Nationality: American. Born: Vienna, Austria, 18 November 1923; immigrated to the United States in 1939, naturalized 1945. Education: Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey, B.S. in electrical engineering 1945. Career: Engineer, Electronic Transformer Corporation, New York, 1947–54; editor, Whitney Publications, New York, 1956–61; senior editor, Macmillan publishers, New York, 1962–70; visiting professor, California State University, Hayward, 1972–73. Professor and director of the Creative Writing Center, 1974–88, and since 1988 poet-in-residence, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York. Awards: First Appearance prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1948; Palmer award, 1962. Address: Department of English, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York 11550, U.S.A.
Octavian Shooting Targets. New York, Dodd Mead, 1954.
Declensions of a Refrain. New York, Poetry London-New York Books, 1957.
Basic Movements. New York, Gyre Press, 1966.
Figure in the Door. New York, Doubleday, 1968.
A Bed by the Sea. New York, Doubleday, 1970.
Selected Poems. New York, Doubleday, 1971.
The Past Now: New Poems. New York, Doubleday, 1975.
Embodiment and Other Poems. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1982.
Secret Citizen. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1989.
The River Serpent and Other Poems. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1994.
Continued Departure (produced New York, 1968). Published in Accent (Urbana, Illinois), 1951.
Fire (produced Urbana, Illinois, 1952).
The Door Is Open (produced New York, 1970).
A Longing in the Land: Memoir of a Quest. New York, Schocken. 1983.
Other (for children)
1 2 3 4 5. Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1956.
The Little Elephant. New York, Harper, 1956.
Animal Babies. New York, Harper, 1959.*
Manuscript Collection: Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
Critical Studies: Reviews by Laurence Lieberman, in Yale Review (New Haven, Connecticut), spring 1968; by Hayden Carruth, in Hudson Review (New York), spring 1968; by Robert A. Carter, in Modern Poetry Studies (Buffalo, New York), autumn 1971; by Thomas Lask, in New York Times, 9 December 1971; by Christopher Collins, in Nation (New York), 15 February 1972; by F.D. Reeve, in Poetry (Chicago), January 1973; by Josephine Jacobsen, in Nation (New York), 9 October 1976; by Grace Schulman, in Twentieth Century Literature (Hempstead, New York), October 1977; by James Finn Cotter, in Hudson Review (New York), spring 1978.
Arthur Gregor comments:
I have tried to explore and to articulate what I consider the poetic reality in myself, a reality that lies in all. My influences have been art, nature, and those in whom throb powerfully the magic, the mystery of life.* * *
During a time when the evolution of American poetry has been defined by large movements with clearly directed aims, Arthur Gregor has followed a decidedly independent, sometimes contrary course. In part it is a question of his European origin. He was born and raised in Vienna and has traveled extensively in the Old World, and his poetry relies upon images and allusions drawn from European history and culture. But the distinction is more basic than this. If we agree that the great movement of American poetry in the past three decades has been away from the symbolist tradition and the dominance of such poets as Eliot and Yeats and toward a poetry based not only on native themes and idioms but also on an objectivist view of reality (which does not preclude mythic values), then Gregor has clearly stood against the mainstream with his insistence upon the continuing human validity of symbolist modes of perception. It has not been an argued insistence. Though Gregor has been a journalist and editor, as well as an engineer, he has rarely resorted to theoretical statements about his own work. But in his poetry his philosophical affinities are clear. They are with the great symbolists of the European tradition and particularly with such poets of the richly colored central European imagination as Rilke and Hofmannsthal.
It is easy to overemphasize the programmatic importance of these distinctions, however, and Gregor fits comfortably enough in the American literary scene. In tone and verbal texture his verse resembles the contemporary free-form writing of most American poets. In fact, from his first poems in the 1940s Gregor used a freer, more flexible line than the formalist conventions of the period sanctioned. He could never have been classed with the academics. On the other hand, his early work showed an ornateness of diction and figure that seemed baroque at the time, as if this European poet had taken the manner of Wallace Stevens and converted it to foreign ends, though the actual influence of Stevens, if it existed at all, was superficial. From these beginnings Gregor moved toward quieter, gentler poems that reached ever further into his mystical view of experience. An evocation of unseen presences, a realization of history or of the minds of ancestors, a glimpse of the "elsewhere" that lies somehow within the defined particulars of each new place—these and similar themes occupied him more and more. It is difficult to say precisely what his religious orientation may be, for his poems are always written obliquely, as if alongside the standard forms of spiritual evolution, not within them. Allusions can be detected to Hebrew, Christian, Gnostic, and Vedantic motifs, but they are allusions of feeling, not form, of spirit, not substance. His vision is clearly his own. In his poems about people, though they are often richly erotic, it is the essential mystery of the person toward which the vision aspires.
The danger of Gregor's vision is that words will fail its mysteriousness and turn into mere talk, talking about what cannot be sufficiently embodied, the failure of symbolism. It is a danger that Gregor has not always surmounted, but in his best poems—some of those about his parents and his travels—his vision is conveyed intact. It is a private vision, hence in some sense exclusive or even elitist, at odds with the prevailing temper of the age. Yet Gregor's work has a gentleness and seriousness that have won it considerable popularity, especially among young people, and his somewhat alien voice has become a distinct and useful element in the American literary sensibility of the time.