KLEIN, ABRAHAM MOSES

KLEIN, ABRAHAM MOSES (1909–1972), poet, novelist, journalist. Klein was the first Canadian Jewish writer to gain wide influence in English. Conversant in Hebrew and Yiddish, he brought the influence of these languages into his poetry, fiction, and journalism. A remarkable aspect of Klein's career was his willingness to assert himself in a wide array of fields. Trained as a lawyer at the Université de Montréal, he was a practicing lawyer; as editor of the English-language Canadian   Jewish Chronicle between 1938 and 1955 he played a major journalistic role in Montreal; running unsuccessfully for the left-leaning CCF party he presented himself as a would-be progressive politician; and, in his strangest role, Klein wrote a variety of public speeches and ephemeral material for the liquor baron and community leader samuel bronfman . The latter role caused Klein private embarrassment, and his willingness to stretch himself across such broad professional boundaries may suggest the precariousness of literary life in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as Klein's own middle-class aspirations. Klein's initial literary forays took place when he was an undergraduate at Montreal's McGill University. He became an influential member of the city's nascent modernist small press and magazine culture, acting as a model and mentor to younger poets. His first published poems appeared in important American journals, and he was associated with such key early Canadian magazines as Preview and First Statement. From the earliest stages of his output, Klein mused about the precarious role of the poet in modern society while making subtle plays on Jewish types, street life, history, and ritual. Unlike younger poets, who would either abandon or view the old Jewish world with impatience, Klein's poetry is dedicated to a detailed, often nostalgic portrayal of what he viewed as the pathos and intimacy of Jewish family and communal life. Alongside Klein's Jewish-themed work are a substantial number of poems devoted to marrying the English and French spirit of Montreal. In a 1948 chapbook, Klein writes of his effort to create in his work "un 'langage bilingue'" – a poetic language built of French and English words in such a way that it could be enjoyed by native speakers of either language. The best example of this effort can be found in "Parade of St. Jean Baptiste": "Bannered, and ranked, and at its stances fixed/the enfilade and vestment colors the air./Roll now the batons of the tambours round/ruminant with commencement …." Klein's love of Montreal's Frenchness, his willingness to embrace it and convey the city's multilinguality, reveal the existence of his multicultural tendencies long before Canadians were conscious of the possibility of describing their country in these terms. Klein's lone novel, The Second Scroll (1951), was published in the United States to critical acclaim, but the book did not receive the readership Klein had hoped for. A difficult modernist narrative built of disparate pieces of prose, poetry, drama, and liturgical writing, it is an early effort to come to terms with the Holocaust in a literary context. Klein's meditation on 20th-century evil leads him to a consideration of messianism, mysticism, and the meaning of national regeneration in the newly established State of Israel. The book reveals a dividedness, which Klein also expressed in his private journals, over the status of diasporic Jewish culture in light of the new state. Ultimately, Klein was deeply rooted in and loved diaspora Jewishness, though he recognized the value of a Jewish state in the wake of the Holocaust. In his final years, Klein withdrew from public and literary life. In recent years, his status as a role model for younger Jewish writers has gained greater prominence in Canada. His literary output has been well documented by the University of Toronto press, which has published the Complete Poems, including his translations (2 vols, ed. Z. Pollock, 1990); a selection of his essays and editorials Beyond Sambation (ed. M.W. Steinberg and U. Caplan, 1982); Short Stories (ed. M.W. Steinberg); and Notebooks: Selections from the A.M. Klein Papers (ed. Z. Pollock and U. Caplan). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: U. Caplan, Like One That Dreamed: A Portrait of A.M. Klein (1982); Z. Pollock, A.M. Klein: The Story of the Poet (1994). (Norman Ravvin (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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