David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: The Roaring Editors


The Academy of American Poets is featuring Terese Svoboda’s generous tribute to a relatively unknown 1920’s proletariat poet, Lola Ridge. Svoboda isn’t just knocked out by Ridge. She compares her in a single breath to H. D., Emily Dickinson, and Philip Levine. That’s some trifecta. Svoboda hails Ridge as a poet devoted to the struggles of the working class. And she hopes you elevate Ridge to a lineup of America’s many political poets like Hart Crane or Muriel Rukeyeser.

Wishful, I have to say. Because I wish Ridge’s poems weren’t so un-steeped in metaphor and so glumly reportorial. For sure, that’s one of the obstacles political poets often can’t overcome. They struggle to get past the facts and to fashion experience into aesthetic relief. (Looking for model exceptions? Try “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich or C. D. Wright’s One With Others or “The Wealth of the Destitute” by Denise Levertov or one of the great American political poems of the 20th century–for me, at least–“For the Union Dead” by Robert Lowell..)

But here’s what I love about Svoboda’s poets.org article: Learning about Broom magazine. I mean, have a look at this trifecta: In the roaring 1920s, three little magazines competed with each other and were each run by major female editors: Lola Ridge at Broom, Harriet Monroe at Poetry, and Marianne Moore at The Dial. Broom is largely forgotten, isn’t it? The Dial was already on borrowed time in the 1920s. Its legacy is of the 19th century — Ralph Emerson was considered for an early editorship. Only Poetry has lasted, now in its 100th year. And now it’s almost a hundred years since the golden era of these three women literary editors — editors who gave Modernism a boost. What will the 2020s bring? I’m looking at you, VIDA. Please, do your thing.

David Biespiel is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Charming Gardeners and The Book of Men and Women, which was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry. His book of essays A Long High Whistle: Selected Columns on Poetry received the Frances Fuller Victor Award. More from this author →