Alter Esselin was living in Chicago
in the early 1920's and had already acquired some
recognition as a Yiddish poet. He was probably thirty
one at the time.
This picture must have been taken when
Alter was around 30, and was busy trying to establish
himself as an up and coming poet. He was always aware
that his start in his career as an artist was somewhat
later than most men began their efforts. His was belated
because of the circumstances of his life, and not
out of any failure of will, but it still bothered
him that he was somewhat late in coming to the table.
The picture was drawn in 1923 when Alter Esselin
was 34. This nearly life size charcoal portrait
of Alter Esselin was done by a very well regarded
artist of the time--I think his surname was Elkin
(many of the Russian Jewish immigrant men of that
time went by their surnames as a social custom)
and he was so taken with the long poem "Proletariar"
for which Alter won that prize, that he took the
train from New York to Los Angeles for the purpose
of doing that portrait. The picture did capture
a certain inner spirit of the poet, and I think
it was the best evocation of his attitude toward
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