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Morley, Hilda

MORLEY, Hilda

Born 19 September 1916, New York, New York; died 23 March 1998

Wrote under: Hilda Auerbach

Daughter of Rachmiel and Sonia Kamenetsky Auerbach; married Eugene Morley, 1945 (divorced 1949); Stefan Wolpe, 1952 (died 1972)

Hilda Morley, who began writing poems at nine and who as a young woman living in London both corresponded with W. B. Yeats and became friends with H[ilda]. D[oolittle], is frequently associated with the Black Mountain poets. With her husband, Stefan Wolpe, she taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1952 to 1956, and published in the Black Mountain Review. She was a friend of Charles Olson, as poems such as "For Constance Olson (January 1975)" and "Charles Olson (1910-1970)" recall. Influenced by Olson's ideas on Projective Verse, she mastered and went beyond his theories of "composition by field" for, as Denise Levertov stated, Morley "is one of the few who know exactly how to notate, or score, the words on the page so that emphasis, nuance, pace, all get into the reader's ear." Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley wrote the introduction to her first collection of poems, A Blessing Outside Us (1976). Levertov wrote the preface for What Are Winds and What Are Waters (1983); Morley opens the first section, "Makers," of ToHold in My Hand: Selected Poems, 1955-1983 (1983) with a poem "for Denise" called "Psalm," and she has written long essays for Ironwood about Levertov (Spring 1985) and George Oppen (Fall 1985).

A highly visual person, whose poems are filled with a sense of place and landscape, Morley has also been influenced by painters. Cloudless at First (1988) contains "Eye of Pissarro" and "Matisse: Large Red Interior" as well as "Yeats at Seventy" and "A Voice Suspended,"on H. D.: "Hilda Doolittle / like myself American / in London."

Born of parents who had emigrated from Russia, Morley received a rich and varied education. As a youngster, she attended the experimental Walden School in New York City. In 1934 she moved with her parents to Palestine, where she completed high school at the Haifa Realschule. In autumn 1936 she moved to London, where in 1939 she took an Honors B.A. in English language and literature at University College. Subsequently, Morley earned graduate degrees and taught at New York University, and was a faculty member at Queens College (New York) and Rutgers University. At Black Mountain College, known for its experimentation in the arts, Morley taught 17th-century English literature, late 19th-and early 20th-century literature, and Hebrew.

Morley's experiences in Palestine and her Jewish heritage have been important to her life and writing. During World War II, she worked with the Office of War Information and later with the American Jewish Congress. She also translated modern Hebrew poetry which appeared in The Jewish Frontier and Israel Life and Letters. Her translation of Morley Mosenson's Letters from the Desert won the Lamed Award for best translation. "I am a daughter of the daughters of Jerusalem," she writes in "Untitled."

Central to Morley's life and poetry has been her 24-year relationship with avant-garde composer Stefan Wolpe, whom she met in the U.S. in September 1948. During her early years of marriage, Morley subordinated her own artistic career to her husband's, and in "La Belle Otero" speaks of herself as "Being one of those who postponed / her real self so much, / letting others lead me (or not) / being loved / & loving so much." In 1962 Wolpe was diagnosed as terminally ill with Parkinson's disease; he died in 1972. Morley describes Wolpe in "Letter for Stefan, Fifteen Years Later" as "most gifted / of all the men I've known in making / life more alive, more charged with / pride." She hoped to complete a prose biography of her husband; many, even most of her poems are about Wolpe—their love, her loss.

In 1983 Morley received a Guggenheim Fellowship and also became the first recipient of the Capricorn Award, sponsored by the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York City and "given to a poet over forty in belated recognition of excellence." In 1989 she won awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts and from the Fund for Poetry; she was a nominee for the Poets Prize in 1990. Critics speak admiringly of Morley's courage and self-effacing modesty, of her unflinching determination to experience all of life fully, of her "combined lyricism and intelligence." Her poems are permeated with the sense of loss, yet filled with a sensuous joy.

Other Works:

Not Tristan & Isolde (1986). Between the Rocks: Poems (1992). What Are Winds & What Are Waters: Poems (1993). The Turning (1998).

Bibliography:

Hilda Morley (audio tape, 1981).

Other references:

American Book Review (Feb. 1980, Jan. 1986). Booklist (15 Sept. 1984). Boston Review (Aug. 1989). Georgia Review (Spring 1985). Hilda Morley (audio tape, 1981). Ironwood (featured: Nov. 1982). LJ (1 June 1984). Parnassus (1988). Poetry (Aug. 1985). PW (27 April 1984). Small Press Review 7 (Aug. 1989). TLS (18 April 1986). VV (16 Oct. 1984).

—JEAN TOBIN

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