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A. M. Klein

Poet Details

1909–1972

The poetry of A. M. Klein reflects the Jewish experience—the cultural heritage of his people as well as the wealth of Jewish legend, tradition, and folklore to which the late poet turned for inspiration. Klein believed the function of his writing to be educational; as M. W. Steinberg noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Klein sought "to inform the non-Jewish world of the Jewish condition—its achievements and its plight—but even more important, to convey to the young Jewish North American-born generation some knowledge of their cultural heritage."

Klein's first volume of poetry, Hath Not a Jew, contains poems that reflect the Judaic culture throughout history, and which focus on the anti-Semitism so politically and socially pervasive at the time the volume was published in 1940. While Leon Edel was somewhat critical of the work in his review in Poetry, and noted that "the collection does Klein a distinct disservice in that it is not sufficiently representative of his remarkable gifts, the gift above all of eloquent rebellion," he went on to note that "despite their flaws, these poems are a poetic key to an ancient, deep-rooted, emotional and intellectual tradition. As such, they can lay claim to vitality and importance." The Hitleriad, in which Klein more specifically addressed the Nazi threat to European Jewry, is a satirical poem on the crimes of the German government. While the poem is a sound satire of the Nazi leader, the work was not successful with the general public: as Steinberg noted, "the horror of the Holocaust and the evil of its perpetrators cannot be conveyed through the conventions of satire, no matter how great nor how sincere the poet's indignation and rage."

Klein's only published novel, The Second Scroll, was inspired by a trip he made to European and North African refugee camps at the close of World War II under the sponsorship of the Canadian Jewish Congress. It is a symbolic tale of a modern-day search for a Messiah who would lead the Jews to the Promised Land; the title's significance lies in the fact that the Jewish faith is based on the Old Testament of the Bible, also referred to as the First Scroll. Harvey Swados praised the work in the Nation, calling it "the most profoundly creative summation of the Jewish condition by a Jewish man of letters since the European catastrophe." The Second Scroll proved to be Klein's final work—during the period he was at work on the novel, he became severely depressed and suicidal. Klein soon ceased writing altogether, leaving several collections of poems and essays to be published after his death.

Throughout the body of Klein's work—his essays, his fiction, and his many works of poetry—is an eloquent plea for understanding of the Jewish people and the cause other oppressed minorities as well. Although critics have found fault with his tendency to use archaic terminology, foreign words, and unconventional cadence, Klein's ability—gained through his years spent as a practicing lawyer—to construct a sound, reasonable argument and defend his position with a quick wit, has given readers a stimulating chronicle of the period in which he wrote. Steinberg's summation of Klein's work contains high praise for his "passionate convictions, his humor and wit," which give Klein's work "a depth and sophistication which, together with the broad appeal of a sentimental yearning for the past, for the childlike and fanciful, and for the simple virtues, ensure him an eminent place on the Canadian literary roster."

Bibliography

POEMS

  • Hath Not a Jew..., Behrman's Jewish Book House, 1940.
  • The Hitleriad, New Directions, 1944.
  • Poems, Jewish Publication Society of America (Philadelphia), 1944.
  • Poems of French Canada, Canadian Jewish Congress, 1947.
  • Seven Poems, Canadian Jewish Congress, 1947.
  • The Rocking Chair, and Other Poems, Ryerson Press, 1948.
  • The Collected Poems of A. M. Klein, edited with an introduction by Miriam Waddington, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974.
  • A. M. Klein: Complete Poems, edited by Zailig Pollock, Volume 1: Original Poems, 1926-1934, Volume 2: Original Poems, 1937-1955, and Poetry Translations, University of Toronto, 1990.

Also author of Huit Poemes canadiens (en anglais), 1948. Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Canadian Forum, Judean, McGill Daily, Poetry, and Nation.

OTHER

  • Hershel of Ostropol (play), published in Canadian Jewish Chronicle 26 and 27, 1939.
  • The Second Scroll (novel), Knopf, 1951.
  • (Translator) Israel Rabinovich, Of Jewish Music, Ancient and Modern, Montreal Book Centre, 1952.
  • (Adaptor) Conscience (from the play The Hands of Euridice by Pedro Bloch), translation by Claude Vincent, produced in New York City, 1952.
  • Beyond Sambation: Selected Essays and Editorials, 1928-1955, edited by M. W. Steinberg and Usher Caplan, University of Toronto Press, 1983.
  • A. M. Klein: Short Stories, edited by Steinberg, University of Toronto Press, 1983.
  • A. M. Klein: Literary Essays and Reviews, edited by Steinberg and Caplan, University of Toronto Press, 1987.

Translator of Moishe Dickstein's From Palestine to Israel, 1951. Editor of Canadian Zionist, 1936-37, andCanadian Jewish Chronicle, 1939-55. Klein's papers are housed at the Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa.

Further Readings

BOOKS

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 19, Gale, 1981.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 68: Canadian Writers, 1920-1959, Gale, 1988, pp. 194-205.
  • Fischer, G. K., In Search of Jerusalem: Religion and Ethics in the Writings of A. M. Klein, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1975.
  • Reference Guide to English Literature, 2nd edition, St. James Press, 1991.

PERIODICALS

  • Canadian Forum, February, 1941; January, 1942; November, 1974, p. 18; November, 1982, p. 21.
  • Dalhousie Review, fall, 1986, p. 368.
  • Journal of Canadian Studies, summer, 1984.
  • Nation, November 3, 1951.
  • New York Herald Tribune Book Review, December 2, 1951.
  • New York Times, November 25, 1951.
  • New York Times Book Review, October 6, 1985, p. 46.
  • Poetry, April, 1941.

OBITUARIES

  • Detroit News, August 22, 1972.
  • New York Times, August 23, 1972.

A. M. Klein

Poet Details

1909–1972

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