When writing my books Modernism from Right to Left and Counter-Revolution of the Word: the Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60, I spent a great deal of time studying poets who in the 1930s had joined CPUSA and/or were attracted to the communist movement. And who, I should add, were shunned and even explicitly red-baited in the 1950s.
Readers here will know by now that one of my obsessions is the representation of the 1930s in the 1950s. I suppose you could say I collect these bits of (usually politicized) retrospectives. At right is an oil-and-charcoal painting by Robert Motherwell about the Spanish Civil War - done in 1958-60. Look over at my 1960 blog for more.
About a decade ago I recorded a mini-lecture about the transition from the American poetry of the 1920s to that of the 1930s. It gives some obvious dramatic examples of big changes, e.g. Isidor Schneider's move from latter-day imagist in the mid-1920s to communist poet of the 1930s. I left out any nuance here, but then the nuance became the subject of my most recent book, which in a sense refutes the standard description of the big change ("from modernism to radicalism"). However, I do stand by this little audio mini-lecture as a first foray into the topic for my students. And naturally, in the course, we read lots of examples.
A few years ago John Serio was asked to edit the Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens and expressed the hope that I'd summarize what I'd learned over the years about Stevens' response to the radical-left poetics of the 1930s, so I wrote a short paper (10 pages in print) and it appeared in that very good volume. Today I uploaded a PDF copy to my "Selected Works" site: here's the essay.
One of my favorite archives is the New Deal photo library of the National Archives & Records Administration (One of my favorite archives is the New Deal photo library of the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA). Thousands of photographs are organized in categories: Art, Civil Works Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, Conservation, Disaster Relief, Education, Farm Security Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Film, Health Care, Historical Projects, Housing, Issues and Events, Music, etc. Under "health care" there are hundreds of posters, including anti-quack warnings such as the one I've reproduced here. It is dated August 30, 1938. I'm glad to see that the good doctor was one who did not "demand advance payment." And don't you love the evil dark image of the monocled medico shown toward the right side of the poster? We should beware the pencil mustache too, I suppose.
The final tell-tale sign of the quack cancer doctor? That he advertises.
In 1998 Jerre Mangione passed away. Jerre had been on the faculty of English at Penn since the early sixties, and retired perhaps a year or two after I arrived in '85. Because of his involvement in the 1930s as a young administrator in the Federal Writers' Project, I sought him out, lunched with him, interviewed him, and came to admire him. I read his novels and of course studied his history of the FWP, The Dream and the Deal.
Many poets who lived to old age have registered in verse what it must be like to see or sense an "I" so old, so long ago, so outmoded, that such a version of the self is unrecognizable, other. Stevens' "Long and Sluggish Lines" is just one of several poems he wrote in his seventies in this vein. But Stevens died at a merely 76. Carl Rakosi died at 100. To celebrate his 99th birthday, we at the Writers House invited him to read.