I knew Sol Funaroff, but I didn't know that he was physically ill. I remember a committee meeting where we worked through a long Saturday afternoon, planning a pamphlet on Loyalist Spain. I remember looking at his face as I sat beside him. Because I had read his poems I was particularly aware of him. I remember his physical image in a dark bare room. His image in poetry is the created opposite of that dark bare room.
There is no self-pity in Sol Funaroff's work. Let us not pity him; no poet is to be pitied. Strong emotions, not pity, are engendered by the story of his life.
Poverty killed him, slowly, elaborately, drawing out his desires and conceptions, only to threaten them daily; refining his insights into the identified sufferings of those he saw around him; giving him the old run-around when he called himself a poet.
Nevertheless he became a poet and faced his situation. He was a man of the 20th century, with all the possibilities of that realixation; he was Jewish, and aware of his people's experience; he was deeply read, soaked in good poetry and social understanding; he was a young American, participant with unnumbered youths of our country in the desire for a good life and great culture. He was a pupil of Necessity. His head and heart were full of desires that contradicted Necessity. He put the inner world and the outer world together; and so became a poet.
What lies behind his poetry? The dead father in Palestine; the mother in the East Side sweat-shop; the tenement fire, and the early illness; the tenement life; the American public school where the boy began to read and respond; books and more books; and from the streets and the tenements more knowledge of Necessity. When the time for growing up neared, the time of vigor and maturity, still living in poverty with a "poverty heart" he encountered the depression, which meant double and triple poverty, pressed down, overflowing, all-encompassing. Here is enough circumstance for melancholy, suicidal dejection, and the pessimism expressed by poets of the upper-class. But Sol, the New York boy who knew well and carried in his heart-beat the ruthless truth of his splendid city, did not follow that pessimism-pattern. His writing is marked by the red badge of courage.
Sol was fortunate because he had two poles by which to chart his course. His family came originally from Russia--he did not misunderstand the Soviet Union. That was one pole; his poetry makes that plain. He was not a sloganizing poet; rather he aimed at a deep and rich integration of the best in the arts with the realities of today. The other pole was the labor movement in this country. He loved our labor movement; and loving it he wanted to give his work and the work of his friends and fellow-poets to enrich the life of labor's struggle. I call it a triumphant life in spite of the pain, the starvation, the waste and the death. For the workers he did create richness out of poverty.
I like many of his poems: The Bellbuoy, and I Dreamed I Was Master, and Dusk of the Gods, and Thinking Upon a Time When We Are Dead and the Earth is Cold in Spider and the Clock; Song of Fatigue, Music on an Unplayed Theme and others in this collection. As so often happens, he wrote his own epitaph, using some suggestion from the folk-tale past--from Hebrew or Russian fairy-tale, perhaps:
POET IN HIS NIGHTCAP
The poet, in his nightcap, descends the stairs of the dark, and holds a flickering candle.
There are always bugaboos and drafts.
His magic cap makes him invisible.
But the flame he carries reveals him. Here in the streets of life, His bright body walks.