Xavier professor revives late poet’s last collection

By: Jessica Larkin ~Copy Editor~

Dr. Norman Finkelstein, member of the English department and literary executor for Harvey Shapiro, a New York poet, edited the remainder of Shapiro’s final collection of poems entitled, “A Momentary Glory: Last Poems.”

Shapiro died in early 2013 and Finkelstein was fortunate enough to look through his most recent work.

Unexpectedly, Finkelstein found a collection of about 100 pages of Shapiro’s later poems within two file folders as he sorted through his manuscripts in New York.

Some of Shapiro’s other poems were sold to his alma mater, Yale University.

The collection Finkelstein stumbled upon contained poems about love, Shapiro’s service in World War II as an Air Force gunner and observations about the bustling city life of Manhattan, using themes that were commonly seen in Shapiro’s “edgy” writing.

“But in all of the poems in this last manuscript, there is an intensity, an urgency and a deep, meditative awareness that I find quietly astonishing,” Finkelstein said in a preview about the book.

Norman Finkelstein1
As literary executor for poet Harvey Shapiro, Dr. Norman Finkelstein (above) edited the remainder of Shapiro’s collection “A Momentary Glory: Last Poems.”

Shapiro’s writing was often influenced by such poets as Hart Crane, Charles Reznikoff, Walt Whitman and many others and was well-known for his epigrammatic style of writing and subtle humor.

Though he was mentored by a number of objectivist poets, he never identified with any particular school. Finkelstein identified his writing as representative of a characteristic New York poet.

“Yet the work is as edgy as ever, and Harvey never abandons of the supple, even jazzy wit that is central to his style,” Finkelstein said of Shapiro’s latest poems.

During his lifetime, Shapiro worked as an editor for such publications as The Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Times Book Review and various others.

Shapiro is even known for his role in works he did not personally wtire. In 1963, Shapiro suggested to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
write a letter from jail the next time he was imprisoned. King took Shapiro’s advice and composed the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The letter was not published in the publication when Shapiro worked but was published in The Christian Century, amongst other magazines.

“Being a literary executor and editor has been a new experience for me,” Finkelstein said. “Harvey was a dear friend, and I was very moved to be named his literary executor (he asked me back in 2002), and I was totally knocked out when I found the poems after he passed away.”
A composite preview of the book can be found at http://jacket2.org/article/harvey-shapiros-momentary-glory along with five of Shapiro’s poems.