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 delivery. A gifted orator, Klein could quiet a packed hall. His poetry readings had a declamatory flow that mesmerized. His was the voice of a man who wrote for sound as much as sense, a man obsessed with the musicality of words.

That man was nowhere to be found when Klein greeted Edel at the door. It had been decades since the two were undergraduates at McGill University, walking home together on winter evenings after class. As a student in the mid-1920s, Klein was driven, voluble, quick on the uptake. Two years his senior, Edel was awed by his friend’s precocity—Klein had appeared in Poetry magazine at the age of nineteen—and would go on to publish the first major article on his poetry. Edel eventually decamped to New York and, through their correspondence, kept tabs on his friend’s rapid development. Klein’s second book, The Hitleriad, was published by James Laughlin at New Directions; his third, Poems, was reviewed by Randall Jarrell. Two midlife breakthroughs then brought his brilliance into full view—a poetry volume called The Rocking Chair, which won Canada’s top prize, the Governor General’s Award, and a novel, The Second Scroll, published by Knopf and praised by The Nation as “profoundly important and certainly a work of genius.”

His was the voice of a man who wrote for sound as much as sense.

Klein, in turn, had leaned heavily on “My dear Leon” for help as he labored on a massive study of Ulysses. Their relationship was based on kindred obsessions and a fondness for debate—and that afternoon in 1957 Edel expected, as he later wrote, a “lively reunion.” Instead, he was made to sit at one end of a room, while Klein, in a dark suit, stood at the other, staring out of a window. “There was no conversation though I tried many subjects,” Edel recalled, describing Klein as “completely flattened out, as if in a living death.”

We now know that Klein was in middle of one of the most brutal psychological unravelings in modern poetry. Seven years earlier, he had became prone to angry outbursts and attacks of extreme paranoia. Suicide attempts followed, which led to admittance to a psychiatric hospital and electroshock therapy. Then, starting in 1955, Klein slowly retreated from public and professional life. He stepped down as editor of the weekly newspaper The Canadian Jewish Chronicle, quit his law practice, and resigned from the bar. At the same time, Klein took the literary career he had assiduously built and razed it. He gave up writing new poems, abandoned his second novel, and stopped responding to letters. Royalty checks went uncashed. Reprint requests were ignored. When the Royal Society of Canada awarded him a literary medal, he snubbed the ceremony. Most disturbing, Klein effectively ceased speaking. In 1959, two years after his encounter with Edel, he was asked by another visitor if he was working on any new projects. Klein nodded in the direction of his desk, which was bare. So extreme was his self-imposed exile, he skipped his wife’s funeral in 1971 and sat shiva by himself, at home. He died the following year, in his sleep, from an apparent heart attack.

Few events in Canadian literature have generated as much talk as Klein’s plunge into silence. His breakdown was, according to his biographer Usher Caplan, “the last possibility that any of his friends could have imagined.” When P. K. Page, the poet Klein was closest to during the late 1940s, received word of what happened, her reply was swift: “Abe? Impossible.” Klein had displayed none of the maladjusted qualities that might have marked him for such a demise. “A warm gregarious man with a bubbling sharp wit” is how one poet recalled him. Another summed him up as “a great talker, humorous and always stimulating.” By his mid-thirties, when many of his Montreal contemporaries were still finding their footing as writers, often living hand-to-mouth with no fixed address or permanent job, Klein had not only published his first poetry book and opened a law practice, but was also a husband and father. He was stable, scandal-free, productive, above the fray.

He had, to be sure, an exalted sense of dedication. “All I am really interested in, above everything, is writing poetry,” he once wrote in a letter; “Everything else in my life is a mere adjunct, a means to an end.” But he also detested melodramatic dicta and could be surprisingly pragmatic about his art. In 1945, to a question about his motives as a writer, he wrote: “What shall I say in reply: ‘I sing because I must!’—How phoney! Or that I wish to improve the world with my rhyme!—How ridiculous.” During a 1950 interview, he praised himself as “extremely well-adjusted” and used his life as “proof of the error of the idea that to be a poet ‘you must be somewhat cracked.’ ”

Yet he did crack. What his son Colman described as “an act of non-physical suicide” left his friends profoundly rattled. Three years after Klein’s death, during an often heated symposium on his work held at the University of Ottawa, Seymour Mayne declared Klein’s silence “a crucial ‘secret’ of our literature that must be plumbed by biographers and critics.” Friends, colleagues, and academics embraced the call. Klein’s final years of solitude, which spanned a period nearly as long as his writing career, have been dissected and fervently psychoanalyzed in academic papers, literary essays, and memoirs. His oeuvre has been scoured for telltale personae and troubling self-images, any early signs of a short-circuiting mind or of a self-destructiveness lurking beneath the surface of normalcy.

There were many. The “little cherub” who, “glimpsing God’s work flaw’d,/ went mad, and flapped his wings in crazy mirth.” The “prowler in the mansion of my blood,” whom Klein sees as his “kith and kin.” The spring break-up in Montreal’s harbor that from its “ice tomb” frees “last year’s blue and bloated suicides.” Or the play Klein obsessed over and helped produce in 1952, about, in his words, a “broken, storm-crossed” writer with a “split personality” who returns to an empty home after killing the mistress he left his family for, and who talks “quietly, reasonably, almost ingratiatingly, and then—suddenly, because of a word, or a memory—off he goes into a tantrum of emotion.”

The sleuthing and speculation helped seal Klein’s afterlife as what the critic George Woodcock called “a tragic cliché.” Mordecai Richler used him as the template for the failed poet L. B. Berger in his 1989 novel Solomon Gursky Was Here. Leonard Cohen dedicated a song to him on his 2004 album Dear Heather (“Let me cry help beside you, teacher,” he intones). Klein’s story has spawned a documentary, a television movie, and a play. He is nearly as well known for the words he never wrote as for the words he did.

The last few decades have seen an attempt to correct this imbalance with a flurry of posthumous publications: a two-volume complete poems, an edition of his letters, a collection of literary essays and reviews, a selection of journalism, a volume of short stories, and a compilation of his diaries, prose fragments, and notebooks. Many of these titles are table-busters, reminding us of Klein’s industry. Yet every act of scholarship also returns us to the first principle of his legend: the endpoint. It’s not only impossible to think of Klein apart from his silence, but also of the fact that the silence has, at times, been studied more closely, and with greater urgency, than anything he committed to paper. Like haunted detectives, we persist in visiting the crime scene to contemplate the outline chalked around Klein’s interrupted career. Nearly half a century after his death, he remains one of literature’s most baffling cold cases.

What makes Klein unique, however, is that he tried, in his own way, to diagnose his condition. Indeed, if there is a primer for decoding him—and for appreciating what might have brought him to the edge of the precipice, and pushed him over—it would be “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape,” his moving, 164-line examination of the poet’s isolation. Klein worried constantly about poetry’s decline as a civilizing force. He believed poets had a principal role in shaping the culture at large, and, because that role was public, he believed public recognition was crucial to their influence.

What his son Colman described as “an act of non-physical suicide” left his friends profoundly rattled.

Being irreconcilably alienated from society was, therefore, an extinction-level threat—a threat Klein felt in his bones. He monitored his own reputation with vigilance and resented what he saw as the widespread indifference to his work. He became especially, and increasingly, bitter at how he had given over so much his life to a calling that the world had so little use for. The predicament of the lonely and unread bard is, of course, hardly new. But “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” is one of the few poems to explore it with bold, forensic self-awareness, and to do so using a hard-won mix of wit and lament, a style exquisitely reconciled to the despair it conveys. The poem is, effectively, a reverse Künstlerroman, an account not of an artist’s coming of age, but of his undoing. Klein made his most successful song from a confession of failure and, as a result, cast himself as the perfect guide to the forces that, even today, conspire to turn the poet into a “throwback, relict, freak.”

Klein isn’t the first poet to go dark. Rimbaud threw over poetry at twenty-one and fled to East Africa to run guns. Hopkins refused to produce a line of verse for seven years as he debated the relationship between his duty as a Jesuit priest and his role as a poet. Paul Valéry, frustrated with the way his feelings clouded his thinking, quit for two decades. In the late 1930s, George Oppen kicked the habit for nearly a quarter century in the belief that, amid the spread of fascism, composing poems was “absurd” (he went on to win a Purple Heart in World War II). Shortly after publishing her Collected Poems in 1938, Laura Riding renounced her life as a poet, claiming she had “reached poetry’s limit.”

Klein’s silence, however, is different. To start, it wasn’t an act of heroic renunciation. It had no motive, no objective. It wasn’t carried out in fealty to an ethical or religious principle, nor did he inflict it on himself because he wanted to bring his vocation to heel. If anything, Klein’s siege of inertia, despondency, and exhaustion brings to mind Ezra Pound’s line: “I did not enter Silence. Silence captured me.” Of course, Klein’s disintegrating mental state was also, to some degree, a medical condition. His family even begged him to try new drugs, which he rejected.

But a biochemical imbalance can’t really account for how, until he began coming apart in mid-1950s, nearly every professional and creative decision Klein made suggested a man terrified of silence—of being silenced and of being met by silence. No sooner had he finished one project than he was onto the next: speaking engagements, weekly editorials, a university lecturing stint, a run for political office—all while practicing law. To succeed, Klein relied on his command of language, a fluency he lavished on his poetry and prose, two areas where he worked hard to stave off linguistic scarcity. He worked full-tilt; with his wife at the typewriter, he dictated articles without pause or revision. Determined to never be at a loss for words, he hunted constantly for diction that was odd, specialized, sparkling, or rare. What he couldn’t find, he coined. Far from a surprise, the silence that engulfed Klein seems to have been, on some level, anticipated.

What that silence puts in perspective, in other words, isn’t the catastrophic about-face of an otherwise balanced man. It’s the likelihood that Klein’s reputation for normalcy so dominated the general perception of him that the growing precariousness of his state of mind naturally went unnoticed. Klein, it should be admitted, wasn’t remotely maudit—he never believed angst was a guarantee of poetic power. (“A good poet,” he wrote, “is one who makes conviction issue from his work without sending irresponsible summonses to God and History and Luck to testify on his behalf.”)

Yet from his earliest days, he was trapped in a death grip with his vocation, in plain view of admirers. Poetry, for Klein, was the highest of high callings, the apex art. Thus elected, the poet’s duty was to furnish readers with a vision of coherence. Roughly four decades later, Seamus Heaney would call this concept “redress.” Good poetry, Heaney believed, had a “counterweighing function”; it transformed, or redressed, social imbalances into an imagined alternative, an aesthetic counterreality. Such acts of redress went straight to the heart of Klein’s own responsibilities to the world—responsibilities sharpened by his political anxieties. Horrified by revelations of the Holocaust, Klein’s editorials began to evince a pessimism. Klein started to write about the resurgence of totalitarianism, the rise of anti-Semitism, the threat of nuclear war. We can track this rising distress in his letters and notebooks, too. Believing in poetry as a form of action, he rejected the “effete aestheticism” that turned the poet into nothing more than “a sort of inspired chronicler” and instead endorsed poets as “part of the fighting forces, as much so, indeed, as is the trumpeter, marching into the fray.”

The burdens of this elevated purpose meant that, for all his intense productivity, poems didn’t come easy, or often. Klein loved language ardently, compulsively (high school classmates recall seeing him at the public library reading dictionaries from cover to cover), but his all-out commitment to poetry created punishing expectations. To do the act justice, Klein believed he needed to draw on every aspect of his intellect, background, and experience. There could be no half-measures. But what crept in, by the end of his career, was the sense that he was trying to do something well that might not merit doing at all. In a way, his public image (“your scholar’s mind neat as your hair,” according to Irving Layton) could hardly have been more misleading.

Here was a surpassingly troubled man beset by an oppressive sense of poetry’s nobility. Indeed, the nerve-flaying nature of his literary ambitions is incomprehensible without his final collapse—a defeat that, if nothing else, highlights the barely manageable bargain with greatness Klein tried to strike. Poetry became a high-risk venture for Klein, in other words, not because the act was pushing him into dangerous psychological territory, but because he was leveraging more and more of his self-worth against an art whose valuation was, practically speaking, worthless. “And so bit by bit,” as Edel described it, “the will to achieve was eroded.”

Poetry became a high-risk venture for Klein.

Karl Shapiro appeared to intuit such an outcome when he cautioned Klein, in a 1948 letter, that he was “too much the artist, too much the conscience of art.” Leonard Cohen was similarly unsettled by Klein’s outsized sense of duty. In a talk he gave at Montreal’s Jewish Public Library in 1964, Cohen berated the audience for never fully supporting Klein as an artist. But he also blamed Klein—then already silent for a decade—for deriving the terms of his happiness from a community that “despised the activity he loved most.” Cohen, in fact, confessed to being “disturbed” by Klein’s poems, “because at certain moments in them he used the word ‘we’ instead of the word ‘I’; because he spoke with too much responsibility.” To use “we” meant that poetry could never quite be its own reward. It meant that while the poet had an obligation to language—an obligation Klein carried out lavishly—he also had an obligation to a fragmenting culture in a dark time, offering up himself, and his verse, as a principle of order.

But for poets saddled with these beliefs, using “we” also meant near-certain, and near-unendurable, disappointment. Klein was full of words and full of anger at a society unmoved by what he could do with them. He took that indifference as a rejection of the very parts of his nature that had steered him toward poetry. One can’t help but surmise that, by the mid-1950s, the shock left Klein sick and frightened. “No honest poet,” wrote T. S. Eliot, can ever be free of the fear that “he may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing.” And where Klein is concerned, what may have accelerated his slide into abject hopelessness was self-loathing at having frittered away his talents writing bumf for a whiskey magnate. In 1939, Samuel Bronfman, the president of Seagram’s distilleries, hired Klein as his public relations consultant. Although highly remunerative, the job, which Klein held until 1962, forced him to churn out speeches, birthday and anniversary greetings, annual company reports, and souvenir programs for fundraising banquets. In a despairing 1942 notebook entry, Klein called the work a “humiliation.”

In “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape,” Klein made that humiliation his subject. “Describe being a poet,” he wrote in his notebook around the early 1940s, when first plotting out the poem: “Who wants him in this age, the day of gasoline and oil?” In tackling that question, Klein foreshadowed some of the soul-searching due to happen over the next decade. The poem—placed last in Klein’s final major book of poetry, The Rocking Chair, published in 1948—appeared six years before Randall Jarrell’s “The Obscurity of the Poet” and Delmore Schwartz’s “The Vocation of the Poet in the Modern World,” two manifestos that deplored the poet’s status in the twentieth century. Klein’s poem anticipates a number of their arguments: that there was no longer a public for poetry to address, that the art had found itself radically at odds with society’s main drift, that the poet’s centrality was eclipsed by mass culture.

But Klein also explores the idea that the crisis betrays something doomed about the art itself. Written in a clear-eyed, sober voice, “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” doesn’t just see outsiderism as the sine qua non of the modern poet, it sees it as a preexisting condition, a hereditary jinx—the poet as a “character, with a rehearsed role.” Klein’s success in capturing this mood is what helps make the poem so unclassifiable. Mock-epic, cultural jeremiad, Berrymanesque “survival poem” avant la lettre, “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” was something new for Klein, though it spoke of the end of something. It’s a fitting irony that the creative zenith of his career was the poem that provided a thoroughgoing account of its downfall.

Divided into six parts, Klein’s poem tracks the progress of a speaker coming to terms with his accursedness. What we notice, at first, is the tone: a voice talking itself firmly into accepting the inevitability of the situation, as if moving through the various stages of grief. The poem begins as a kind of exasperated elegy for the poet, a figure whose presumed death no one has bothered to mourn or even report (“the radio broadcast lets his passing pass”) and whom Klein imagines “in a narrow closet/ like the corpse in a detective story,/ standing, his eyes staring, and ready to fall on his face.”

But the poet, we soon learn, is not dead, just unseen “like the mirroring lenses forgotten on a brow.” This is Klein’s bitter joke: that poets, the moment they try to make their mark, become posthumous. They have died before their actual deaths. What Klein is pondering here are the consequences of living, as he put it in an earlier poem, “under interdict”—excommunicated from society, without hope of reprieve. It’s a storyline Klein returns to in his poems and prose: the artist as outcast, spurned by a community deaf to his message. (In an unfinished novel, Klein created a doppelgänger poet named Kay who attends his own funeral and praises the eulogy because “nobody mentioned the fact that I was a poet. I have kept the secret well. Now, no one will ever know of what I died.”)

But the poet, we soon learn, is not dead, just unseen “like the mirroring lenses forgotten on a brow.”

While many poets focus on their artistic origin stories, Klein kept prefiguring, and perfecting, versions of his ignominious flameout. “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” cycles through various portraits of disinheritance. In his lonely eminence, the poet is the “sigh” in “a shouting mob.” He is reduced to “an X, a Mr. Smith in a hotel register,” “a shadow’s shadow” who has been “cuckolded,” or, disturbingly, is “his mother’s miscarriage.” The speaker complains about being usurped by frauds (tycoons, politicians, popular entertainers), remembers why he fell in love with language (“the torso verb, the beautiful face of the noun”), lacerates himself over his vanity, pines for the fame he will never enjoy. All the while, he watches his peers, in a bid to deny their own isolation, escape into the “schizoid solitudes” of cliques who “live for themselves, or for each other, but nobody else.”

“Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” includes enough covert biographizing that the poem can be seen as a running commentary on Klein’s own career—“a requiem for himself,” Edel described it. But it is also a pretty good confessional fable about, in Robert Lowell’s phrase, the “generic life” of Klein’s generation (and, to some extent, our own). Klein belonged to the first group of Canadian poets who, in the late 1930s, openly embraced professionalization and began competing for attention in the new reputation economy of prizes, publications, reviews, and readings. Letters from this time fill with shoptalk about fads, rivals, money, grants, book launches, missed opportunities, and acclaim—both chased-after and thwarted (“Fame, the adrenalin,” the poem calls it). In his own correspondence, we can see Klein—that model of decorum—fume, brag, and lash out at critics, a performance one academic called “a volatile mixture of delusions of grandeur and extreme insecurity.”

A little of that cut-and-thrust finds its way into “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape.” The poem doesn’t just brood on the forces shunting poets to the sidelines. It also tries to understand the harm these forces pose to the art, describing worst-case scenarios that double as descriptions of the experimental excesses Klein no doubt saw around him—then-emerging avant-gardisms that likely made Klein feel even more alone. (In 1948, he published an editorial excoriating the Nobel committee’s gullibility in rewarding the “derivativeness” of an “entrepreneur-poet” like Eliot.)

Among the poets he targets are those who, confined to the company of their own kind, give up on language as mettlesome force—lose their “bevel in the ear”—and turn poetry into a performative gesture, confusing artistic will for deed. Or the poets who, defiant, write to please themselves, distorting “truth to something convolute or cerebral.” It’s hard not to think of “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” as a poem where Klein damns the literary game he was convinced he could never win anyway.

Klein’s poem was published nearly a decade before his literary life was well and truly over, leaving us with the sense that he was grieving his crack-up ahead of time, in preparation. Even then, “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” seemed to be strewing clues about where things were headed. Klein had a gift for finding poetry’s institutional breaking points, those moments of discouragement and paralysis that make it hard to uphold the faith. But these breaking points, of course, aren’t unique to poetry. Even the most optimistic writers today will concede they write for an audience that lives on a media diet of emoticons, gifs, memes, abbreviated words, and sentence fragments. Algorithms have moneyballed the act of writing, transforming language into one more vector of data.

Klein had a gift for finding poetry’s institutional breaking points.

In this post-codex world of WhatsApp and TikTok, where our aggregator-minds have become what Robert Hughes once called “shifting anthologies of the briefly new,” literary neglect is a growth industry. Cynthia Ozick has protested the deterioration of “serious” criticism. For Merve Emre, the personal essay as “triumphal act of narration” is disappearing. And when Will Self states that literary fiction is “doomed to become a marginal cultural form, along with easel painting and the classical symphony,” he is drawing on the basic terms Sir Philip Sidney used four hundred years ago when he begged readers not to “scorne the sacred misteries of Poesie.” Soon, every serious literary writer will struggle with the same delusion that overtakes poets: the belief they deserve to be read, and the wanting of others to believe it too.

With “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape,” Klein becomes not merely one of the last outriders of a vision that saw the poet as a central cultural figure, he also becomes the custodian of any calling that, forged through a long discipline of study and training, tries to “bring/ new forms to life.” Klein reminds us that, beyond the lurid dramas of alcoholism and mania that wrecked the lives of mid-century American poets like Berryman and Lowell, there is a quieter but no less crushing occupational hazard attached to careers consecrated to a “declassé craft/ archaic like the fletcher’s”: oblivion.

In the second half of “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape,” the portrait-making tries to capture the spectral nature of a man vanishing from his own life, a quiet, “slippered” figure flickering out. The speaker comes to accept he is being effaced from historical memory—an impostor, he writes, has memorized “his personal biography,/ his gestures, his moods,” has “come forward to pose/ in the shivering vacuums his absence leaves.” (It bears recalling that Klein originally titled his poem “Portrait of the Poet as a Nobody.”) But the poet isn’t being removed from the picture as much as being dissolved in it. Stripped of his specialness, he is so assimilated into modern life—“so anonymously sunk in his environment,” according to Klein’s notes on the poem—he is part of the background, invisible.

Still, Klein refuses to cast off the role, even in the face of complete defeat. Instead, he retreats, gifts intact, and tries to transform his neglect, that “stark infelicity,” into a kind of style, a way of existing in relation to an indifferent world. “These are not mean ambitions,” he says, of his dreams to rescue the world through art. “It is already something/ merely to entertain them.” The man we encounter in these chin-up lines is a version of Denis Donoghue’s “poet-victim” who “has contrived to preserve a certain scruple from the wreck of his fortune.” A big poem about a shrunken sense of vocation, “Portrait of the Poet as Landscape” doesn’t just end, it hits rock bottom:

Meanwhile, he

makes of his status as zero a rich garland,

a halo of his anonymity,

and lives alone, and in his secret shines

like phosphorous. At the bottom of the sea.

These level-toned lines feel eerie and irrefutable; with them, the poem closes on a statement not of neglect, but endurance. The poet has embraced his own low standing and plunged it as far down as possible, to where he now “shines/ like phosphorus”—a telling image since phosphorus’s glow is a product of decay. The poet will go on sending out his light, but a light robbed of potency and influence. Here we have Klein, and his moment, in a nutshell. As the weight of the world presses down on him, his only vital sign is a gift he cannot switch off and no one can see.

Klein’s poem doesn’t tell us how to solve the problem of neglect, but it does provide a framework for thinking about it in a stark and powerful way. By embracing the poet’s “status as zero,” and making of it a “halo,” Klein’s poem dramatizes one of the most awful truths about being a poet: you must deceive yourself if you want to survive in the world. “The really hard thing,” the British poet Peter Porter once said, “is to make your own destiny coincide with the necessity of your art. Most poets are forced to fake the coincidence, if only because they cannot bear the thought of being judged irrelevant by history.”

Klein’s poem is about the intolerable consequences of faking the coincidence, how it leaves us with no choice but to write from a place of self-conscious irrelevancy. To be a poet, then, is to practice a brand of magical thinking. We pretend a lot is at stake in an art that makes nothing happen. To put it another way, poetry’s value depends on everybody believing in its value. When nothing is left to reinforce this bit of face-saving theater, the magic dries up. Klein’s silence is the story of how poets, betting everything on a pretense, have rendered their life an open falsehood. The poet’s career is today an extended project of fooling himself.

Klein’s torments left behind a plainer fragment of the man, his verbal fervency doused. He became the negative equivalent of what he always pursued. Everything that made his poetry special—heft, well-constructedness, linguistic charisma—disappeared into a neurasthenic drift. But maybe cessation didn’t mark something abandoned but something fulfilled. Maybe his lifelong project was brought to completion, consummated. Klein sometimes spoke of the “hapax legomenon,” a Greek term for a class of words of which only one instance is recorded—a word used once, and then not seen again. On the other side of that singular word, of course, is the force it disappears into and which protects it: silence. In a sense, Klein was the hapax legomenon of Canadian poetry and his final silence his most subversive masterwork.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 8, on page 23
Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com
https://newcriterion.com/issues/2020/4/the-silence-of-a-m-klein

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