Monday, 26 September 2011

Emanuel Litvinoff - 1915-2011

I was sorry to hear of the death of Emanuel Litvinoff, who has died peacefully at the age of 96. He was a novelist, an editor, a poet. I particularly admired his Journey Through a Small Planet, his memoir of the Jewish East End. Emanuel Litvinoff was one of twenty poets included in the Five Leaves' anthology Passionate Renewal: Jewish poetry in Britain since 1945. At the launch, a decade ago, by then an old man, Litvinoff described, to a new generation of readers, how in 1952 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts he read his poem "To TS Eliot". He had written it following buying Eliot's Penguin Selected Poems, finding that Eliot's anti-Semitic poems from the 1920s were still included; poems like "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a cigar". Litvinoff's poem is a blistering attack on Eliot:
"I am not one accepted in your parish. / Bleistein is my relative..." and, after describing the horrors of "walking with Cohen" at Treblinka he finishes one stanza "I thought what an angry poem / you would have made of it, given the pity."
Just as Litvinoff was about to begin, in walked TS Eliot with his entourage. Litvinoff said "I nearly died", but he read the poem "and it absolutely stunned everybody". There was uproar. To his credit - reported by another Jewish poet, Dannie Abse, sitting close, Eliot put his head down and muttered "It's a good poem; it's a very good poem."
One poem in the anthology "Earth and Eden", includes the lines "When time and memory intersect the sun / there is happiness..." I hope there will be a memorial gathering and reading from Emanuel Litvinoff's work.

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