Gil Orlovitz Essay - Critical Essays

Orlovitz, Gil


Gil Orlovitz 1918–1973

American poet, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, and editor.

Orlovitz has written sonnets, lyrics, satires, and biographical masques, using a variety of experimental verbal techniques. The formlessness of his novel, Milkbottle H, led to its being termed a "no-novel" by one critic and a "long poem" by another, even as the exuberance of his language was praised.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80; obituary, Vols. 45-48 and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2: American Novelists since World War II; Vol. 5: American Poets since World War II.)

George Dillon

[In The Diary of Dr. Eric Zero Mr. Orlovitz has] given us a youthful dada with something of the early gaiety, in which each poem is an "assassin-entrechat sprung back from the costumes of commitment." They do not rely, however, on the products of free association, which have lost their power to surprise. Mr. Orlovitz can create an atmosphere of unrelieved horror, as in the poem On Certain Areas, but in this book his strong point is epigram: "And for canteens of contentment / we carry neo-pantheisms / into our abysms." "After five years of psychoanalysis a patient adjusted to suicide." "Do not let the meter run too long / when you take a trip in a macabre. / There are no dedications worth the slab." "Catch things before they will never go!" When the leap is executed, it is due to a perfectly conscious wit. (pp. 293-94)

George Dillon, "Style and the Many-Headed Beast," in Poetry (© 1955 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. LXXXVI, No. 5, August, 1955, pp. 287-95.∗

Henry Birnbaum

Gil Orlovitz makes a genuine swan dive into imagination. (p. 408)

In The Diary of Alexander Patience, Gil Orlovitz strains meaning and metaphor. His purpose is to distort the commonplace so that it may be newly observed. Never completely successful, he makes a trying and interesting experiment of it. Sometimes he loses his reader in one of his contrived sexual niches, and sometimes he drives him to a non sequitur. But as often Orlovitz shocks his reader into awareness by striking a sleeping and satisfied nerve.

Orlovitz is modern urban American in his use of deceitful obscene-like devices to challenge primness, and in his linguistic somersaults. He is versatile and pyrotechnic, and he is difficult to look at. One becomes annoyed with his invention but one desires more of it. Half of him is genuine, the other half ingenious. He cannot be taken at face value, but he permits no bargaining. At worst he is a daring failure. At his current best he is a talented and comic inventor of paradox and challenge.

"Alexander Patience", who may be partially identified with Orlovitz, is a free-thinker whose verse diary records civiliza-tion's grotesques [and bitingly characterizes American society]…. In one (half) serious poem, Orlovitz allows a talking ape-man to join a veteran horse-bettor in a strained effort to keep a drunken pregnant woman from being arrested. The scene is comic, but the...

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David Ignatow

With Selected Poems Gil Orlovitz can be considered as one of the very few satirical poets in America today. The slashing attack, the verbal exuberance, the leaps and somersaults of his imagination are phenomenal. (p. 247)

A quick reading of [the long poem, "The Rooster,"] becomes a bewildering experience indeed. None of the parts seems to fit with any other, and the whole gives an impression of absolute wilful disorder. [Orlovitz] has learned from Joyce's stream of "unconsciousness", and, one would say, with disastrous results. Rereading the poem slowly, curious about the personality that fathered it, and from hints within the poem itself, assuming a not completely confused mind there, one begins to see among antiphonal lines and parts an intimate relationship ideographically directed and building to a self-contained visionary whole…. [It] becomes clear that we have, kaleidoscoped for pungency and tone, a devastating introductory comment on the cultural abyss into which Mr. Orlovitz believes we have fallen. He has juxtaposed the foibles of science, economics, politics, television, and love to arrive at an effect of total societal inanity; and we are not inclined to challenge it….

He ends free of the nightmare. In many poems he confesses under different disguises to his own guilt feelings. Nevertheless, he achieves a detachment working through the poem itself. Gil Orlovitz is an important satirical poet for our times, writing with all the gusto and drive of a man whose feelings are freed. (p. 248)

David I gnatow, "Engagements," in Poetry (© 1962 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. XCIX, No. 4, January, 1962, pp. 247-53.∗

Kevin Sullivan

The successor to the anti-novel would seem to be, inevitably, the no-novel. This might be defined as a genre that no longer experiments with form but discards all form and concentrates on the presentation of immediately felt experience or, more accurately, allows that experience to present itself. In this sense Milkbottle H (more about that title in a moment) is a no-novel, and Gil Orlovitz a no-novelist, which is to say a writer, and essentially a poet, whose explosive, sprawling, nonstop prose insists constantly on its own self-sufficiency. To the traditional eye it will appear as formless as lava and as uncontainable, for there is in fact no container for the verbal energies at work here, no plot, no beginning and no end to the rush and crush of language….

The scene is Philadelphia, well off the Main Line, with occasional side-shifts to Los Angeles and New York. The time seems to be around World War II, but time is in wild flux around the characters, who are unencumbered by any dimension.

Chief among them is a young Jew named Lee Emanuel who is enmeshed in a web of sexual and familial relationships that are constantly shifting, breaking off, reforming and through all their permutations making impossible any sense of permanent identity. Lee is beset by women, most of them unappetizing: Rena Goldstein, whom he marries and abuses and who deserves every bit of it; Nina, a nutty but essentially sympathetic artist; Terry Shannon, the one shiksa in the lot, and unassorted aunts and female relations whose incestuous designs upon Lee are like those of all his women—a kind of psycho-sexual engulfment raising the possibility that he might be reborn again in all of them. And indeed something very like this seems to be at the root of Lee Emanuel's comic agony. Solipsist and infantile, he carries his physical presence as the mere outward sign of a metaphysical quandary....

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J. D. Scott

It is significant, I think, that quite early in "Milkbottle H" one of the characters refers to Joyce's "magnificently beautiful 'Ulysses'." For while Gil Orlovitz's novel is not Joycean in style—to be Joycean in style, you need to have a vast range of expression—it is written throughout in one of Joyce's modes. Thus it breaks up the conventional stream of narration and dialogue into rapidly shifting patterns of association and disassociation. It "plays" with ideas, words, images, sequences of events. This makes it hard to give an account of what "happens" in "Milkbottle H."…

Because all of the action is given in apparently random order amid showers of verbal fireworks, and because of the deliberate confusion about the names of the characters, [the plot] … is not easy to follow. The author has added other obstacles; for example, Rena is a compulsive liar, so that some of what one learns about her turns out not to be true. Even the literary illusions are tricky….

Is this very long and complex novel worth the care that must be taken to follow it and the frustration encountered in doing so? In spite of sympathy with the author's intentions, admiration for his tenacity, and pleasure (occasionally vivid) in his use of words, my own answer would be no, not really. It seems to belong too much to the avant-garde past.

J. D. Scott, "Ulysses in Philadelphia," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 4, 1968, p. 36.

Hale Chatfield

The chief obstacles to any immediate appreciation of Orlovitz's poems are their considerable "difficulty" and the fact that he regularly offends our age's bias against puns. It is the latter of these obstacles that is undoubtedly the more momentous, for not only does the contemporary eye regard even the best of puns as brothers to the cliché, but it looks askance at all wordplay and persuades the intelligence that so much spectacle may serve to mask a poverty of substance, that so energetic an appearance can function to obscure many an effete reality. When the eye bugs and the intellect boggles at a poet's technique, what is needed for effective communication is either a bold and obvious poetic content...

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Gerald Stern

To write about Gil Orlovitz's poetry is difficult for a number of reasons. For one thing, there doesn't exist a common or overriding generalized attitude, or perception, of the poetry. That is, there is not a critical or literary "posture" the way there is with, say, Cummings, or Lowell. It is not only a question of Cummings and Lowell being better known, or that there is a critical body of literature surrounding, and supporting, them. I think it has to do as well with Orlovitz's poetry itself, its complexity and diversity….

[Another] difficulty in writing about Orlovitz is that the position assumed in his poems, the posture, the moral stance, the mostly public communicable part of it, has to do to...

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