In his poetry written in the 1930’s and 1940’s, later gathered in the first section of Poems, 1934-1969, David Ignatow projected an abiding concern for both the well-made poem, however occasionally denuded of conventional lyric devices, and a reformer’s vision of realistic life—in the city, in the streets, in the homes of the poor and outcast, who are romantically linked with the artist’s difficult lot. The subjects were traditional—marriage, murder, sex, love’s complexities, adolescence, the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt—but their treatment exhibited a diverting ability to make sudden leaps from the banal to the profound, always in language direct enough to disarm. “Autumn Leaves,” for example, moves skillfully from an ordinary image of the leaves as Depression victims to a vivid figure of God sprawling beneath a tree, gaunt in giving, “like a shriveled nut where plumpness/ and the fruit have fed the worm.” This kind of dramatic shift epitomizes Ignatow’s focus on social injustice and his often bitter struggle with a religious heritage and the questionable place of deity in a scheme of things so geared to grind down human hopes.
Surprisingly, many of the early poems betray a professional smoothness and a reliance on metaphor and balanced lines that one might not expect from a disciple of Williams; there is scant sense in these poems of a language straining for experimental intensities. “The Murderer,” an undeniable...
(The entire section is 3627 words.)
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