Rakosi, Carl

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Also known as Callman Rawley. Nationality: American. Born: Berlin, Germany, 6 November 1903; immigrated to the United States in 1910. Education: University of Wisconsin, Madison, B.A. 1924,M.A. 1926; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, M.S.W. 1940; University of Chicago; University of Texas, Austin. Family: Married Leah Jaffe in 1939; one daughter and one son. Career: Instructor, University of Texas, 1928–29; social worker, Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare, Chicago, 1932–33; supervisor, Federal Transient Bureau, New Orleans, 1933–34; field work supervisor, Graduate School of Social Work, Tulane University, New Orleans, 1934–35; caseworker, Jewish Family Welfare Society, Brooklyn, New York, 1935–40; case supervisor, Jewish Social Service Bureau, St. Louis, 1940–43; assistant director, Jewish Children's Bureau, and Bellefaire, both Cleveland, 1943–45; executive director, Jewish Family and Children's Service, Minneapolis 1945–68; writer-in-residence, Yaddo Colony, 1968–75, University of Wisconsin, 1969–70, and Michigan State University, East Lansing, 1974. In private practice of psychotherapy, Minneapolis, 1958–68. Since 1986 senior editor, Sagetrieb, Orono, Maine. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts award, 1969, fellowship, 1972, 1979; Fund for Poetry award, 1988; National Poetry Association award, 1988. Address: 126 Irving Street, San Francisco, California 94122, U.S.A.



Two Poems. New York, Modern Editions Press, 1933.

Selected Poems. New York, New Directions, 1941.

Amulet. New York, New Directions, 1967.

Ere-VOICE. New York, New Directions, 1971.

Ex Cranium, Night. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1975.

My Experiences in Parnassus. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1977.

Droles de Journal. West Branch, Iowa, Toothpaste Press, 1981.

History. London, Oasis, 1981.

Spiritus 1. Durham, Pig Press, 1983.

Meditation. Madison, Wisconsin, Woodland Pattern, 1985.

Collected Poems. Orono, Maine, National Poetry Foundation, 1986

Poems, 1923–1941. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1995.

The Earth Suite. South Devonshire, England, Etruscan Books, 1997.

The Old Poet's Tale. South Devonshire, England, Etruscan Books, 1999.


Collected Prose. Orono, Maine, National Poetry Foundation, 1984.


Manuscript Collections: University of Wisconsin, Madison; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Critical Studies: "The Objectivist Poet: Interviews with Oppen, Rakosi, Reznikoff, and Zukofsky," in Contemporary Literature (Madison, Wisconsin) 10(2), and "The Poetry of Carl Rakosi," in Iowa Review (Iowa City), 2(1), both by L.S. Dembo; "Carl Rakosi's Americana Poems" (thesis), Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin, 1981, and "Unexpected Arrangement," in Wisconsin Review (Oshkosh), 22(1), both by Martin J. Rosenblum; "The Mindscape of Carl Rakosi" by Lawrence Fixel, in American Poetry (Albuquerque, New Mexico), 10(3); "Carl Rakosi, A Warm, Steady Presence" by Andrei Codrescu, in the Baltimore Sun, 1 April 1984; Conviction's Net of Branches, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1985, and "Heaven and the Modern World," in the New York Times, 8 March 1987, both by Michael D. Heller; "An Objectivist Speaks" by Jack Marshall, in Poetry Flash (San Francisco), March 1987; Carl Rakosi:Man and Poet edited by Michael Heller, Orono, Maine, National Poetry Foundation, 1993; "Looking for the Real Carl Rakosi: Collecteds and Selecteds" by Marjorie Perloff, in Journal of American Studies (England), 30(2), August 1996; by Gary Pacernick, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 26(1), January-February 1997.

Carl Rakosi comments:

I am identified with the objectivists, but it is questionable whether the term has meaning any more.

*  *  *

Carl Rakosi was a member of a group of poets (Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen) who, in the 1930s, called themselves objectivists. He wrote under his own name, but in order to practice his profession of social work he lived under the name Callman Rawley. His early work, if not political, is a poetry of social and political awareness. In 1941 New Directions published a very slim volume of his work, called Selected Poems, in the multipublisher Poet of the Month series. The short, prosy poems bear titles like "Early American Chronicle," "The People," and "To an Anti-Semite."

The People
O you in whom distrust lies under
    like a gallstone
and desire grows up aching

    like a sharp tooth,
courage rises over all
    because it is your heart
and knows no high airs or aloofness.

When I was young
and my moods stood between us,
you made me feel lonely.

Now I plant myself
in the middle of the street
and swear I shall never leave you,
for you stand between me and my moods.

By 1975, however, when Black Sparrow Press published a later selection of poems (Ex Cranium, Night), there are far more titles like "Nine Natures of Metaphor" and "With Age the Heart" than "The China Policy" or "Nuclear Ode." The later poetry is preoccupied with the subject of the art's place in the world or what it means to be a poet. An example of this is "The Response to Hamlet," which is one of three prose poems that make up "The History of Man":

The response to Hamlet: Leakey, the British anthropologist, beholding for the first time the skull of Zinjanthropus, 1,500,000 years in his hand.

Most of Rakosi's poems are short and spritely and not at all meditative, though seemingly made up of conclusions about the meaning of the world. In his prose piece "Day Book" he says,

The special characteristic of the very short poem is that the reader has to be hit before he realizes he's been shot. But for this to happen, the author, in the writing of it, also has to be hit before he realizes he's been shot.

As a poet, Rakosi is a sort of gadfly, stinging and buzzing about everything, a reminder that to live intelligently is never to relax or leave unnoticed any slightly foolish thing. He assumes as his role that of the philosopher-poet, commentator on all of life, as, for instance, in "The Weight Lifter":

When a man's
is strong
enough to repel
that's character.

—Diane Wakoski