The Life of Celia Dropkin

Submitted by ref2129 on March 5, 2015 - 3:18pm

lCelia Dropkin
Image Source

             Celia Dropkin's poetry, with its provocative, sexual imagery, challenged conventional depictions of relatiohsips between men and women. Dropkin was born in Bobruisk, White Russia on December 5. Her father, Joseph Levine was a lumber merchant who died when Dropkin was a child. Her mother, Feige Levine, provided Dropkin with both a secular and religious education. Dropkin attended a Russian school in Bobruisk and gymnasium in the nearby city of Novosybko. Following graduation from high school, Dropkin tutored and taught in Warsaw. In 1906, she moved to Kiev to continue her studies. There, she met the Hebrew novelist Uri Nisan Gnessin. Dropkin and Gnessin developed a strong bond; however, Gnessin’s tuberculosis prevented them from marrying. Gnessin, encouraged Dropkin to continue writing poetry, and a posthumously published book even contained a Hebrew version of Dropkin's poem "The Kiss." He and Dropkin eventually traveled to Warsaw, where they lived together for a brief period. 

             In 1908, Dropkin returned to Bobruisk and married Samuel Dropkin, a member of the Bund. Samuel Dropkin, fleeing Czarist persecution, left for America in 1910. Celia Dropkin joined him in 1912. The Dropkins lived in Virginia and Massachusetts before moving to 70 Prospect Park, S. W. Brooklyn in the 1930’s. Later, Dropkin lived at 809 West 177th street. They had six children (five survived).

            In New York, Dropkin continued to write poems, mainly in Russian. Later, in 1917, as she became more involved in the Yiddish intellectual scene, Dropkin began to translate her poetry into Yiddish and then Enlglish. Early Yiddish translations were published by Di Naye Velt and Inzikh. In the 1920’s and 30’s, Dropkin’s poems appeared in publications by the Yiddish literary movements, Onheyb, Poeyze, and Shriftn. She also received encouragement from prominent editors such as Avraham Liessin, who published her poems in his publication, Tsukunft.

           A volume of Dropkin's poems--titled In Heysn Vint—was published in 1935. A posthumously published edition (1959) included Dropkin's short stories as well. Male critics, especially the literary critic, Shmuel Niger, criticized Dropkin’s poetry for being too personal. [1] An article from Morgn Journal, shown below, describes Dropkin's poetry as “Goyish.” Not all of the reviews were as negative, however. Below, a review from The Forverts, dated February 5, 1936, refers to Dropkin as a “nayem kol,” or “new voice.”

Article from The Forverts dated February 5, 1936
Above: Article from The Forverts dated February 5, 1936.
Image Source: YIVO Archives

Article from Morgan Journal dated February 9, 1936
Above: Article from Morgan Journal dated February 9, 1936.
Image Source: YIVO Archives

            Following her husband’s death in 1943, Dropkin stopped writing poetry, focusing instead on an  biography of her husband that was never published. She spent most of her time taking classes at the Art Students League, where she painted in both oils and watercolors. Dropkin was awarded honorable mention in the City Center Gallery’s October 1955 exhibition for her painting “Still Life,” shown below.  

"Still Life" By Celia Dropkin
Image Source: YIVO Archives

List of Paintings at March 1956 Exhibition

Dropkin's painting "February" was dislayed in the New York City Center Gallery's March 1955 exhibition. Below is a list of the paintings displayed at the exhibition. "February" is listed at one hundred twenty-five dollars. 

            Dropkin is often associated with a group of Yiddish poets who referred to themselves as Di Inzikhistn, or the Introspectivists. These poets rejected the socialist concerns of the “sweatshop poets,” who portrayed the working conditions of Eastern European immigrants, and instead, focused on individual experience. The Introspectivist poets believed, “The world exists and we are a part of it. But for us, the world exists only as it is mirrored in us, as it touches us […] Poetry is not only the feeling and perception but also, and perhaps primarily, the art of expressing feelings and perceptions adequately.” [2] Edward Hirsch writes in the forward to Faith Jones’ book The Acrobat that “Dropkin’s taut free-verse poems shared the Introspectivist agenda for an intimate, experiential, embodied poetry, which rejected symbolic formalisms.” [3] Yiddish professor Sheva Zukher has argued that although Dropkin’s poetry is an exploration of the self, it lacks the “reflection of outer phenomenon within her” that characterizes the Introspectivists’ poetry [1]. An undated, unpublished letter written by Dropkin, in which Dropkin describes what poetry is, demonstrates that while as Zukher suggests, her ties to the Introspectivist poets may have been tenuous, she too was concerned with perception and the relationship between seeing and feeling. [4]  Dropkin writes in the letter, “You are at your best a painter (artist) [and at] worst a describer.” Unlike the artist, the describer fails to internalize what he observes. 

Dropkin died on August 8, 1956 from cancer and was buried at Mount Lebanon Cemetery. Following her death, her poetry continued to be translated. In 1994, with the guidance of her granddaughter Francis Dropkin, A French translation of selected poems--titled "Dans le vent chaud"--was published. In 2014, Faith Jones, Jennifer Kronovet, and Samuel Solomon translated selected poems into English. 

 

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Sheva Zukher. The Red Flower—Rebellion and Guilt in the Poetry of Celia Dropkin. (Penn. University Press), 99-117. 1996.

[2] Jacob Glatshteyn, A. Leyeles, N. Minkov. "Introspectovist Manifesto of 1919." American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology. Trans. Anita Norich. University of California Press, 1986. Print

[3] Edward Hersch, Forward to The Acrobat, by Faith Jones, Jennifer Kronovet, and Samuel Solomon. (Tebot Bach), 1-3. 2014.

[4] Undated letter found in Celia Dropkin Archives at YIVO. 

 

Bibliography:

"Celia Dropkin." Celia Dropkin. Jewish Women's Archive, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2015. <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/dropkin-celia>

Celia Dropkin. Box 1-4. Folder 12, 19, 20, 33, 34. RG 1294. YIVO, New York. 2 Mar. 2015. 

Dropkin, Celia. The AcrobatHuntington Beach, CA: Tebot Bach, 2014. Print.

Hersch, Edward. Forward. The Acrobat. By Faith Jones, Jennifer Kronovet, and Samuel Solomon. Huntington Beach, CA: Tebot Bach, 2014. 1-3. Print.

Jacob Glatshteyn, A. Leyeles, N. Minkov. "Introspectovist Manifesto of 1919." American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology. Trans. Anita Norich. University of California Press, 1986. Print.

Zukher, Sheva. "The Red Flower--Rebellion and Guilt in the Poetry of Celia Dropkin." Studies in American Jewish Literature 15 (1996): 99-117. JSTOR. Penn State University Press. Web. 3 Mar. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/41205859>.

 

 

 

 

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