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This article is taken from PN Review 265, Volume 48 Number 5, May - June 2022.

The Unending Meditation on Language
Alvin Feinman’s Poems as Self-Consuming Artifacts
James Geary
‘I have an instinct for seeking out unsparingly, with tireless, remorseless, religious labor, the highest diving board, and that above the shallowest pools.’

This line, by the American poet Alvin Feinman, who died in 2008, comes from a black notebook, found in the spring of 2017 in an old leather briefcase, among a cache of Alvin’s papers I discovered after traveling to the home he and his wife, Deborah Dorfman, had shared for decades in Bennington, Vermont. After Deborah’s death in 2015, the property was to be sold, and I went there to retrieve Alvin’s manuscripts and books.

Scrawled in pencil in the top-left corner of the notebook’s first page is ‘1952 – or 3’, which dates the thoughts on poetry and poetics the notebook contains to the same period in the 1950s during which Alvin composed almost all of his poems, which Dorfman and I collected in Corrupted into Song, published in 2016. Along with the black notebook, there were several other notebooks with Alvin’s reflections on poetry, later versions of some of the poems published in Corrupted into Song, and several dozen poems unknown to me when Deborah and I were preparing the work in that volume.

Alvin’s metaphor of the diving board and the shallowest pools serves as both a description of his working method and a fitting epitaph for the verse of this most difficult and taciturn of poets.

In PN Review 245 (Jan.–Feb. 2019, pp. 32–38), Chris Miller described Alvin’s poems as ‘at once an allegory/analysis of poetic creation… and an ...


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