Alvin Feinman

1929 –

Alvin Feinman was born on November 21, 1929, in the East New York area of Brooklyn, New York. The son of Litvak Jews who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe before World War I, Feinman was the youngest of five siblings and the only boy. Feinman graduated in 1951 with a BA in philosophy from Brooklyn College. One of his classmates at Brooklyn College was the writer Carl Solomon, to whom Allen Ginsberg dedicated “Howl.” From there, Feinman went to Yale, where he spent the next six years, apart from stints at both the University of Chicago and the University of Heidelberg on a Fulbright scholarship. He completed his MA in philosophy but never finished his dissertation on Søren Kierkegaard, so never received a doctorate.

It was largely at Yale that Feinman wrote the poems in his first and only book, Preambles and Other Poems (Oxford University Press), published in 1964. Feinman reissued the collection, along with a handful of additional work, as Poems, published by Princeton University Press in 1990.

The critic Harold Bloom, a friend of Feinman’s since their graduate days at Yale, was an early and fervent supporter of his work, comparing him to Hart Crane in his 1971 book The Ringers in the Tower: 

Like Crane, [Feinman] is wholly a visionary, but afflicted (unlike Crane) with a critical consciousness in the mode of [Paul] Valéry […]. He cannot create by dissociation, but only by joinings, like [Walt] Whitman and Crane, joinings to which nevertheless he cannot give credence.”

Bloom also devoted a chapter to Feinman in Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism, published in 2019, a few months before Bloom’s death.

Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s, Feinman lived in New York
City, writing and editing documentary films and teaching at both Queens College and C.W. Post College (now, LIU Post) on Long Island. He joined the faculty of Bennington College in 1969 and taught there until 1994, when he and nearly a third of Bennington’s other faculty members were dismissed as part of a controversial restructuring of the college and the abolition of its presumptive tenure system.

In part because he published so sparsely, Feinman was little read and largely unknown when he died on July 12, 2008, in North Bennington, Vermont. The posthumous Corrupted into Song: The Complete Poems of Alvin Feinman (Princeton University Press, 2016), edited by Deborah Dorfman, Feinman’s widow and a literary scholar. Corrupted into Song contains all of the work in Poems in addition to unpublished verse discovered after Feinman’s death. His manuscripts and papers are available for research at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.