Reflections on the Legacy of A Poet’s Desk, by Edward Moran

 

Hyam Plutzik's Desk in The Writer's Room

Writer Ed Moran visited Betsy’s Writer’s Room last year, as a joint guest of the Jewish American and Holocaust Literature Conference and Betsy’s own Philanthropy, Arts, and Culture program.  Anticipating a return to the room this fall to work on a new project that focuses on ‘Soldier Poetry’ with research planned for the Wolfsonian Museum at Florida International University, he shared these words for dual placement on The Writer’s Room Blog as well as the Fistful of Words Blog on hyamplutzikpoetry.com

Reflections on the Legacy of A Poet’s Desk
Musings on The Writer’s Room at The Betsy Hotel
By Edward Moran

My deepening interest in the life and works of poet Hyam Plutzik (1911-62) began seven years ago when the University of Rochester sent out an RFP seeking professionals to conduct video interviews with Plutzik’s peers who were in the later stages of life, with the hope that these materials could be placed in the UR Plultzik Archive.  Christine Choy, chair of the Graduate Film School at NYU, responded to that RFP, suggesting that she and I propose creating a documentary. This led to the production of Hyam Plutzik: American Poet, a film that has by now been screened in Europe, Israel, and the USA. I served as the film’s Literary Advisor.

In addition to interviewing half a dozen of the leading American poets of Plutzik’s generation (some of them Poets Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winners), I spent many hours at the Plutzik homestead near Rochester, interviewing his widow Tanya in the rooms where Hyam Plutzik lived and worked while he was teaching at the University. It took more than a year before Tanya invited our team to film Hyam’s workspace, an inner sanctum located within earshot of family activity—a poignant moment that became the closing scene of the film.

There is always something magical—sacred, even karmic—about visiting the domicile of a poet like HP, seeing and touching the tools of his trade:  his desk, his chair, and his favorite books. I am reminded of the opening lines from Plutzik’s poem “Identity”:  “To locate a person hidden in this room, /Who stands—in fact—before us, dispersed in shape/Of primitive coinage…”

Thanks to the generosity of the Plutzik family, that experience is no longer limited to those visiting his Rochester homestead. Another desk, a more ornate one that had graced the poet’s home, has recently journeyed to Miami Beach where it has become a muse for writers in residence at the Writer’s Room at The Betsy Hotel.

Almost fifty writers have sat at this desk since April 2012, including two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and Florida’s honorary poet-laureate Campbell McGrath. Poet and Ecco Press Founder Daniel Halpern have visited, as have Novelist Richard Ford and many others, emerging and established. New York-based poet David Lehman and exiled Zimbabwean poet Chenjerai Hove are expected next season. I did a residency there myself last year during the Jewish American and Holocaust Literature symposium, where I presented a talk on noted Jewish poets, like HP, whose work has stood the test of time. I hope to visit again, later this year.

Interestingly, back in the late 1930s, Hyam Plutzik wrote a long poem, “Death at The Purple Rim,” about a Thoreauvian year he spent in the countryside. While most of the action takes place in rural Connecticut, he imagines a scene in a subtropical beachfront hotel not unlike The Betsy “whose resplendent doormen/Ushered you in with deference, called for a page/To relieve you of bag and bundle, and to the room clerk/Whispered that this was no passing fool—indeed/Was a noble and affluent scion of Venezuela,/Incognito, Don Antonio Pez y Mañana y Mosca,/Arrived to savor the sights: was a friend of the owner’s;/Was to loll at the owner’s expense in a spacious room/That faced the ocean, and have his drinks on the house.”

I remember the first time I opened the door to The Writer’s Room. Hyam’s desk sits stoically front and center.  While he used a Remington Rand, I arrived with my laptop and iPad. Indeed, while the tools of the trade have changed, the act of writing–and the draw of writers to desks –remains sacred.  I think Hyam would have liked this room, located only a poem’s throw from the water, a doorway away from the laughter of children and families on vacation. Yet with the door closed, there is plenteous solitude to reflect and find his voice.