In 1957, the biographer Leon Edel was passing through Montreal and decided to call on his old friend A. M. Klein. Then forty-eight, Klein had emerged from the immigrant streets of his “jargoning city” to become the most prodigious poet at work in Canada. Raised in a Yiddish-speaking household, he studied Hebrew, was educated in English, and learned French. (In one poem, Klein wrote that the ships docked at Montreal’s harbor unloaded not just cargo but “lexicons.”) He channeled that polyglot upbringing into English-language poems of uncommon fluency, an eloquence fueled by an endlessly self-replenishing gift for arresting phrases. Klein’s prose, with its improbable range, was no less remarkable. He reeled off plays, lectures, speeches, editorials, book reviews, short stories, and novellas. He even took a stab at a spy thriller. This rhetorical largesse echoed in his baritone...


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