Sobiloff, Hy(man Jordan) 1912-1970

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SOBILOFF, Hy(man Jordan) 1912-1970


Born December 16, 1912; died from a heart attack, August, 1970; son of Israel and Fannie Gollub Sobiloff; married Adelaide Goldstein; children: Stephen. Education: Attended University of Arizona; Boston University, B.A.; attended New York University.


Filmmaker, industrialist, philanthropist, and poet. Founder of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, NY, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, New York, NY, and Edward Adaskin Educational Foundation, Fall River, MA. Founder and trustee of the National Foundation for Research of Allergies. At the time of his death, he was chair of Larchfield Corporation in New York, NY, Marshall-Wells International in Nassau, Johnson Stores of Raleigh, NC, and Auto-Lec Stores of New Orleans, LA.


Honorary chancellor, Florida Southern College, 1955; Doctor of Laws degree, Florida Southern College, 1956; Academy Award nomination, and First Boston International Film Festival citation for color photography, both for short film Montauk.



When Children Played as Kings and Queens, privately printed, 1948.

Dinosaurs and Violins, foreword by Conrad Aiken, Farrar, Straws & Young (New York, NY), 1954.

In the Deepest Aquarium, introduction by Allen Tate, Dial (New York, NY), 1959.

Breathing of First Things, introduction by James Wright, Dial (New York, NY), 1963.

Hooting across the Silence, introduction by Edwin Honig, Horizon (New York, NY), 1971.

Also contributor to Poetry and numerous anthologies, including The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse from Colonial Days to the Present, edited by Oscar Williams, World (Cleveland, OH), 1955.


Montauk, narrated by Ed Begley, Sobiloff, 1959.

Central Park, narrated by Jason Roberts, Jr., Sobiloff, 1960.

Speak to Me Child, narrated by David Wayne, Sobiloff, 1962.

Market to Market, Sobiloff, 1968.


According to Nicki Sahlin in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Despite Hy Sobiloff's demanding business career, and in spite of periods of great emotional uncertainty, the man had always been a poet. In the earliest poems, he had written well, and from a number of angles, about what it means to be a poet, and then he began to explore what it means to be a child. The last volume brings such themes to their fullest development, at a time when the poet's voice, refined but fresher than ever, was just getting around to addressing, for better or worse, exactly what it meant to be Hy Sobiloff."

Sahlin continued, "Sobiloff, whose poetry was respected by many of his better-known contemporaries for its fresh, honest, unpretentious qualities, was also widely known as a filmmaker, industrialist, and philanthropist.… [Hy] was constantly writing and associating with other poets.… Introductions to his books were written by highly regarded figures: Anatole Broyard, Conrad Aiken, Allen Tate, James Wright, and Edwin Honig. He contributed to Poetry and was represented in a number of anthologies, including Oscar Williams's The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse from Colonial Days to the Present." "Among poets [Sobiloff] was a fellow poet, conscious of his limitations, humble about the status of his poetry, yet unafraid to make direct statements on occasion," contended Sahlin, specifying the recognition by Sobiloff's contemporaries of his "forthright behavior" and "the truthfulness of observation in [his] poetry." "While praising his work, both Aiken and Tate come close to representing the poet as a primitive, particularly by their use of words such as 'folk' or 'unaware,'" wrote Sahlin.

"If Sobiloff had not been a poet, his accomplishments as a businessman would have been impressive in themselves," asserted Sahlin, recognizing that "the ways in which he used the resources made available to him by his success in business suggest a great concern for others, a concern which becomes explicit in certain of his poems.… On a more personal level, Hy Sobiloff was known for his expansive gestures of good will, such as throwing large and lavish parties for friends on special occasions. His townhouse on 77th Street in New York City was visited by poets and other writers—including such members of the Beats as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, celebrities from the film industry, and internationally known businessmen."

"Sobiloff's four highly successful short films illustrate his desire to enrich the lives of others through poetry," observed Sahlin, adding, "Commenting on these experimental films, Sobiloff expressed the conviction 'that an experiment should be made to develop poetry in three dimensions through the mass media of motion pictures and television. My aim was to add meanings to poetry by combining the visual and auditory appeal of film with the emotional appeal of words thereby bringing poetry to a wider audience.'" Sahlin commented on the films: "The first film, Montauk (1959) … concerns Montauk Point, Long Island, the setting for a number of Sobiloff's poems and the site of a house he owned.…[Central Park was] filmed in and around Central Park in New York City, it is closely related to Sobiloff's city poems and street vignettes. Speak to Me Child (1962) … presents some of the poet's most characteristic poems, those dealing with childhood and children.… Market to Market (1968) was filmed in the predawn hours at New York City's Washington Market shortly before it was demolished; the film now stands as a historical document."

Describing the poet and the focus of his work, Sahlin noted, "James Wright, in a lengthy introduction to Breathing of First Things, piece which does a great deal toward compensating for the lack of critical attention to Sobiloff's work, specifically denied that the poet is 'primitive' or 'anti-intellectual.' Instead, Wright argued convincingly, Sobiloff is exploring a central theme, 'the search for the child within the self,' which is more complex than it appears and which also manifests itself in 'the struggle to be true to one's own self.'" Sahlin maintained that "[i]t is not just the rediscovery of childhood innocence that Sobiloff undertook but also a quest that is both psychological and spiritual. Wright's valuable perceptions are based upon only one collection, Sobiloff's longest; yet they also apply to the entire body of his work."

Discussing Sobiloff's evolution as a poet, Sahlin stated, "Wright's observations on the quest motif suggest the possibility of viewing each new volume of poetry as one phase of a cycle, a cycle which perhaps ends in joy, which as Edwin Honig points out in his introduction to Hooting across the Silence (1971), is the most recurrent word in Sobiloff's poetry. The tone of each volume is refined and developed by a process of careful selection, rearrangement, minor revisions, and, frequently, a renewal of earlier poems by their placement in a fresh context."

In When Children Played as Kings and Queens, Sobiloff's first poetry collection, "there are poems which might be termed metaphysical, yet they do not stand out as such in context of that volume," identified Sahlin, judging, "There is a random quality to the volume, a lack of direction which Sobiloff seemed eager to correct, since he often asked fellow poets for advice on revision, urging them to be as harsh as the poems warranted and not to spare his feelings.… Early on Sobiloff was well aware of the complex nature of an outwardly playful poem. The technique that made the expression of such awareness possible still needed development, however, and some of the earliest poems possess an air of sophistication at odds with the poets relatively immature poetic technique."

" Dinosaurs and Violins, the first volume to be published commercially, draws heavily on the previous collection but is dominated by poems of personal experience, making the concern with personal identity clearer," assessed Sahlin, who noted a particular segment of one poem: "Sobiloff refers to other poets infrequently, so it is significant that here he invokes Walt Whitman, a poet to whom he would later be compared, most extensively by James Wright." Remarking on a different poetic segment in Dinosaurs and Violins, Sahlin generalized: "The appearance of outright naiveté, even confusion, combined with a complex concept, in this case the poet's proper attitude, is representative of a large proportion of Sobiloff's poetry. From this volume, however, no clear pattern emerges. There are some lively city poems, a few descriptive nature poems, and some poems about the poet's own past.… Several poems form a sort of psychological series.… As Sobiloff's poetry continued to develop, he apparently abandoned the explicitly psychological exploration in favor of poems that were directed at the simpler level of childlike perception."

"A delightful experience awaits the reader of Dinosaurs and Violins" lauded a Saturday Review critic. "Endings are sometimes a problem for Mr. Sobiloff for his special forte is the clearly outlined object of attention. At times, too, the tone is that flat melancholy, one so familiar in many younger poets, a desolate little chant," determined a reviewer for US Quarterly Book Review, continuing, "Often the speaking personality tends to be submerged in the pictures, and the verse line is unsure of its key. Yet there is strong promise here, for the vision is fresh, the strong feeling behind it urgent and there is no soft padding for its own sake." "The poems in Dinosaurs and Violins have great clarity," declared Sahlin, "but it is a clarity of the moment, of the object, or of the past, more than a clarity of poetic voice."

"Five years later, with the poems of In the Deepest Aquarium, there is the sense of the poet's artistic concerns being worked out in a deeper, more consistent way than before," contended Sahlin. "Here is the modern scene interpreted by an especially receptive mind," praised B. A. Ribie in a Library Journal review of In the Deepest Aquarium. In New York Herald Tribune Book Review, John Holmes complimented Sobiloff's perspective: "Sobiloff looks at what he looks at, as if it had never been seen before, and reports it that way. The poems are the reports of an eye and mind that size the object and tighten on it with words." Less positive were Kimon Friar's judgments of the collection, as presented in Saturday Review: "Sobiloff's poems are monolithic, his lines lack cadence, there is no melodic progression within a single stanza or between stanzas. Instead, we have staccato and precise descriptions of objects, but with little of the poetic realism of a William Carlos Williams or of the subtlety of Wallace Stevens."

Sahlin proposed: "Though Sobiloff was developing his own poetic voice through his first several volumes, there is no doubt that in his fourth volume, Breathing of First Things, he combined a fully developed voice with a sense of purpose stronger than ever before. The book is divided into four sections: 'Speak to Me Child,' 'Oddballs,' 'Love Poems,' and 'Nature Poems.' The first section informs the entire volume, its many perspectives on the natural wisdom of the child in turn expanding the sense of newness and freshness in the sections that follow.… Sobiloff does not disguise his poetic goal in associating with children." "[Sobiloff] may have found the child, but," judged Judson Jerome in Saturday Review, "he has not found the cadence of the shaggy master, the verve and explosion of his rhetoric, the vividness of his imagery, and the scope of his vision." "I would like very much to know what Sobiloff's roster of eminent admirers [Allen Tate, Conrad Aiken, Oscar Williams, and James Wright] find in his work that I miss," announced Jerome. John Woods, writing in Poetry, presented a more positive assessment of Breathing of First Things: "Although Mr. Sobiloff wishes to see as a child, he usually avoids one of the sentimental traps: he doesn't try an inspired baby talk.… This is suspended poetry.… The effect of such suspension is that it gives each line equal weight, equal attention, although also, at times, a spurious excitement. But if Sobiloff has for the most part avoided one trap of sentimentalism, there is another he has not completely avoided.… [The child] can be seen as father of the worst of man as well as of the best."

According to Sahlin, "Breathing of First Things gained part of its strength from the grouping of the poems into categories, but in Hooting across the Silence his last volume, Sobiloff's new, stronger voice is evident without such grouping and labeling. There are more than a dozen animal poems, and a few explicitly about poetry. Most notably, there are poems about personal emotion which surpass any in previous volumes in terms of their directness of language and imagery."



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 48: American Poets 1880-1945, Second Series, Gale (Detroit), 1986.


Library Journal, October 1, 1959; April 15, 1964.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, July 3, 1960.

Poetry, August, 1955; May, 1964.

Saturday Review, March 12, 1955; February 6, 1960, July 6, 1963.

US Quarterly Book Review, June, 1955.*