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BETWEEN THE WARS

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)
Numerous American poets of stature and genuine vision arose in the years between the world wars, among them poets from the West Coast, women, and African-Americans. Like the novelist John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers lived in California and wrote of the Spanish rancheros and Indians and their mixed traditions, and of the haunting beauty of the land. Trained in the classics and well-read in Freud, he re-created themes of Greek tragedy set in the rugged coastal seascape. He is best known for his tragic narratives such as Tamar (1924), Roan Stallion (1925), The Tower Beyond Tragedy (1924) -- a re-creation of Aeschylus's Agamemnon - - and Medea (1946), a re-creation of the tragedy by Euripides.

Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962)

Edward Estlin Cummings, commonly known as e.e. cummings, wrote attractive, innovative verse distinguished for its humor, grace, celebration of love and eroticism, and experimentation with punctuation and visual format on the page. A painter, he was the first American poet to recognize that poetry had become primarily a visual, not an oral, art; his poems used much unusual spacing and indentation, as well as dropping all use of capital letters.

Like Williams, Cummings also used colloquial language, sharp imagery, and words from popular culture. Like Williams, he took creative liberties with layout. His poem "in Just " (1920) invites the reader to fill in the missing ideas:

in Just --

Spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring...

Hart Crane (1899-1932)

Hart Crane was a tormented young poet who committed suicide at age 33 by leaping into the sea. He left striking poems, including an epic, The Bridge (1930), which was inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge, in which he ambitiously attempted to review the American cultural experience and recast it in affirmative terms. His luscious (сладкий), overheated style works best in short poems such as "Voyages" (1923, 1926) and "At Melville's Tomb" (1926), whose ending is a suitable epitaph for Crane:

monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

Marianne Moore once wrote that poems were "imaginary gardens with real toads (жаба) in them." Her poems are conversational, yet elaborate and subtle in their syllabic versification, drawing upon extremely precise description and historical and scientific fact. A "poet's poet," she influenced such later poets as her young friend Elizabeth Bishop.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

One of many talented poets of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s -- in the company of James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, and others -- was Langston Hughes. He embraced African- American jazz rhythms and was one of the first black writers to attempt to make a profitable career out of his writing. Hughes incorporated blues, spirituals, colloquial speech, and folkways in his poetry.

An influential cultural organizer, Hughes published numerous black anthologies and began black theater groups in Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as New York City. He also wrote effective journalism, creating the character Jesse B. Semple ("simple") to express social commentary. One of his most beloved poems, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1921, 1925), embraces his African -- and universal -- heritage in a grand epic catalogue. The poem suggests that, like the great rivers of the world, African culture will endure and deepen:

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset

I've known rivers
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

 


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