Individual Submission Summary

Direct link:

Painting Poetry: Jennings Tofel and the Visual Art of Di yunge

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 3 Ballroom


In their canonical collection, American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, Benjamin and Barbara Harshav made the editorial decision to include various line drawings, illustrations, and modernist graphics alongside the poetry. Many of these works were drawn from modernist Yiddish publications but their direct relationship to the accompanying poetry was not explored at length. Indeed, the history of scholarship on American Yiddish poetry has primarily focused on the aesthetics of the written word, rarely offering an extended analysis of the visual art that so often appears on the same page.

In the following paper, I begin to reexamine the shared history of Yiddish poetry and modernist art in America. To do so, I focus on one distinct part of this history—the role played by visual arts in the early publications of Di yunge. Specifically, I turn my attention to the fascinating if forgotten work of Di yunge writer and artist, Jennings Tofel (1891-1959). Yiddish translator of The Iliad and expressionist art theorist, prose-poet and introspective painter, Tofel attracted the attention and support of modern art patrons Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Alfred Stieglitz as well as Yiddish cultural activists David Ignatoff and Abraham Liessin. Examining both the visual work that he published in journal Shriftn—line drawings and paintings best described as evocative and busy, I argue for a reconceptualization of the aesthetics of Di yunge that takes into account both the literary text and the work of visual art.