Born in a Jewish ghetto in Brooklyn and ultimately to live most of his life in New York City, Charles Reznikoff drew, for all his writing, on the very circumstances and surroundings of his life. Like his near-contemporary, William Carlos Williams, the “local” was to be the source of all that was universal in his work. Reznikoff sought out his poems not only in the lives of those around him, in the newly immigrant populations seething in the New York streets, but also in the European and biblical histories and even the customs that these immigrant groups had brought with them to the New World.
Graduating from a high school in Brooklyn, Reznikoff spent a year at the new School of Journalism of the University of Missouri but returned to New York to enter the New York University Law School, a decisive move for both his livelihood and his poetry. The influence of his legal training and his work in law were to affect his notions of poetry profoundly; his love of “the daylight meaning of words,” as he put it in one of his autobiographical poems, stemmed from this education, and it was this sense of language that, from the beginning, Reznikoff developed into one of the most unusual and moving bodies of contemporary poetry. Reznikoff actually practiced law only briefly; he worked a number of years for Corpus Juris, the legal encyclopedia, however, and maintained his interest in the law throughout his entire career.
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