Carl Rakosi was born on November 6, 1903, to Hungarian nationals Leopold Rakosi and Flora Steiner, who were at that time living in Berlin. The young Rakosi was brought to the United States in 1910; his father and stepmother reared him and his brother in various midwestern cities—Chicago; Gary, Indiana; and Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rakosi made many attempts to begin a career. After earning his B.A. in literature at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he tried social work in Cleveland and New York City. He returned to Madison for an M.A. in educational psychology and then worked as the staff psychologist in the personnel department at Bloomingdale’s for a time. He taught English at the University of Texas at Austin and made forays into law school (in Austin) and medical school (in Galveston). Having found neither law nor medicine congenial, he taught high school in Houston for two years. At the outset of the Depression, he tried social work again, returning to Chicago to work at the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare. By now he had changed his name, to Callman Rawley. He served a two-year stint as a supervisor at the Federal Transit Bureau in New Orleans; then, following a period of working as a field supervisor for Tulane University, he started to work—in a pioneering role—as a family therapist at the Jewish Family Welfare Society in New York. At the same time, he pursued graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania; in 1940 he received an M.A. in social work.
His professional course was now clear. After three years as a case supervisor at the Jewish Social Service Bureau in St. Louis and two years as assistant director of the Jewish Children’s Bureau in Cleveland, he became executive director of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Minneapolis in 1945. He continued in this post until 1968; between 1958 and 1968, he also had a private practice.
One notes in this chronology the marked absence of any job directly connected to writing. Rakosi’s first spell as a poet had resulted in publication in the prestigious Little Review, alongside James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) in serial form; he had also been included in An “Objectivists” Anthology (1932), edited by Louis Zukofsky, which many years later came to be seen as a landmark event. The long hiatus that followed has been described thus by Rakosi himself:By 1939 writing was coming harder and slower to me as more of me became involved in social work and in reading and writing professional articles. . . . I wrote some sixty . . . and my evenings were swallowed up by the things that a man who is not a writer normally spends his time on in a big city: the theater, concerts, professional meetings, friends, girlfriends. . . . In addition, my Marxist thinking had made me lose respect for poetry itself. So there was nothing to hold me back from ending the problem by stopping to write. I did that. I also stopped reading poetry. I couldn’t run the risk of being tempted.
In December, 1965, he received a letter from British poet Andrew Crozier asking what had become of his poetry since 1941. This letter prompted him to take up his pen once again.
The results were soon made available to the poetry-reading public in a series of books; the work was much anthologized, and Rakosi was asked to give readings at a number of distinguished venues. This Rip Van Winkle of poetry had reawakened to a different decade—one for which his gifts appeared to have been waiting.
His résumé soon began to show many jobs related to his poetry and writing: From 1968 to 1975, he was writer-in-residence in Saratoga Springs, New York; he was writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin from 1969 to 1970; he served as a faculty member for the National Poetry Festival in 1973; and he was poet-in-residence for Michigan State University in 1974. In 1986, he became the senior editor of the literary magazine Sagetrieb, a critical journal located in Maine.
In 1939, Rakosi was married to Leah Jaffe....
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