David Slavitt Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

David Slavitt (SLAH-viht) has produced translations of Vergil, Ovid, Seneca, Prudentius, and other classical writers as well as works by Jewish writers from the Spanish Golden Age. He has written numerous books of fiction under his own name. These include The Hussar (1987), Turkish Delights (1993), The Cliff (1994), and Short Stories Are Not Real Life (1991). Other works of fiction have been published under the pseudonyms Henry Sutton, David Benjamin, Henry Lazarus, and Lynn Meyer. He has also written several books of nonfiction. Slavitt served as a writer at Newsweek from 1958 to 1965.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

One of David Slavitt’s unique accomplishments has been to bring the recaptured wisdom, vistas, and decorum of his classical learning into contemporary discourse through a refined poetic instrument capable at once of formal dexterity and authentic—often playful—contemporary idiom. Slavitt has won several awards, including the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship in fiction (1985) and poetry (1987), a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Translation (1988), the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature (1989), and the Rockefeller Foundation Artist’s Residence at Bellagio (1989). His translation The Theban Plays of Sophocles (2007) won the Umhoefer Foundation Award in Arts and Humanities, and his poetry collection William Henry Harrison, and Other Poems was a Booklist Notable Book for 2007.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Booklist. Review of The Walls of Thebes. October, 1986. Discusses life and art (“the cruel injustices of the former and the inadequate consolations of the latter”) as the themes of Slavitt’s book. Praises the volume as touching while noting that it is also “often troubling.”

Garrett, George. “David Slavitt.” In American Poets Since World War II, edited by James E. Kibler, Jr. Vol. 5 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1980. Thorough outline of Slavitt’s career.

_______. My Silk Purse and Yours. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992. Discusses Slavitt’s career in depth as an aspect of the contemporary publishing scene.

Kaganoff, Penny. Review of Eight Longer Poems. Publishers Weekly 237 (March 30, 1990): 56. Praises Slavitt’s “inventiveness and proficient manipulation of language” while alleging his “excessive” references to “blood” and “wounds.” Also discusses Slavitt’s effort to transform “personal suffering into universal circumstance.”

O’Neil, Paul. “Calculating Poet Behind a Very Gamy Book.” Life 64 (January 26, 1968): 64-68. A contemporaneous look at the revelation of Henry Sutton’s identity.

Slavitt, David. Interview by George Garrett and John Graham. In The Writer’s Voice: Conversations with Contemporary Writers, edited by Garrett. New York: Morrow, 1973. This interview is often cited for its reliable insights into Slavitt’s broad range of interests as a writer of fiction, poetry, and essays. It highlights many of his adjustments that follow his translations of Vergil.

_______. Re Verse Essays on Poetry and Poets. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2009. Slavitt, in this collection of essays, discusses the life of poetry and his engagements with other poets and their works. A readable work, full of insight.

Taylor, Henry. “The Fun of the End of the World: David R. Slavitt’s Poems.” Virginia Quarterly Review 66, no. 2 (Spring, 1990): 210-248. Taylor’s comprehensive overview explores Slavitt’s wit, erudition, and “neoclassical attention to form.” Slavitt’s tonal variety and his ability to take successful risks in tonal shifts are hallmarks of his technical mastery. His narratives transform their historical materials, revealing the repeated bad news of history, including failed relationships and diminished love, in delightfully inspiring art.

Wheelock, John Hall. “Introductory Essay: Man’s Struggle to Understand.” In Poets of Today VII, edited by Wheelock. New York: Scribner, 1960. This is the introduction to Slavitt’s first full collection of poems. Identifies themes and techniques used by the young Slavitt—an identification remarkable for its continuing applicability.