let me start with a group which I've written about the city I come from, New York, and its suburbs, and some of its residents, including myself.

 

Annotation

00:06:27.65

Reads "The winter afternoon darkens" [INDEX: cities, New York, work]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:06:44.69

And this I call "The Scrubwoman"

 

Annotation

00:06:48.50

Reads "The Scrubwoman" [INDEX: cities, New York, work, poverty]

 

Annotation

00:07:07.64

Reads "The peddler who goes from shop to shop" [INDEX: cities, New York, work]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:07:27.45

And this next.

 

Annotation

00:07:31.76

Reads “The elevator man"  [INDEX: cities, New York, poverty, work]

 

Annotation

00:07:54.56

Reads "The shopgirls leave their work"  [INDEX: cities, New York, work]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:08:16.06

This one I call "Cooper Union Library."  I should add, it's no longer that way, this is the way it used to be.

 

Annotation

00:08:23.80

Reads "Cooper Union Library" [INDEX: cities, New York, reading]

 

Annotation

00:08:42.86

Reads "Showing a Torn Sleeve" [INDEX: cities, New York, poverty, food, age]

 

Annotation

00:09:06.12

Reads "Two girls of twelve or so at a table"  [INDEX: cities, New York, poverty, food, age]

 

Annotation

00:09:54.06

Reads "I am always surprised to meet"  [INDEX: cities, New York, death]

 

Annotation

00:10:23.62

Reads "Rails in the Subway" [INDEX: cities, New York, transportation, building]

 

Annotation

00:10:35.20

Audience laughter

 

Annotation

00:10:41.40

Reads "This subway station, with its electric lights"  [INDEX: cities, New York, transportation, building]

 

Annotation

00:10:58.59

Audience laughter

 

Annotation

00:11:06.92

Reads "Among the heaps of brick and plaster lies"  [INDEX: cities, New York, building]

 

Annotation

00:11:18.73

Reads "The sky is blue"  [INDEX: cities, New York, water, pollution]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:11:42.90

This I call "Suburban River Winter."

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:11:48.74

Reads "Suburban River Winter"  [INDEX: cities, New York, water]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:12:07.89

And this too I call "Suburban River," this is "Summer."

 

Annotation

00:12:13.81

Reads "Suburban River, Summer" [INDEX: cities, New York, water, women]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:12:38.27

This I call "Twilight."

 

Annotation

00:12:40.20

Reads "Twilight"  [INDEX: nature, sky, horse]

 

Annotation

00:12:56.17

Reads "Frasier, I think, tells of a Roman..." [INDEX: nature, New York]

 

Annotation

00:13:16.59

Laughter follows the line, "...and I do not think it would be allowed in Central Park."

 

Annotation

00:13:21.50

Reads "The dogs that walk with me”  [INDEX: time, nature, now, here, if]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:13:44.35

This I call "A Fable"

 

Annotation

00:13:46.54

Reads "A Fable"  [INDEX: solitude, friendship, woods, song, joke]

 

Annotation

00:14:15.43

Reads "Scrap of paper"  [INDEX: money, streets]

 

Annotation

00:14:28.41

Reads "One of my sentinels, a tree"  [INDEX: summer, seasons, time, nature]

 

Annotation

00:14:45.83

Reads "I have not even been in the fields"  [INDEX: age, time, seasons, wind]

 

Annotation

00:15:01.16

Reads "How grey you are, no white”  [INDEX: age, body, death, friends, dog]

 

Annotation

00:15:25.42

Reads ["Blurred sight, and trembling fingers"]  [INDEX: age]

 

Annotation

00:15:47.35

Reads "You were young and contemptuous" [INDEX: youth, contempt, sleep]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:16:03.10

This I call "Hardened Clock," there's a series in here.

 

Annotation

00:16:09.29

Reads "Hardened Clock" [INDEX: time, sun, cycles, clocks, stars]

 

Annotation

00:16:51.03

Reads "If my days were like the ant's" [INDEX: time, ant, carpe diem]

 

Annotation

00:17:18.15

Reads "Our nightingale, the clock" [INDEX: time, clocks, birds, nightingale, nature]

 

Annotation

00:17:32.73

Reads "The clock on the bookcase ticks"  [INDEX: time, clocks, insects, consumption]

 

Annotation

00:17:47.99

Reads "My hair was caught in the wheels of a clock"  [INDEX; age, clocks, time, baldness]

 

Annotation

00:17:58.97

Reads "Of course we must die" [INDEX: death, telephone numbers]

 

Annotation

00:18:20.46

Reads "Now it is cold"  [INDEX: age, time, winter, seasons, death, birds, sparrows, sun, tree, anger, statues, weather, Don Juan, St. Francis]

 

Annotation

00:19:33.53

Reads "It had been snowing at night"  [INDEX: winter, snow, time, weather, morning]

 

Annotation

00:19:54.65

Reads "Hardly a breath of wind"  [INDEX: wind, leaves, fate]

 

Annotation

00:20:14.99

Reads "After I had worked all day"  [INDEX: work, fatigue, strength, tide]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:20:42.85

Now I have a group that I will call 'religious,' for perhaps no better word, and this I call "Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays," and the first is “New Year's”. As many of you, or some of you may know, no doubt, the Jewish New Year's comes in the fall.  This is based on it.

 

Annotation

00:21:11.09

Reads "Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays: New Year's"  [INDEX: religious, holiday, water, farewell, death, harvest, autumn, trees, beginning, God, holidays, seasons, Israel, Judaism, peace, grief, servants, inheritance, remembrance]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:23:19.79

And I call the next one "The Day of Atonement."

 

Annotation

00:23:24.02

Reads "The Day of Atonement"  [INDEX: time, religious, holiday, Judaism, Yom Kippur, God, time, day, write, rabbi, creation, world, men]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:24:50.16

And this I call "Hanukah" which incidentally is a holiday that's just about to come, and it, as some of you may know, it represents the victory, a festival celebrating the victory of the Macabees over the Syrians, about 150 B.C.E.

 

Annotation

00:25:14.34

Reads "Hanukah"  [INDEX: religious, holiday, Hanukah, Judaism, death, water, songs, remembrance, power, God]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:26:59.84

I don't know why I should be having a cold on this occasion but, [laughs] these things [blows nose]

 

Annotation

00:27:18.58

Reads "The lamps are burning in the synagogue" [INDEX: religious, Judaism, travel, tradition, remembrance, names, knowledge, ignorance, eternal life]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:28:40.24

This one I call "Samuel."  Samuel in the Bible, of course.

 

Annotation

00:28:47.75

Reads "Samuel"  [INDEX: religious, Judaism, Bible, tradition, spirit, fire, seasons, waiting, service]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:30:06.27

These are all from By the Waters of Manhattan, and I'm going to read you, if I may, something quite different, from the volume called Testimony, and which I call "Recitative."

 

Annotation

00:30:27.74

Reads "Recitative" [INDEX: birth, water, fire, murder, death]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:31:15.02

That's the first.  This, these, incidentally, I might say, are all based on law cases.  Ah...I don't know what...whether that'll excuse their ferocity, but apparently something like that once happened.  The names are different.  The facts are the same.

 

Annotation

00:31:39.46

Reads "Tilda was just a child...”  [INDEX: adolescence, girl, menstruation, work, rural, domestic]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:32:49.86

And this is the third in this.

 

Annotation

00:32:53.71

Reads "Years ago, a company procured a body of land..."  [INDEX: company, land, urban planning, city, Mississippi City, streets, railroad, depot, pier, bankruptcy]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:33:44.91

Now...let's see, if I may, the time...Here is a poem with which I generally end these readings but I don't intend to end this unless you wish me to because I have some other things to read.  But I'll end it right here anyway and then we'll see how much time is left. I call this, "Kaddish."  Now, it's not the Kaddish for mourners that you might know about.  It was written at the beginning of the rise of Hitler.  I did it; I mean, I did the writing, not the Kaddish, which is very old.  It was written at the beginning of the rise of Hitler and his influence, and before his extermination program was put into effect.  It's really an ancient blessing in the Jewish ritual.  And incidentally, I use that word "Torah," and I doubt, it may be strange to many, but James Parks, I notice, in his History of the Jewish People, has defined it, correctly, I think, "The word Torah," he says, "has been defined as law, but is much wider in meaning.  It applies a way of life."  Now this is this "Kaddish."

 

Annotation

00:35:09.27

Reads "Kaddish."  [INDEX: religious, Judaism, Kaddish, Torah, Israel, blessing]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:36:43.71

This ends the, let's say the first part.  And I'll continue, if you like, with some others, unless you're all...[inaudible]

 

Annotation

00:36:51.35

Loud applause concludes this section of the reading.

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:37:04.11

Well I, if, I shall continue, if you're not all exhausted.  I have here, quite a few things that are not arranged in any way, so they're more or less haphazard.  And...this is one.  Let's see...well this one is “After Reading Translations of Ancient Texts on Stone and Clay”

 

Annotation

00:37:37.87

Reads “After Reading Translations of Ancient Texts on Stone and Clay”.  [INDEX: religious, Bible, Judaism, Moses, Israel, Pharoah, Egypt, soldiers]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:38:47.97

Now, these, these are much less organized than that, haphazard, you'll have to take them as they come if we keep on.

 

Annotation

00:39:00.71

Reads "As I was wandering with my unhappy thoughts"  [INDEX: unhappiness, sun, wind, paradise, Adam]

 

Annotation

00:39:36.77

Reads "The young fellow walks about with nothing to do"  [INDEX: work, unemployment, cigarettes, youth, stranger]

 

Annotation

00:40:09.43

Reads “A well-phrased eulogy" [INDEX: funeral, death, eulogy, politeness]

 

Annotation

00:40:44.89

Reads "On a Sunday, when the place was closed"  [INDEX: mouse, food, God, blessing]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:41:12.40

Now here are two earlier testimony, two or more things based on a law case, which I call "Testimony," and these were included in that same By the Waters of Manhattan.

 

Annotation

00:41:28.65

Reads "The Company had advertised for men"  [INDEX: company, work, dock, water, ice, river, death]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:43:13.10

That's the first, and this is the second.

 

Annotation

00:43:16.72

Reads "Amelia was just fourteen"  [INDEX: work, orphanage, youth, girl, books, wound]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:44:33.83

That's the second.  I have some more I'd like to get at before I close.  Well, this I wrote for my wife.  Pity she isn't here, but we'll read it in her absence.

 

Annotation

00:44:55.03

Reads "Malicious women greet you, saying..."  [INDEX: love poem, women, beauty, timeless]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:45:38.36

Now, this, this is a kind of counterpiece to this I have just read. It was not written for my wife. [Laughter.]

 

Annotation

00:45:56.34

Reads "He had with him a bag"  [INDEX: scolding, walking, wives, husbands, marriage]

 

Annotation

00:46:38.44

Laughter follows this poem.

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:46:42.82

I'm reading this 'cause..."On a seat"...maybe it would....I think this is rather appropriate in view of all the Hebrew things I read.

 

Annotation

00:46:56.96

Reads "On a seat in the subway"  [INDEX: cities, subway, Judaism, work, discrimination, racial, sadness, Aryan]

 

Annotation

00:47:41.90

Reads "Permit me to warn you" [INDEX: car, accident]

 

Annotation

00:47:51.91

Laughter follows this poem.

 

Annotation

00:47:59.78

Reads "These days, the papers in the street"  [INDEX: cities, streets, sun]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:48:36.96

Let me close, unless it...if I should...with something that I tried to do which may be something to close with.  This is based on the Book of Ezra, and the Book of Ezra, according to my note, I've probably forgotten by this time, is, 'This is a rearrangement and a versification of parts of the Fourth Book of Ezra.'  And that's what it's called in the appendix to the Vulgate, or two aztras ??? of the Protestant Apocrypha.  And I based this upon a translation of this Book of Ezra from the Syriac by a friend of mine who taught, and I have their permission and all, but the original was probably, there's quite a discussion as to what the original was right, and some scholars believe that it was in Greek, and a Doctor Bocks, who was in, G.H. Bocks, thinks that it was in Hebrew, and Bloch, who was, they had in 42nd Street at the library, didn't think that it was in either Greek or Hebrew, but Aramaic.  Anyway, excuse me just, [laughs], anyway, I will read it, and its adaptation of it, and see what one can do with things that you...clear up.

 

Annotation

00:50:12.55

Reads “Because I saw the desolation of Zion" [INDEX: Bible, Judaism, Ezra, Zion, God, prayer, angel, heaven, hell, fire, wind, sea, dialogue, Israel, plants, seeds, earth]

 

Charles Reznikoff

00:53:33.51

And I think this is enough, perhaps, for a time.

 

Annotation

00:53:36.68

Loud applause concludes the reading.

 

Introducer

00:54:01.26

What else, thank you very much, Mr. Reznikoff, and I'd just like to repeat that the next reading is at, two weeks from tonight, December the first, Daryl Hine, who's a graduate of the other university.

 

Annotation

00:54:21.19

END OF RECORDING.

Charles Reznikoff at SGWU, 1967

Tape
Catalog numberI006-11-153
Duration00:54:21.19
Sound qualityGood
Reading
SpeakersCharles Reznikoff, introduced by George Bowering
VenueArt Gallery
DateNovember 17, 1967

Supplemental Material

Timestamps

00:00- Introducer - George Bowering introduces Charles Reznikoff.

02:56- Charles Reznikoff introduces “Salmon and Red Wine”.

04:47- Reads first line “Salmon and red wine”.

05:39- Introduces first line “I have neither the time nor the weaving skill, perhaps...”.

05:47- Reads first line “I have neither the time nor the weaving skill, perhaps...”.

06:13- Introduces unknown poem, first line “The winter afternoon darkens...”

06:27- Reads unknown poem, first line “The winter afternoon darkens...”.

06:44- Introduces “The Scrubwoman”.

06:48- Reads “The Scrubwoman”.

07:07- Reads unknown poem, first line “The peddler who goes from shop to shop...”.

07:31- Reads first line “The elevator man”.

07:54- Reads unknown poem, first line “The shopgirls leave their work...”. ,

08:16- Introduces “Cooper Union Library”.

08:23- Reads “Cooper Union Library”.

08:42- Reads unknown poem, first line “Showing a torn sleeve...”.

09:06- Reads “Two girls of twelve or so at a table”.

09:54- Reads first line “I am always surprised to meet...”

10:23- Reads unknown poem, first line “Rails in the subway”.

10:41- Reads unknown poem, first line “This subway station, with it’s electric lights”.

11:06- Reads unknown poem, first line “Among the heaps of brick and plaster lies...”.

11:18- Reads unknown poem, first line “The sky is blue...”.

12:13- Reads “Suburban River, Summer”.

12:40- Reads “Twilight”.

13:16- Reads first line “Frasier, I think, tells of a Roman...”.

13:31- Reads first line “The dogs that walk with me...”.

13:46- Reads “Fable”.

14:15- Reads first line “Scrap of paper”.

14:28- Reads first line “One of my sentinels, a tree...”.

14:45- Reads poem, first line “I have not even been in the fields...”.

15:01- Reads poem, first line “How grey are you, no white...”.

15:25- Reads poem, first line “Blurred sight, and trembling fingers...”.

16:03- Introduces “Hardened Clock”.

16:09- Reads “Hardened Clock”.

16:51- Reads poem, fist line “If my days were like the ant’s...”.

17:18- Reads poem, first line “Our nightingale, the clock...”.

17:32- Reads poem, first line “The clock on the bookcase ticks...”.

17:47- Reads poem, first line “My hair was caught in the wheels of a clock...”.

17:58- Reads poem, first line “Of course we must die...”.

18:20- Reads poem, first line “Now it is cold...”.

19:33- Reads poem, first line “It had been snowing at night...”.

19:54- Reads poem, first line “Hardly a breath of wind...”.

20:14- Reads poem, first line: “After I had worked all day...”.

20:42- Introduces group called ‘religious’, poem called “Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays”.

21:11- Reads “New Year’s” from “Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays”.

23:19- Introduces “Day of Atonement”.

23:24- Reads “Day of Atonement”.

24:50- Introduces “Hanukah”.

25:14- Reads “Hanukah”.

27:18- Reads poem, first line, “The lamps are burning in the synagogue...”

28:40- Introduces “Samuel”.

28:47- Reads “Samuel”.

30:06- Introduces “Recitative”.

30:27- Reads “Recitative”.

31:15- Introduces poem, first line “Tilda was just a child...”.

31:59- Reads poem, first line “Tilda was just a child...”.

32:53- Reads poem, first line, “Years ago, a company procured a body of land...”.

33:44- Introduces “Kaddish”.

35:09- Reads “Kaddish”.

37:04- Introduces “After Reading Translations of Ancient Texts on Stone and Clay”.

37:37- Reads “After Reading Translations of Ancient Texts on Stone and Clay”.

38:47- Introduces “As I was wandering with my unhappy thoughts...”

39:00- Reads “As I was wandering with my unhappy thoughts...”.

39:36- Reads “The young fellow walks about with nothing to do”.

40:09- Reads “A well-phrased eulogy”.

40:44- Reads “On a Sunday, when the place was closed”.

41:12- Introduces “Testimony”.

41:28- Reads “The company had advertised for men...”.

43:13- Introduces “Amelia was just fourteen...”.

43:16- Reads “Amelia was just fourteen...”

44:33- Introduces “Malicious women greet you, saying...”.

44:55- Reads “Malicious women greet you, saying...”. 

45:38- Introduces “He had with him a bag”.

45:56- Reads “He had with him a bag”.

46:38- Introduces “On a seat in the subway”.

46:56- Reads “On a seat in the subway”.

47:41- Reads “Permit me to warn you...”.

47:59- Reads “These days, the papers in the street...”.

48:36- Introduces “Because I saw the desolation of Zion...”.

50:12- Reads “Because I saw the desolation of Zion”.

54:01- Unknown introducer thanks Charles Reznikoff, announces next reading: Daryl Hine on December 1st.

References

Heller, Michael. “Reznikoff, Charles". The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English. Ian Hamilton (ed). Oxford University Press, 1996. Oxford Reference Online. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 11, 2009  <http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.mercury.concordia.ca/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t58.e996>.

 

“The Register of Charles Reznikoff Papers 1912-1976”. Mandeville Special Collections Library, Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego. October 31, 2005. Archive Description. November 11, 2009. <http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/testing/html/mss0009a.html>.

 

“Reznikoff, Charles”. Poets.org. The Academy of American Poets, 2007-2009. November 11, 2009. <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/694>.

 

“Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976”. Literature Online Biography. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 2000. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 11, 2009. < http://0- gateway.proquest.com.mercury.concordia.ca/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion-us&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:ref:BIO001782:0>.

 

"Reznikoff, Charles". The Oxford Companion to American Literature. James D. Hart, ed., rev. Phillip W. Leininger. Oxford University Press 1995. Oxford Reference Online. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 11, 2009  <http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.mercury.concordia.ca/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t123.e4049>.

 

"Reznikoff, Charles". The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature. James D. Hart (ed). Oxford University Press, 1986. Oxford Reference Online. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 11, 2009 <http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.mercury.concordia.ca/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t53.e1672>.

 

“Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976”. Literature Online Bibliography. Cambridge: Proquest, 2008. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 11, 2009. < http://0-gateway.proquest.com.mercury.concordia.ca/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion-us&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:ref:BIBLIOG001782:0>.

 

“Poetry Readings”. Post-Grad. [Sir George Williams University, Montreal.] Spring 1967: page 20.

 

“Poetry Readings”. OP-ED. [Sir George Williams University, Montreal.] October 6, 1967: page 6.

 

“SGWU To Have Poetry Series”. The Gazette. September 14, 1967: page 15. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=np8tAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PKAFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4195,2837932&dq=sir+george+williams+poetry&hl=en>.

 

Transcription by: Rachel Kyne

Print Catalogue, “Introduction”, Research and Edits by: Celyn Harding-Jones


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