Naomi Replansky, a poet known for works about working-class life and the turmoil of the 20th century, passed away at the age of 104 on Saturday.
Replansky was born in 1918 in the Bronx to Russian Jewish immigrants Sol and Fannie (Ginsberg) Replansky. Despite writing poetry since her teens, Replansky only published her works a few times throughout nearly a century of writing.
In an interview with Bridges, a Jewish feminist journal, Replansky recounted that she wrote her first poem at the age of 10 about the movie Metropolis. The poem began:
Hark, hear the bell's sad muffled roar,And through the open door,Come millions of workers with bodies worn,The overseers look at them in scorn.
Her first book of poetry, Ring Song, was published in 1952 and nominated for a National Book Award. Her next book of poetry, Twenty One Poems Old and New, came thirty years later and was published in 1988. A few years later, she published The Dangerous World: New and Selected Poems 1934–1994 and then almost two decades later she published Collected Poems.
At 101, Naomi Replansky and her partner Eva Kollisch, 95, experienced the worst moments of the 20th century. Together since 1986, they both survived the Spanish Flu, the Depression and the Holocaust. Their stories are examples of resistance and resilience. pic.twitter.com/IVMkQuyx8i— Museu do Holocausto (@MHolocausto_en) April 17, 2020
While Ring Song drew accolades, it also drew some criticism, as Replansky used rhyme and rhythms which were unfashionable at the time. Replansky stated in Contemporary Women Poets in 1997 that her main poetic influences were "William Blake, folk songs, Shakespeare, George Herbert, Emily Dickinson and Japanese poetry."
Replansky identified with the communist movement as a youth and wrote many poems about labor, poverty, racism and the Holocaust. In the Bridges interview, the poet stated that she was "a liberal, a socialist with a small 's,' skeptical of ideologies but socially committed."
"Poetry for me is a way of mastering the world. Strong emotions come to me in the shape of poetry."Naomi Replansky
"Poetry for me is a way of mastering the world. Strong emotions come to me in the shape of poetry," said the poet.
One verse she wrote in 1943 cited by the LA Review of Books read:
A brick not used in buildingCan smash a window pane.For anyone with ears to hearLet it be said again.A brick not used in buildingCan smash a window pane.
Replansky said that she would have loved to live in Paris, but was unable to leave the US in the 1950s after her passport was revoked, apparently due to her leftist ideology, according to The New York Times. Poetry was not her only profession as she worked in offices, on assembly lines, as a lathe operator and as an early computer programmer, among other professions.
While Replansky was not as well known as some other poets, her work was strongly admired by fellow poets and writers.
"An intensely political poet, appalled by the cruelty, greed, and corruption of the masters of nations and corporations, appalled and enraged. I was drawn first to her lyricism, but I soon saw the rightness of her vision."American Jewish poet Phillip Levine
American Jewish poet Phillip Levine described Replansky as "an intensely political poet, appalled by the cruelty, greed, and corruption of the masters of nations and corporations, appalled and enraged. I was drawn first to her lyricism, but I soon saw the rightness of her vision."
American short-story writer Grace Paley described Replansky's poetry as "a music for which readers of poetry have been lonesome for years."
"Naomi Replansky must be counted among the most brilliant American poets,” Pulitzer Prize-winning poet George Oppen said in the early 1980s, according to The New York Times. “That she has not received adequate praise is one of the major mysteries of the world of poetry.
Replansky also translated a number of plays and poems from German and Yiddish authors.
'Hitler made me a Jew'
Of her Jewish identity, Replansky related to Bridges that she grew up in a secular household, but that her Jewish identity was "very" important to her. "Hitler made me a Jew. Before, I considered myself an internationalist-and maybe more involved with Black causes than with Jewish," said the poet. "I don't at all 'practice' in the religious sense. I'm secular."
Concerning Israel, Replansky stated that she was happy for the existence of the state after the Holocaust and was a member of Peace Now as of 2002.
Replansky met her partner, Eva Kollisch in the 1980s at a reading by Paley. The two married in 2009. Kollisch was saved from the Holocaust on the Kindertransport to England in 1939.
In 2015, Replansky and Kollisch received the Clara Lemlich Award honoring women who have spent their lives working for the larger good.
Replansky is survived by Kollisch, her stepson, journalist Uri Berliner, and a step-grandson.