Aaron Kramer Papers, 1937-2017
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Kramer, Aaron, 1921-1997
- Poet identified with progressive New York City literary circles of the 1930s and 1940s, teacher and translator of Yiddish poems and songs; lived most of life in New York City and Long Island. Includes correspondence files, manuscripts and notes, audio and video recordings of lectures and readings.
17.25 Linear Feet
genreform: Boxes 7-11 contain a mixture of reel-to-reel audiotapes, cassette tapes, and videotapes
- Collection processed and finding aid prepared by Christopher A. Peters, Winter 1997. Accretion was processed by Katie Jones, November 2022.
- Scope and Content:
Aaron Kramer Papers includes biographical materials, correspondence, publications and translations, drafts, and audiovisual recordings of Kramer's works, ranging from 1930 to 1997. The papers are divided into six series: Biographical File, Correspondence, Collaborations, Works of Aaron Kramer, Works of Other Artists, and a 2017 Accretion.
- Biographical / Historical:
Aaron Kramer was a poet, translator, and teacher who lived most of his life in New York City and Long Island. Born December 13, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Brooklyn College in 1941. In 1951, Kramer received his Master's of Arts degree from the same institution. Kramer earned a Ph.D. in English in 1966 from New York University with a dissertation entitled The Prophetic Tradition in American Poetry. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses as a Professor of English at Dowling College (formerly Adelphi University, Oakdale Campus) in Oakdale, New York. Kramer died at age 75, on April 7, 1997.
Kramer was prolific and multi-talented, balancing several creative interests over the course of a long career. First and foremost, Kramer was a poet, and his other pursuits derived from his abiding dedication to lyric poetry. From the 1940s through the 1990s, he produced volumes of original verse on a regular basis. His first major notice arrived in 1944 with the publication of Seven Poets in Search of an Answer, an anthology of young progressive authors. Along with several other works, Kramer wrote The Thunder of the Grass (1948), Roll the Forbidden Drums! (1954), The Tune of Calliope(1958), Rumshinsky's Hat (1964), On the Way to Palermo (1973), Carousel Parkway (1980), and The Burning Bush (1983). From the 1940s through the early 1960s, Kramer served occasionally as a reviewer or staff writer for publications such as New Masses (edited by Isidor Schneider), Harlem Quarterly (edited by Ben Brown), Sing Out and the Village Voice. He frequently contributed his poetry to anthologies and literary magazines.
Early in his career, Kramer became proficient and experienced in public speaking, giving hundreds of public readings and lectures, many of which were recorded. By the early 1950s, he was reading and discussing poetry over the radio, and continued to do so throughout his career. In later years, Kramer co-edited West Hills Review: a Whitman Journal, and edited or co-edited numerous other anthologies.
Kramer's artistic identity took shape in New York City during the late 1930s and early 1940s, where he moved in left-wing literary circles and absorbed many of their attitudes and ideals. Although never affiliated with a party or ideology, Kramer consistently pursued progressive political themes in his poetry. He often wrote passionately about the injustices he perceived. Slavery and abolition were frequent themes of his early work (Denmark Vesey, The Ballad of August Biondi). Racism, war and imperialism, and economic inequality were also repeated motifs in his poetry. On the other hand, Kramer frequently wrote about private, personal experiences. Both sides of his work display an idealism and optimism concerning the human capacity for endurance and compassion.
The dual nature of Kramer's output corresponds to a split within American literary circles between more introspective poets and those who felt poetry should fulfill a social function. Kramer's colleagues, editors, and critics frequently encouraged him in one style or the other. In 1958, Kramer clashed with conservative members of the literary community when he served as chair of the Poetry Society of America's nominating committee. After deciding on a relatively liberal slate of candidates, and ignoring certain procedural precedents, the committee came under attack. Following a period of bitter argument, the PSA board of directors nominated its own, more conservative slate, and annulled the decision of the nominating committee. Some of the parties in this dispute with whom Kramer corresponded include Gustav Davidson, Mary Duryea, Gertrude Claytor, and Jean Starr Untermeyer.
Throughout his career, Kramer maintained a personal and professional network consisting of hundreds of friends, collaborators, and acquaintances. Some of his earliest relationships evolved from his inclusion in Seven Poets in Search of an Answer. Kramer became good friends with three other poets involved in that project: Norman Rosten, Alfred Kreymborg, and Joy Davidman. Don Gordon and radical poet and activist Seamas O'Sheel, were also colleagues and correspondents during the 1940s. Arthur Kevess and Saul Lishinsky collaborated with Kramer during the 1950s. In the 1950s, Kramer began lengthy correspondences with the poet Jean Starr Untermeyer and the anthologist Walter Lowenfels. He engaged in less frequent correspondence with John Ciardi, Gustav Davidson, Howard Fast, and many others. Occasionally, he solicited opinions on his work from older, more established figures such as William Rose Benet, Harold Albaun (a.k.a. Harold Norse), Louis Untermeyer, and Mark Van Doren.
In later years, friends and correspondents included X. J. Kennedy, William Heyen, Irving Howe, Philip Foner, Eve Merriam, Richard Eberhart, and Edward Field. Kramer also corresponded frequently with more obscure authors and editors. Kramer met a large proportion of these individuals through his work as a professor at Dowling College. In addition to corresponding with dozens of former students, Kramer became a major figure in the Long Island literary scene, arranging countless lectures and readings for himself and others. Some of his friends and correspondents in this circle were William Heyen, David Axelrod, Susan Astor, Stanley Barkan, and Norman Krapf.
Kramer engaged in ongoing correspondence with a series of publishers and editors. Thomas and Julien Yoseloff published Kramer's poetry for several decades. Charles Fishman, Richard Braun, and Brad Strahan each edited a volume of Kramer's original poetry. With Vincent Clemente, Helen Andrews and Bets Vondrasek, Kramer edited the West Hills Review: A Whitman Journal. Finally, Kramer prided himself on his extensive network of friends abroad. He corresponded with poets around the world: from China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Europe, and other locations. This group of friends includes Zainul Abedin, Wazir Agha, Walter Barzelay, Rachel Dalven, Robert Friend, and John Wilkinson. Many of these individuals translated Kramer's poetry into their native tongues.
Kramer was among the early practitioners of poetry therapy, which used poetry to heal physical and psychological ailments. Kramer organized and directed poetry therapy programs at several hospitals in the New York area. He also published numerous articles and corresponded with leading theorists and practitioners (e.g. Art Berger, Lucien Buck, Art Lerner, Jack Leedy, Nick Mazza).
In addition to writing his own poetry, Kramer translated several poets into English, primarily from German and Yiddish. His first volume of translations, The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine, appeared in 1948. Kramer eventually translated several other German poets, including Goethe, Schiller, Rilke, and Ingeborg Bachman (the latter two in collaboration with Siegfried Mandel). In translating several significant Yiddish poets, Kramer introduced them to an English-language audience for the first time, disseminating the poems through books, literary journals, lectures, and radio broadcasts.
Kramer was especially intrigued by Yiddish poets of the working class. He translated several of the "Sweatshop Poets" (Morris Rosenfeld, David Edelshtat, Morris Winchevsky, Joseph Bovshover and others), a group of late 19th-century radical authors, several of whom lived and wrote in the United States. Kramer also translated works by the succeeding generation of Yiddish working class poets, referred to in Kramer's notes as "Proletpen" poets. These poets developed their style in the 1920s and 1930s and include Martin Birnbaum, Ber Green, Isaac Ronch, and Dora Teitleboim. In addition to these four, Kramer corresponded with nearly two dozen of the "Proletpen" poets and/or their families. Kramer also translated numerous songs, ballads, and lullabies from Yiddish to English. Kramer's published volumes of Yiddish translation include Morris Rosenfeld: The Teardrop Millionaire (1955), The Poems by Abraham Reisen (1967), and The Poems of Dora Teitleboim (1991). In 1988, Kramer translated and edited the anthology A Century of Yiddish Poetry, which he considered one of his major achievements. Progressive journals which frequently published Kramer's translations include Canadian Jewish Outlook (edited by Henry Rosenthal), and Jewish Current (previously Jewish Life; edited by Morris Schappes and Carol Jochnowitz).
The final major component of Kramer's creative life was his frequent collaboration with composers. As a lyricist, Kramer experimented with numerous forms, including operas, oratorios, cantatas, musical theatre, songs, and ballads. Always, Kramer wrote or translated the lyrics which others put to music. In addition to working with well-known composers and songwriters such as Charles Cadman, Lukas Foss, Donald Swann, and Pete Seeger, Kramer devoted a significant amount of time to projects with Waldemar Hille, Serge Hovey, Albert Bein, Albert Maltz, Irving Heilner, Michael Cherry, Pauline Konstantin, and many others. In the 1970s and 1980s, Kramer translated The Emperor of Atlantis, an opera written by Viktor Ullmann, a prisoner in the Theriendstat concentration camp during World War II. Kerry Woodward and Judith Bergman were also involved in this project, and corresponded frequently with Kramer.
- Acquisition Information:
- Acquired through purchase and donation from Aaron Kramer, 1994-1997 and 2017.
- Processing information:
Collection processed and finding aid prepared by Christopher A. Peters, Winter 1997. Accretion processed by Katie Jones, November 2022.
The Aaron Kramer Papers are divided into five series:
- The Prophetic Tradition in American Poetry (Dissertation Manuscript)
- Poetry Readings
- Workshops On Poetry
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Composers--United States--20th century
German poetry--Translations into English
Lyricists--United States--20th century
Musical theater--20th century
Poetry--Therapeutic use--United States--20th century
Poets, American--New York (State)--Long Island
Poets, Yiddish--20th century
Political ballads and songs--United States--20th century
Political poetry, American--20th century
Politics and literature--United States--20th century
Yiddish poetry--Translations into English
Poetry Society of America
Kramer, Aaron, 1921-1997
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Aaron Kramer Papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library)