YANKEV GLATSHTEYN (JACOB GLATSTEIN) (August 20, 1896-November 19, 1971)
He was born in Lublin. He was a descendant of a musical family of religious followers of the Jewish Enlightenment: his father R. Yitskhok, a mitnaged (anti-Hassid) and lover of modern Yiddish literature, made a living from business in ready-made and finished furniture; his mother Yite-Rokhl, née Yungman, descended from a rabbinical pedigree; his uncle R. Moyshele Glatshteyn was the Lublin city cantor; and his cousins Yankev and Yoysef-Shloyme Glatshteyn were in their youth choirboys at their father’s synagogue, and later they made contributions with their musical knowledge to Jewish song as choir directors and composers. Yankev Glatshteyn received a traditional, observant Jewish upbringing. Until age sixteen he studied in religious primary schools with excellent teachers: Tanakh, Gemara, and the commentators—secular subject matter he acquired with private tutors. He later prepared for and sat for examinations for the sixth class in high school as an external student. In his early youth, his father acquainted him with modern Yiddish literature, and when he saw with what zeal his son read and read it aloud, and how his son threw himself into writing, he rejoiced in the thought that his own son might also grow up to be a Yiddish writer. At age thirteen he went to Warsaw and there he met Y. L. Peretz, H. D. Nomberg, and Noyekh Prilucki to show them his writings. At age seventeen Bal-Makhshoves accepted a story of his to publish in Fraynd (Friend). This story was not published, though, because Glatshteyn had no patience waiting and withdrew the manuscript. Due to the persecution of Jews, boycotts, and anti-Semitism, in 1914 he emigrated to join his uncle in the United States. He arrived in New York on June 5 of that year, and in October 1914 he published his first piece, a story entitled “Di geferlekhe froy” (The dangerous woman), in the fifteenth jubilee issue of Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor). Later, in the new, Americanized Jewish surroundings, he had for a certain period of time divested himself of his dreams of becoming a Yiddish writer. He enthusiastically studied English and worked in various sweatshops. He was not, however, fit for physical labor, aspired to study, and with the help of his relatives in 1918 he entered New York University to study law. There he met N. B. Minkov, and thanks to their literary conversations, he renewed his literary activities. His poetry, though, did not find favor with Sh. Yanovski, editor of Fraye arbeter shtime, who advised him rather to devote himself to his studies and become a lawyer. However, when Glatshteyn sent in his poems, using the female pseudonym Klara Blum, Fraye arbeter shtime published them, and Yanovski even praised the “poetess Klara Blum” in an editorial. Later, when Yanovski discovered who this “Klara Blum” was, he stopped publishing his poems.
Aside from poetry, Glatshteyn also wrote stories. Knowledgeable as he was of world literature and well-versed in modern Yiddish literature, his stories were written under the influence of de Maupassant and Avrom Reyzen. Using the pen name “Y. Yungman,” he published in Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) approximately one hundred stories. In 1919 he began publishing poems in the New York journal Poezye (Poetry), edited by H. Gudelman, and it soon became apparent that Yiddish literature had acquired an original poetic talent. N. B. Minkov introduced him to H. Leivick and Moyshe Leyb Halpern. They befriended and encouraged him. Together with Minkov and A. Leyeles, in 1920 he published a declaration concerning introspective poetry which laid the foundation stones of the Inzikh (Introspectivist) turn in Yiddish literature. Glatshteyn became one of the most important representatives of this group and coeditor of its journal In zikh, in which he published poetry, articles, and essays. In 1921 his first book of poems appeared: Yankev glatshteyn (New York: Kultur), 80 pp., which established his place at the center of modern Yiddish poetry. His poems were distinguished from other poetic works of that era, noted Zalmen Reyzen, “with a strong intellectualism, with a genuine expressiveness, with a disclosure of the inner world by suggestion and association, and with the fine form of his refined free verse.” He wrote for: Fraye arbeter shtime, Poezye, Oyfkum (Arise), In zikh, Tsukunft (Future), Undzer bukh (Our book), Kibetser (Joker), and Kundes (Prankster), among others. Just like many other poets, he initially had a negative view of newspaper work, but later he became a member of the editorial staff of Naye varhayt (New truth) in New York, and in 1926 he became a regular contributor to Morgn-zhurnal. Using the pseudonym “Y. T-an,” he wrote for Di naye varhayt Saturday feature pieces, and for Morgn-zhurnal he used the pen names Y. Yungman, Gimel Daled, Itskus, and Yakobus, among others. In 1938 the editor of Morgn-zhurnal, D. L. Mekler, asked him to sign his column “Prost un poshet” (Plain and simple) with his real name. Together with Mikhl Likht, in 1926 he edited the monthly magazine Loglen (Skins); over the years 1928-1929, he edited In zikh; and he served on the editorial collective of this journal, 1934-1938. He travel to Europe in 1934, a trip which inspired him to write two prose works: Ven yash iz geforn (When Yash set out) and Ven yash iz gekumen (When Yash arrived), in which he revealed his mastery of the art of story-telling. Years later, Shmuel Niger characterized him as: “No one has such distinctiveness, such a Yiddish of his own as Yankev Glatshteyn. He is truly a maestro when he conducts his own orchestra with the instruments that he alone has refined…. His poetry and prose are so closely knitted together, so confused with each other such that one can not separate them—such is his work. The rhythm comes from speech and, it would appear, from prose, but his speech, his prose has such rhythm and so frequently such conciseness and often such unexpected freshness, such a rush of expression, of word connections, of the structure of stanzas, of the number and course of its lines, and of the way and order in which they rhyme—that you experience it as poetry.” In 1938 in his poem “A gute nakht dir, velt” (Good night to you, world), Glatshteyn predicted the great catastrophe imminently awaiting the world and especially the Jewish people. His poem—a kind of alarm call and protest to a murderous-indifferent world—provoked numerous commentaries in the Yiddish press. In fact, roughly 200 articles were written in response to this poem in newspapers and magazines everywhere that Yiddish writings appeared in print. In 1940 he received the Louis Lamed Prize for his work of prose, Ven yash iz gekumen. In early 1945 he began publishing a weekly column—entitled “In tokh genumen, arum bikher, mentshn un zakhn” (In essence, about books, people and things)—in Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter) in New York. Under this rubric, he published some 600 essays, mainly reviews of newly published books concerned with general and Jewish cultural and literary issues. A selection of these writings later appeared in two volumes under the same title. In these essays he revealed himself to be one of the finest Yiddish stylists, like an art critic who plumbs the deepest depths of the artist’s innermost world. He stopped writing this column in January 1957, and in his last piece for “In tokh genumen” (January 4) he wrote an explanation for this.
The “third destruction” (Holocaust) mightily influenced Glatshteyn’s work. He became one of the elegiac poets of exterminated Polish Jewry. In his motifs lamenting the destruction, he expressed his hereditary musicality, his rootedness in Jewish lore. The rise of the state of Israel at that time also developed artistically in him, and he became the singer—often with pain and sadness—of the Jewish people’s renaissance.
Among his books: Yankev glatshteyn (New York, 1921), 80 pp.; Fraye ferzn (Free verses) (New York, 1926), 88 pp.; Kredos (Credos), poems (New York, 1929), 96 pp.; Di purim-gvardye (The Purim guard), a play (New York, 1931), 16 pp.; Yidishtaytshn (Yiddish meanings), poems (Warsaw: Kh. Bzshoza, 1937), 111 pp.; Ven yash iz geforn, a novel (New York, 1938), 240 pp., a second edition published by “Farband fun poylishe yidn” (Association of Polish Jews) in Buenos Aires appeared in 1957, 269 pp.; Emil un karl (Emil and Karl), a novel (New York, 1940), 171 pp.; Ven yash iz gekumen, a novel (New York, 1940), 304 pp.; Gedenklider (Memorial poems) (New York, 1943), 84 pp.; Yosl loksh fun khelem (Yosl the noodle from Chelm) (New York: Makhamadim, 1944), 47 pp., with music by Henekh Kon and illustrations by Yitskhok Likhtenshteyn; Shtralndike yidn (Jubilant Jews), poems (New York, 1946), 124 pp.; In tokh genumen, eseyen (In essence, essays) (New York, 1947; Buenos Aires: Kiem, 1960), 544 pp.; Dem tatns shotn, lider (Father’s shadow, poems) (New York, 1953), 192 pp.; Fun mayn gantser mi (For all my troubles), poems (New York, 1956), 393 pp., which was awarded the Kovner Prize by the Jewish Book Council of America and the Louis Lamed Prize as well; Di freyd fun yidishn vort (The delight of the Yiddish word) (New York: Kval, 1961), 208 pp.; Mit mayne fartogbikher (With my journals) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1963), 569 pp.; A yid fun Lublin (A Jew from Lublin) (New York: CYCO, 1966), 128 pp.; Af greyte temes (On ready themes) (New York: CYCO, 1967), 414 pp.; Kh’tu dermonen (I keep recalling) (New York: Bergen-Belsen, 1967), 157 pp.; Gezangen fun rekhts tsu links (Singing from right to left) (New York: CYCO, 1971), 142 pp.; In der velt mit yidish, eseyen (In the world with Yiddish, essays) (New York, 1972), 462 pp.; Prost un poshet, literarishe eseyen (Plain and simple, literary essays) (New York, 1978), 454 pp.
On his sixtieth birthday, the National Jewish Workers Alliance published Glatshteyn’s volume of essays In tokh genumen (New York, 1956), 485 pp.; and in Israel was published Uvehagia yash, a translation of Ven yash iz gekumen by Shelomo Shemhod (Tel Aviv, 244 pp.). Glatshteyn was a regular contributor to Tog-morgn-zhurnal (Daily morning journal) in New York, in which he published twice weekly his current-events column “Prost un poshet” his reactions to the most diverse general as well as Jewish events. He also wrote a weekly article in the New York weekly newspaper Idisher kemfer. He edited the mimeographed monthly journal Folk un velt (People and world), published by the “Jewish World Congress.” In 1945, together with Shmuel Niger and H. Rogof, he edited the anthology Finf un zibetsik yor yidishe prese in amerike (Seventy-five years of the Yiddish press in America), published by the Y. L. Peretz Writers Union. He also co-edited Idisher kemfer over the years 1954-1955, and he took an active role in Jewish cultural life in New York. His speeches and lectures on cultural topics and on Yiddish literature drew an immense audience of listeners, and they excelled in their militancy on behalf of the respectability of Yiddish and Yiddish literature. His sixtieth birthday was celebrated in New York, and a great number of articles were published in the international Yiddish press marking the day. He was living in New York until his death.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (Vilna, 1928); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1 (New York, 1931); B. Rivkin, in Tsayt (New York) (August 21, 1921); Rivkin, Grunt-tendentsn fun der yidisher literatur in amerike (Basic tendencies in Yiddish literature in America) (New York, 1948), pp. 313-17; Kh. L. Fuks, in Lodzher folksblat (June 1922); Fuks, in Undzer shtime (Paris) (May 11, 22, 23, 1957); Kh. Krul, Arum zikh (Around itself) (Vilna, 1930), pp. 28-29; Y. Entin, in Idisher kemfer (July 7, 1939); M. Basin, Antologye fun amerikaner yidisher poezye (Anthology of American Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1940); A. Leyeles, in In zikh 54 (April 1940); Leyeles, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 25 (1956); Leyeles, in Idisher kemfer (December 14, 1956); Dr. Shloyme Bikl, Detaln un sakhaklen, kritishe un polemishe bamerkungen (Details and sum totals, critical and polemical observations) (New York, 1943), pp. 85, passim; Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (April 14, 1943); Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (October 7, 1956); Y. Y. Sigal, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (August 9, 1943; April 1, 1945; August 27, 1945; September 23, 1946; March 10, 1947; June 20, 1947; November 30, 1951; July 20 and 27, 1953); Moyshe Shtarkman, Hemshekh-antologye (Hemshekh anthology) (New York, 1945), pp. 17-42; Yeshayahu Ustri-Dan, Bloye horizontn (Blue horizons) (Mexico, 1946), p. 198; M. Ravitsh, in Der veg (Mexico) (May 31, 1947); Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (January 28, 1957); B. Grobard, in Zamlbikher (New York) 8 (1948), pp. 410-23; Shmuel Niger, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (November 22, 1953); L. Domankevitsh, Fun aktueln un eybikn (From the real and eternal) (Paris, 1954), pp. 197-204; Y. Pat, Shmuesn mit yidishe shrayber (Conversations with Yiddish writers) (New York, 1954); Y. Rapoport, in Di goldene keyt 19 (1954); Rapoport, Oysgerisene bleter (Torn up pages) (Melbourne, 1957), pp. 97-137; Y. Yonasovitsh, in Di naye tsayt (Buenos Aires) (January 21, 1954); Yonasovitsh, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (August 25, 1956); N. Mayzil, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (August-September 1954); B. Tshubinski, in Fraye arbeter shtime (January 15, 1954); Shmerke katsherginski ondenk bukh (Memorial volume for Szmerke Kaczerginski) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 38-42; Y. Rodak, Kunst un kinstler (Art and artists) (New York, 1955), p. 187; Sh. Leshtshinski, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays) (New York, 1955), pp. 91-100; B. Y. Byalostotski, Kholem un vor, eseyen (Dream and reality, essays) (New York, 1956), pp. 149, passim; Shimshon Meltser, Al naharot (To the rivers) (Jerusalem, 1956), pp. 429, 441; Haentsiklopediya haivrit (Hebrew encyclopedia), vol. 10 (Jerusalem, 1956), pp. 849-50; A. Gordin, in Fraye arbeter shtime (December 28, 1956); Yankev Glatshteyn, “Fragn un entfers” (Questions and answers), Idisher kemfer (November 9, 1956); Glatshteyn, “A derklerung” (An explanation), Idisher kemfer (January 4, 1957); L. Faynberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (September 22, 1956); A. Oyerbakh, in Idisher kemfer (November 9, 1956); M. Yafe, in Di goldene keyt 26 (1956); Lebns-fragn (Tel Aviv) (June-July 1951); Dorem-afrike (Johannesburg) (August 1957); N. Y. Gotlib, in Keneder odler (May 28, 1956; March 1, 1957); P. Shteynvaks, in Keneder odler (September 3, 1956); A. Grinberg, in Tsukunft (New York) (March 1957); L. Shpizman, in Ilustrirte literarishe bleter (Buenos Aires) (January-February 1957); Y. Morgnshtern, in Idisher kemfer (March 29, 1957); G. Freyl, in Hadoar (New York) (Kislev, 1956); A. Volf Yasni, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (May 25, 1957; January 10, 1958); M. Shenderay, in Di yidishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (July 23, 1957); Y. I. (Yitskhok Ivri), in Bitsaron (New York) (Tamuz-Av, 1957); Sh. D. Zinger, in Undzer veg (New York) (October 1957); Kh. L. Fuks, in Fun noentn over, vol. 3 (New York, 1957), p. 220; K. Bartini, in Hapoel hatsair (Tel Aviv) (Shevet, 1958); Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (New York, 1941); Who’s Who in World Jewry (New York, 1955); Cassels Encyclopedia of World Literature, vol. 2 (London); M. Daytsh, Yankev glatshteyn (Yankev Glatshteyn) (Tel Aviv, 1963); Dov Sadan, Avne miftan (Threshold of stones) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1970), vol. 2, pp. 120-44.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 160.]