Among the most prolific and formally daring American poets of the late twentieth century, Irving Feldman was grounded in the bleak speculative meditations typical of modernism. Despite more than five decades of productivity, Feldman has remained a minority enthusiasm, respected within the university community for incandescent poems that have brought the dark tradition of Yiddish mordant humor into poetry that captures the range of the twentieth century experience. Although intimidating and highbrow at first approach, Feldman’s work, richly allusive, densely erudite, and subtly structured, has garnered significant critical recognition. His first collection, Works and Days, and Other Poems, received the Kovner Memorial Award for poetry presented by the Jewish Book Council of America to works that best reflect the rich tradition of the Jewish experience; The Pripet Marshes, and Other Poems and Leaping Clear were both shortlisted for the National Book Award; and All of Us Here was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986. The Life and Letters was a finalist for the coveted Poets’ Prize. He was given an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1973. The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships (most notably from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Academy of American Poets in 1986), Feldman received in 1992 one of the $500,000 grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the “genius” awards that annually recognize the most creative visionaries in a variety of endeavors as a way to encourage their continued work.
Fishman, Charles Ades. Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust. St. Louis: Time Being Books, 2007. Important survey of Feldman’s generation of poets, not all Jewish American, who reacted to the event of the Holocaust and how the dimension of that reaction affected even the poetry that did not directly treat the event.
Schweizer, Harold, ed. The Poetry of Irving Feldman: Nine Essays. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1992. A gathering of commissioned essays, largely by working poets, that principally investigate Feldman’s prosody. The collection stresses Feldman’s command of a variety of demanding formal genres and his abiding faith in language.
Slavitt, David R. “’So There Were These Two Jews . . .’: The Poetry of Irving Feldman.” In Re Verse: Essays on Poetry and Poets. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2005. A broad reading of Feldman’s poetry by another poet—thus the analysis is largely descriptive rather than analytical. Stresses Feldman’s use of Judaism and the impact of the Holocaust.
Spiegelman, Willard. The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry. New Haven, Conn.: Princeton University Press, 1989. An argument, made by one of Feldman’s most articulate readers, that his poetry draws on the ancient tradition of verse intended not merely to delight or to excite passions but rather to instruct. Takes a particular look at Feldman’s satires and other public verse.
_______. How Poets See the World: The Art of Description in Contemporary Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Reading of Feldman’s lyric descriptive poetry, specifically his interest in infusing, through keen observation, the everyday world of his urban landscape with a resonance and suggestivity.