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 a poet, literary critic, memoirist, and contributing writer at American Poetry Review, New Republic, New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate, among other publications. He is the author of numerous books, most recently The Education of a Young Poet, which was selected a Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen for Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry. More from this author →