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This report is taken from PN Review 122, Volume 24 Number 6, July - August 1998.

Robert Friend Gabriel Levin

Jerusalem has had its share of drifters, but Robert Friend may have been its longestabiding and most comfortably ensconced sojourner. He arrived in 1950, in his mid-thirties, with degrees from Brooklyn College and Harvard, and a dozen years of travel behind him, living first in Puerto Rico, and then Panama and Europe. These had been Edenic years which soothed perhaps the hardships of growing up poor in Brooklyn between the wars. Friend had worked at a variety of odd jobs - inspector of fire-extinguishers, military censor, gas inspector - though for the most part he'd taught English as a second language.

Robert came, I suspect, on a lark, and then tarried. For one, the fledgling English Department of Hebrew University was eager to press him into its ranks. Old photos suggest that Friend must have cut an impressive figure: tall, slim, in coat and tie, with a slightly owlish look. He was, by then, somewhat of a cosmopolitan, speaking Spanish, and some French, German, and Yiddish. He had also begun to make a name for himself as a poet back in America, publishing poems in Poetry alongside verse by Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Carl Sandburg, and Hugh MacDiarmid, and bringing out his first collection of verse, Shadow On The Sun, in 1941. Friend took up the offer to teach English and American literature, though again I doubt he believed he was committing himself to anything long term.

It may have been primarily ...


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