Eli Siegel

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Eli Siegel (August 16, 1902–November 8, 1978) was the poet and critic who founded the philosophy Aesthetic Realism in 1941. He wrote the award-winning poem, "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana", two highly acclaimed volumes of poetry, a critical consideration of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw titled James and the Children, and Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism.



Born in Latvia, Siegel's family came to the United States when he was an infant. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where he graduated from the Baltimore City College high school, and lived most of his life in New York City.

In 1925, his "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana" was selected from four thousand anonymously submitted poems[1] as the winner of The Nation's esteemed poetry prize.[2] The magazine's editors described it as "the most passionate and interesting poem which came in—a poem recording through magnificent rhythms a profound and important and beautiful vision of the earth on which afternoons and men have always existed."[3][4] The poem begins:

"Hot Afternoons" was controversial; the author's innovative technique in this long, free-verse poem tended to polarize commentators, with much of the criticism taking the form of parody.[5][6] "In Hot Afternoons," Siegel later explained, "I tried to take many things that are thought of usually as being far apart and foreign and to show, in a beautiful way, that they aren’t so separate and that they do have a great deal to do with one another." [7][8]

Siegel continued writing poetry throughout his life, but devoted the majority of his time over the next decades to developing the philosophy he later called Aesthetic Realism.[9] After moving to New York City, he became a member of the Greenwich Village poets, famous for his dramatic readings of Hot Afternoons and other poems. His two-word poem, One Question, won recognition as the shortest poem in the English language.[10] It appeared in the Literary Review of the New York Evening Post in 1925:

For several years in the 1930s, Siegel served as master of ceremonies for regular poetry readings that were well-known for combining poetry and jazz.[11] He was also a regular reviewer for Scribner's magazine and the New York Evening Post Literary Review. In 1938, Siegel began teaching poetry classes with the view that "what makes a good poem is like what can make a good life." In 1941, students in these classes asked him to give individual lessons in which they might learn about their own lives. These were the first Aesthetic Realism lessons.[12]

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