Eli Siegel, Founder of Aesthetic Realism
|ELI SIEGEL (1902-1978), poet, critic, philosopher, educator, founder of Aesthetic Realism, was born August 16, 1902 in Dvinsk, Latvia, the son of Mendel and Sarah (Einhorn) Siegel. He was brought to the United States in 1905, and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. In August 2002, his centenary, Baltimore celebrated Eli Siegel Day with proclamations by the mayor and governor, and a memorial to him was erected in Druid Hill Park.
Mr. Siegel graduated from Baltimore City College (1916-1919), where he was a member of the Carrollton-Wight literary society, the oldest speech and debate team in the country.
Several of Eli Siegel's earliest essays appeared in the Modern Quarterly, which he founded with V.F. Calverton in 1923. They include “The Scientific Criticism” (Vol. I, No. 1, March 1923); “The Equality of Man” (Vol. I, No. 3, December 1923); “The Middle Ages, Say” (Vol. I, No. 3, December 1923). The essays are now collected in The “Modern Quarterly” Beginnings of Aesthetic Realism (Definition Press, 1997).
In 1925 his "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana " won the esteemed Nation Poetry Prize. "I say definitely," William Carlos Williams was to write of it, "that that single poem, out of a thousand others written in the past quarter century, secures our place in the cultural world." Implicit in that poem, Mr. Siegel later explained, were the philosophic principles that would become the basis of Aesthetic Realism. The same year, 1925, Mr. Siegel became a columnist for the Baltimore American.
In a 1944 article in the Baltimore Sun, Donald Kirkley, who knew Mr. Siegel in the 1920s, wrote:
In 1944, Mr. Siegel married Martha Baird, poet and writer on music.
The letter to Ms. Baird from poet William Carlos Williams, November 1951, places authoritatively the importance of Eli Siegel's poetry in American literature and describes clearly the opposition Mr. Siegel met:
Mr. Siegel's 1952 lecture on the poetry of Williams, is included in The Williams-Siegel Documentary (eds. Martha Baird and Ellen Reiss, Definition Press, 1970), under the title “Williams' Poetry Talked about by Eli Siegel, and William Carlos Williams Present and Talking.”
In 1955, artists and writers opened the Terrain Gallery, with this statement by Eli Siegel as its basis: “In reality opposites are one; art shows this.” In that year, the Terrain Gallery published the broadside “Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?,” 15 Questions by Eli Siegel, defining beauty in the visual arts; and the Terrain began holding exhibitions, lectures, poetry readings, and art talks presenting this new relation of the world, art, and life.
In 1973, the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation, was established to teach Aesthetic Realism and have it known.
On November 8, 1978, Eli Siegel died, as a result of an operation performed on him in May of that year.
Among Mr. Siegel's published works are Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism (1981); Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems (1957), nominated for the National Book Award; Hail, American Development, containing 178 poems, including 32 translations (1968); James and the Children: A Consideration of Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw" (1968); and Children's Guide to Parents & Other Matters (1971, 2003). Numerous essays and poems are published in the periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (1973 to present), edited by the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss. To-be-published works include The Aesthetic Nature of the World ; a third volume of poetry, Dear Time; Shakespeare's Hamlet: Revisited; hundreds of additional poems, lectures, and essays.
Eli Siegel taught that it is crucial for people, in order to like themselves, to want to know and respect other people and the world. The following lines from "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana" stand for that just way of seeing:
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