A. LUTSKI (LUTZKY) (May 14, 1894-September 13, 1957)
The pen name of Arn Tsuker, he was born in the town of Dimidovke (Demidovka), Lutsk district, Volhynia, Ukraine, to a father who worked as a bookkeeper. He studied in religious primary schools and privately with various tutors. Already in his childhood at home, he became absorbed in his love of Jewish music; during the High Holidays, his father would pray before the cantor’s lectern, and his mother and brothers and sisters, too, were thoroughly engrossed in playing instruments and singing. At age twelve he left town for Lutsk by himself and became there a chorister to a cantor, and people believed that he would become a great cantor. Under his mother’s influence, he also studied the violin, but his father wanted his son to take the cantorial arts seriously and thus he had to give up being a synagogue chorister. For several years he studied in a yeshiva; at that time he became acquainted with Yiddish literature, and around 1908 he began writing Yiddish poetry which he sent to various editors, but no one published them. Nonetheless, he received encouragement from Y. L. Perets to continue writing. After the death of his father, for a period of time he worked as a bookkeeper in a factory office; later, he was a teacher of Yiddish, and he especially excelled at teaching students to declaim short Yiddish poems. In 1913 he departed for the United States. En route he stopped in Warsaw, paid a visit to Y. L. Perets there, read to him from his diary which he had been keeping since 1908, and declaimed his own poems to both Perets and Noyekh Prilucki. Perets tried to discourage him from making the trip to America, and even wanted to hire him as an assistant to handle the bookkeeping for the Warsaw Jewish community, but he was not dissuaded, and in early 1914 he arrived in New York. In a recommendation letter to A. Almin, Prilucki introduced him as a “talented poet, actor, and musician.” He worked for several years in New York as a seller of goods on the street, worked for a time as a teacher, gave violin lessons, and engaged in other lines of work as well. According to the recommendation from Khayim Liberman, G. Bublik (editor of Yidishes tageblat [Jewish daily newspaper]) published a shortened version of a long poem by Lutski, entitled “Eyder aza lebn, beser shoyn der toyt” (Before such a life, better to be dead already) in Yidishes tageblat (March 4, 1917), and this was his literary debut. Through the mediation of A. Glants-Leyeles, one month later he was living with the poet Y. Adler (aka B. Kovner), and he read for Adler in his own innovative manner his new poems. Adler brought him together with Ab. Cahan, editor of Forverts (Forward), who gave him the new name “A. Lutski,” and over the course of a year’s time, Cahan published a poem by Lutski every Saturday in Forverts. The young poet was recognized by the poets and critics of that time, especially the “Yunge” (young ones) group who designated his poetry a kind of imitation of Avrom Reyzen’s poetry. Reyzen himself, though, saw in Lutski a rising, original talent, befriended him, and encouraged him to write. In 1918 Lutski was drafted into the American army, took part in the battles at Verdun in France and on the battlefield turned his line of vision to the task of a poet in a new era. In a letter to Avrom Reyzen, to whom Lutski left his published poems, before leaving for the war, to have them published in a book “should the opportunity arise,” Lutski wrote: “After a war like this, one should write poems unlike those one writes now.” When he returned from war in 1919, he actually fashioned his own Lutski style, which established him as a unique figure in modern Yiddish poetry. The Forverts as well as other newspapers were not terribly excited about them, except for Arn Karlin’s journal Di feder (The pen) in 1919; he published Lutski’s poems, and no recognition on the part of Lutski’s poet-colleagues came in the end. He himself wrote of this: “The young poets consider my prewar poetry as too old and the postwar poems too young, too new. If I don’t write something as one ordinarily does, they complain.” A break in relations for Lutski came thanks to a letter from Bal-Makhshoves to the “Y. L. Perets Writers’ Union” in New York: “I relay,” wrote Bal-Makhshoves, “greetings to the wonderful poet A. Lutski, whom I am reading in Di feder.” From that point on, Lutski’s poems appeared in: Der groyser kundes (The great prankster), In zikh (Introspective), Nay-yidish (New Yiddish), and Kinder-zhurnal (Children’s magazine), among others, in New York. In 1921 he appeared with his own distinctive way of personifying and delivering his poems, and from that point on he would frequently artistically perform his improvisations and poems on evenings especially arranged for him. Later, eminent Yiddish artists and performers would recite his poems. His poems “A khasene” (A wedding), “Valts” (Waltz), “Baym rebns tish” (At the rebbe’s table), and “A tepl fasolyes” (A pot of beans), among others, crossed frontiers and oceans and were read aloud and performed at literary evenings throughout the Jewish world. In 1927 his first collection of poems appeared in print: Nemt es, s’iz gut far aykh (Grab this, it’ll be good for you), “four books in one volume: (1) alive and happy; (2) songs and dances; (3) a little lonesome; (4) all together” (New York: Abonentn, 1927), 368 pp., with 35 pp. of “Critics on A. Lutsi,” published on thin paper, pocket format, bound in leather. His second book, Breyshes inmitn, poetishe filosofye iber vern un tseshtern (In the middle of Genesis, poetic philosophy concerning becoming and destroying) (New York, 1932), 224 pp. Later works include: Portretn fun shrayber, maler, muziker, aktyorn un arbeter-firer, di pney fun der idishe velt (Portraits of writers, painters, musicians, actors, and labor leaders, the elite of the Jewish world) (New York, 1945), 233 pp.; A bukh tsum lebn (A book to life), “A new book / With new substance / Idea-song / With something more / Accompanied by joy by A. Lutski” (New York, 1948), 317 pp. Lutski never took up any other form of work, only his poetry. He published his books himself (with the assistance of individual admirers of his) and distributed them himself. In addition, over the course of many years, he published his poems every Saturday in Tog (Day), often as well is: Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Tsukunft (Future), Frayhayt (Freedom), Der amerikaner (The American), Shriftn (Writings) edited by Dovid Ignatov, Unzer bukh (Our book), Nyu yorker vokhnblat (New York weekly newspaper), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), and Di goldene keyt (The golden chain), among others. His work also appeared in M. Basin’s anthology Amerikaner yidishe poezye (American Yiddish poetry), with a series of poems (New York, 1940), pp. 470-90; and Basin, comp., Yidishe poezye af amerikaner motivn, zamlung (Yiddish poetry on American motifs, collection) (New York: World Jewish Culture Congress, 1955?), commemorating the 300-year jubilee of the Jewish community in America; Sh. Meltser’s anthology, Al naharot (To the rivers) (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1955); M. Yofe’s anthology, Erets-yisroel in der yidisher literatur (Israel in Yiddish literature) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1961). His poems have also been translated into English and published in the Sunday literary review in The New York Times. Lutski died of a heart attack while asleep in his bedroom in New York. One year after his death, there was published under the supervision of A. Karlin the volume Fun aldos guts (From all that’s good), “one will find in this book: poetry, philosophy, essays, novellas, portraits, humor, and satire” (New York: Di feder, 1958), 360 pp. It included: A. Karlin, “Loyb-gezangen fun farerer tsu dem dikhter a. lutski” (A eulogy from admirers for the poet A. Lutski), pp. 23-33; the first poems that he published (as Arn Tsuker) in Yidishes tageblat and poems published in Forverts, 1917-1918; “Vi di kritiker hobn zikh opgerufn af di shafungen fun a. lutski” (How the critics responded to the creative work of A. Lutski), pp. 312-33; and a bibliography compiled by Yefim Yeshurin, pp. 334-55 which was also separately published (New York, 1959). In his connection to Lutsi’s poetry, Shmuel Niger experienced a certain development over time. In 1921 he saw no more than trickery in Lutski’s creations. In 1923 Niger wrote: “A. Litski’s improvisations are poignant, polished, and cultivated.” In 1939 he wrote: “Lutski is the master of the Yiddish word.” “When Lutski sets out to recount…a drama of paper in the wind and beans in a pot of boiling water,” noted Shloyme Bikl, “inanimate nature comes to life poetically and dynamically…. The magic of theatrical movement, of spectacular drama that Lutski sought to enact from everything and everyone around him was for him, and occasionally for us, the joyful illusion of his poem.” “A. Lutski was—in poetic form, in language, and in innovative content,” wrote Meylekh Ravits, “one of the most original of Yiddish poets. His poetry—a kind of poetic pantheism. Everything lives, speaks, and thinks in his poems; everything is not only alive but also humanized. Minerals, plants, human life, and desert—all of a piece—the borders gone. The joy and will of life on the one hand—despair and fatalism on the other. [He was] a singing philosopher, a ‘minstrel’ in the twentieth century. It is no coincidence that Lutski was such a masterly interpreter of his own poems, for he and his poetry were one—body and soul, word and content.”
Sources: In addition to the bibliography of Y. Yeshurin mentioned above: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (August 1, 1920; May 21, 1926; February 19, 1928; March 4, 1932; November 13, 1932; January 8, 1933; May 14, 1933; March 26, 1939; October 7, 1940); Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (June 1928), pp. 361-64; Niger, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), “Yidn 3” (New York, 1942), col. 169; E. Almi, Literarishe nesies (Literary travels) (Warsaw, 1931), pp. 95ff; Almi, Mentshn un ideyen (Men and ideas) (Warsaw, 1933), pp. 222-40; Almi, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (December 13, 1957); William Natanson, Inteligent, kunst un kinstler, literatur in likht fun filosfye (Intellectual, art and artist, literature in light of philosophy) (Vilna, 1931); Natanson, in Kalifornyer yidishe bleter (?) (September 1, 1955); Natanson, in Kheshbn (Los Angeles) (January 1957; May 1958); Kultur kvaln, filosofish literarishe eseyen (Sources of culture, philosophical literary essays) (Buenos Aires, 1959); Z. Vaynper, Yidishe shriftshteler (Yiddish writers), vol. 1 (New York, 1933), pp. 147-56; Vaynper, in Di feder (New York, 1945); Sh. Rozhanski, in Idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (February 19, 1936; September 17, 1957); Rozhanski, Dos yidishe gedrukte vort in argentine (The published Yiddish word in Argentina) (Buenos Aires, 1941), p. 186; M. Basin, Amerikaner yidishe poezye (American Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1940), pp. 477-90; Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (October 7, 1945; Mukdoni, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (November 1957); Mukdoni, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 29 (1957); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (September 4, 1953); Glatshteyn, In tokh genumer (In essence) (New York, 1956), pp. 297-300; Glatshteyn, in Tsukunft (February 1959); Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen, vol. 2 (New York, 1960), pp. 265-72; A. Tabatshnik, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 19, 1955); Tabatshnik, in Zayn (New York) (March 1958); B. Y. Byalostotski, Kholem un var (Dream and reality) (New York, 1956), pp. 131ff; Dr. Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (October 13, 1957); Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation) (New York, 1958), pp. 58-63; S. Dingol, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (September 21, 1957); L. Faynberg, in Tsukunft (November 1957); E. Fershleyser, Af shrayberishe shlyakhn, kritishe eseyen (On writerly paths, critical essay) (New York, 1958), pp. 82-93; B. Rivkin, Yidishe dikhter in amerike (Yiddish poets in America) (Buenos Aires, 1959), pp. 172-90; Y. Varshavski, in Forverts (New York) (December 11, 1960); Y. Bronshteyn, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (January 31, 1962); Joseph Leftwich, The Golden Peacock (London, 1961), p. 300.