In Memoriam: Naomi Replansky, Acclaimed Poet Who Served as Pitzer Poet in Residence in the 1980s

Claremont, Calif. (January 25, 2023)—When the Grove House was dedicated in early 1980, one of the very first events held there was a reading by Naomi Replansky, an acclaimed poet who died earlier this month at the age of 104.

A variety of media outlets have offered tributes and obituaries to Replansky, noting her Pitzer connection as well as her position as an important voice in 20th-century American poetry.

In her lifetime, Replansky was celebrated by leading figures in American poetry including Pulitzer winner Philip Levine, who once described her as “an intensely political poet, appalled by the cruelty, greed, and corruption of the masters of nations and corporations, appalled and enraged. I was drawn first to her lyricism, but I soon saw the rightness of her vision.”

Born in 1918 in the Bronx to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Replansky wrote poetry from her teens but only published her works a few times in nearly a century of writing.

When a volume of her selected poems appeared in 2012, it was preceded by just two major published books (including Ring Song, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1952).

Despite having few published works, Replansky was known and admired by many of her peers, including Bert Meyers, a longtime Pitzer professor and poet who shared Replansky’s work in his classes.

Meyers was instrumental in making Replansky’s visit to Pitzer possible before his death in 1979. Replansky served as a guest lecturer and poet in residence at Pitzer in the early 1980s.

Bert Meyers (photo credit: © Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS)

In light of that connection with Meyers, it was fitting that Replansky should share her work in the Grove House’s poetry reading room, which is named in honor of Meyers. Replansky’s reading that evening included the incisive, epigrammatic “Jealousy”:

From five hundred miles away

jealousy can hear

the crumpling of a pillow

beneath two heads.

Though known as a political poet who targeted all forms of injustice, Replansky read on that long ago night from her poems that evoke intense personal emotions and startling personas, including “The Mistress Addresses the Wife”:

Do not tremble, wife,

When you think of me.

Your castle’s not of sand

And I am not the sea.

Nor am I a refuge,

Nor am I a throne.

I am the dark streets

A man walks alone.

A translator of Bertolt Brecht and others, Replansky met her partner, Eva Kollisch, in the 1980s at a reading by writer Grace Paley. The two married in 2009; in 2015 Replansky and Kollisch received the Clara Lemlich Award honoring women who have spent their lives working for the larger good.

Replansky is survived by Kollisch; her stepson, journalist Uri Berliner; and a step-grandson.

  • To learn more about Bert Meyers as a poet and mentor to other poets and writers, including Dennis Cooper, Amy Gerstler, Garrett Hongo, and Maurya Simon, read his Poetry Foundation biography

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