Oral History Center - UC Berkeley Library

Carl Rakosi: A Century in the Poetic Eye: Carl Rakosi on Poetry, Psychology, and World Affairs in the Twentieth Century.

Interviewee(s):
Rakosi, Carl
Interviewer(s):
Bird, Kimberly
Title:
Carl Rakosi: A Century in the Poetic Eye: Carl Rakosi on Poetry, Psychology, and World Affairs in the Twentieth Century.
Abstract:
Carl Rakosi is best known as a member of the "Objectivist" group of poets, who were first linked together in a special issue of Poetry Magazine published in 1931. Poetry editor Harriet Monroe chose Louis Zukofsky as guest editor and charged him with the task of handpicking the finest young U.S. poets and to present them as a new movement. However arbitrary their initial association, this grouping that included Zukofsky, Rakosi, Charles Reznikoff, and George Oppen endured and developed from that "Objectivist" issue of Poetry to occupy an important position in the history of poetry. During the 1930s, Rakosi was one of the more politically engaged of the group; yet, by the end of that red decade, he found it increasingly difficult to place his work. He did not write the kind of Marxist poetry being published by the journals popular with the left. His desire to support his family led him away from poetry and into a career as a social worker and then as a psychotherapist. He did not return to poetry until 25 years later, and then it was as if he never left. The interview, which began in July 2002, is a record of Rakosi's extraordinary memory looking back at his 99 years as a son, husband, father, grandfather, poet, social worker, psychologist, and citizen of the world. Among many other topics, Rakosi goes into depth on the Objectivists as individuals and as a group, the role of poetry in U.S. society, the evolution of social work and the field of psychology, the experience of Jewish peoples in Eastern Europe and as immigrants to the U.S., the history of anti-Semitism in the U.S., the 2001 World Trade Center catastrophe, and his assessment of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon as statesmen. Rakosi's epigrammatic prose style, his aphorisms, and his short poems evidence his love of the concise. It is no surprise then that the stories he tells in this interview lack neither depth nor meaning, but neither are they sewn up neatly for the reader. Throughout, Rakosi demonstrates his unique ability to place the final punctuation mark, in the form of a smile and shoulder shrug, of a particular story exactly at the point where others might begin to explain or interpret the story for the listener. As in his poetry, Rakosi's oral history demands that we slow down, think, and draw our own conclusions and connections.
Subject area(s):
Arts and Letters
Interview date(s):
2002
Project:
Arts and Letters - Individual Interviews
Oskicat record:
b10461739
Rights:
Rakosi, Carl. "Carl Rakosi: A Century in the Poetic Eye: Carl Rakosi on Poetry, Psychology, and World Affairs in the Twentieth Century." Interview by Kimberly Bird in 2002. Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2005.