Last month, the writer Emanuel Litvinoff died at the age of 96. Litvinoff wrote poetry, a memoir, and several novels. But history might remember him most for one poem, “To T.S. Eliot,” a lambasting and inspired statement against the titular poet’s anti-Semitism.
In his poem “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar,” as well as other poems, Eliot spoke disparagingly of Jewish landlords and money-grubbers. Levinoff’s poem fires back at Eliot: “I share the protozoic slime of Shylock…and, underneath the cities, a billet somewhat lower than the rats,” he wrote.
One night in 1951, Levinoff gave a reading at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London, in which he read this poem. In the audience was one T.S. Eliot. Following an impassioned reading, a Jewish audience member leaped to his feet and protested the mistreatment of Eliot. Other audience members cheered on the protestor. However, one person observed quietly that it was a “very good poem”–Eliot himself.
December 28, 2011