Poet and activist Eliot Katz (b. 1957) is the author of seven books of poetry, including Unlocking the Exits (Coffee House Press, 1999) and Love, War, Fire, Wind: Looking Out from North America’s Skull (2009), published with drawings by the human rights artist and advocate, William T. Ayton. Katz’s first full-length poetry book, Space and Other Poems for Love, Laughs, and Social Transformation, was published by Northern Lights in 1990, with introductions by Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka, and a front cover drawing by Leon Golub.
Katz’s most recent book is a readable, scholarly volume, entitled The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg (Beatdom Books, 2016), which Kurt Hemmer, editor of the Encyclopedia of Beat Literature, has called the “most engaging and rigorous analysis of Ginsberg’s political poetry yet attempted.” Katz is also the author of two prose e-books, Three Radical Poets: Tributes to Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Adrienne Rich (2013), and The Moonlight of Home and Other Stories of Truth and Fiction (2013).
Eliot was a coeditor, with Allen Ginsberg and Andy Clausen, of Poems for the Nation (Seven Stories Press, 2000), a collection of contemporary political poems that Ginsberg was compiling in the 18 months before his death in 1997. A cofounder in 1982, with Danny Shot, and a former coeditor of the long-running Long Shot literary journal, Katz guest-edited Long Shot’s final issue, a “Beat Bush issue” released in Spring 2004. Katz is also coeditor, with Christian Haye, of a bilingual poetry anthology published in France in 1997, entitled Changing America: Contemporary U.S. Poems of Protest. And he served six years as the poetry editor of the popular, democratic-left online politics quarterly, Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture.
Katz’s poems are included in numerous anthologies, including: Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets; Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, 2nd ed. ; The World the 60s Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America; Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe; Bluestones and Salt Hay: An Anthology of Contemporary New Jersey Poets; Identity Lessons: Contemporary Writing About Learning to Be American; In Defense of Mumia; Nada Poems; Confronting Capitalism: Dispatches from a Global Movement; the online Museum of American Poetics at www.poetspath.com; and the eco-poetry internet anthology, eco-poetry.org. Eliot’s essay, “Radical Eyes: Political Poetics and ‘Howl’,” is included in the prose collection, The Poem That Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later. Of his piece in that collection, the San Francisco Chronicle’s reviewer, Allan Jalon, wrote that Katz’s essay “gives the book its intellectual core.” Eliot is also a contributor, with short essays on Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg, to Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side, and with two essays on Andy Clausen to the Encyclopedia of Beat Literature .
Eliot’s post-9/11 poem, “When the Skyline Crumbles,” which both mourns the dead of 9/11 and opposes the idea of the U.S. starting endless wars in response to the tragic 9/11 attacks, was originally posted on the literary website, www.mobylives.com, and was soon thereafter featured in national articles about post-9/11 artwork, including an Associated Press article by journalist, Hillel Italie, which was picked up by print newspapers like USA Today and the Indianapolis Star and in such major online media outlets as cnn.com. “When the Skyline Crumbles” is also the subject of literary analysis in a number of scholarly books about poetry written after war and other traumatic events, including Richard Gray’s After the Fall: American Literature After 9/11 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).
Katz was a one-time student (Naropa Institute, 1980) and a longtime friend of the late poet, Allen Ginsberg, who called Katz “another classic New Jersey bard.” A year after Ginsberg’s death in 1997, Katz served as a core member of the Organizing Committee and as a reader for Planet News: A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry and Social Activism, an event held on May 14, 1998 and attended by over 2,500 people at The Cathedral at St. John the Divine in New York City.
Eliot currently lives in Hoboken, New Jersey with his partner, the writer, Vivian Demuth. He is the child of a Holocaust survivor. His mother’s parents, and five of her seven brothers and sisters, were killed in Auschwitz, where they had been taken by cattle car in 1944 from their home in Hungary. Eliot’s long poem, “Liberation Recalled”–originally published in his book, Unlocking the Exits–tells the story of his mother’s concentration camp experiences through an inventive multi-sectioned literary form which implicitly explores questions of historical and intergenerational legacy.
Katz, who received a PhD in literature from Rutgers University, lived for over two decades in New Brunswick and Highland Park, New Jersey. He then spent a decade and a half in the Chelsea and Astoria neighborhoods of New York City, before eventually moving to Hoboken.
Eliot has worked for many years as an activist for a wide range of peace, social justice, and human rights causes. He spent a decade as an advocate for Central New Jersey homeless individuals and families, working with the Middlesex Interfaith Partners with the Homeless (MIPH, since renamed Making It Possible to End Homelessness), during which time he worked with activist colleagues (including Janet Jones, Bob Nasdor, Rev. Jeffrey Eaton, Fleeta Bulle, and Lisanne Finston) to help create several housing and food programs that remain ongoing, including Amandla Crossing Transitional Housing, Imani Park Transitional Housing (for which he led a complex effort to take several acres of surplus land away from the army under the Base Closure Act to create a housing program), and Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen.
Other activist groups with whom Katz has worked through the decades have included: The NJ Anti-Apartheid Mobilization Coalition; Student Action Union (in which he worked with the renowned organizer, Abbie Hoffman, who was the group’s main outside advisor); Astorians for Peace & Justice; the PEN Freedom to Write Committee; Plowshares Press, Solutions to End Poverty Soon (STEPS); United for Peace & Justice; the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Collective; the Abbie Hoffman Activist Foundation; the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and the NYC-based single-payer health-care advocacy group, the Private Health Insurance Must Go Coalition.