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.
Poet Eve Merriam did her final two years of undergraduate education at Penn in the mid-1930s. Later, someone writing a Masters thesis wrote about her experience at Penn: here is a page from that. I’m grateful to Merriam’s son, Dee Michel, who shared the document with me.
“No, he's not writing a book. He's holding up his end of a literary feud that began in 1903.” (Saturday Review of Literature, August 14, 1943, p. 13. Reprinted in 1949 during the Ezra Pound/Bollingen Prize controversy.)
The choice of year (1903!) seems intended to suggest both that the feud has something to do with the first shocks of the modern era — incited among critics by, for instance, Kandinsky's first exhibitions — and that the message seems in part to be, c'est la guerre. The scene at first seems settled, well-off, bourgeois and perhaps suburban, the home of the culturally mature. But the writer’s wife hints at the domestic dystopia of nonlyricism. The romantic heretical poet-figure has become the settled write-at-night critic-figure, the letter-to-editor writer, entrenched in back-'n-forth prose. Conservatives such as poet-critic Peter Viereck — darling of New Right intellectuals in the 1950s — were at the time explicit in associating prose with liberalism, poetry with conservatism, and hardly anything could irk an antimodernist more than the brazen way in which the communist poet ignored the distinction between the proper stations and functions of prose and poetry. CPUSA-affiiliated poet Eve Merriam for instance in a poem called “Said Prose to Verse”:
Listen, my insinuating poem, stop poking your grinning face into every anywhere. I have trouble enough keeping my house in order without a free-loading moon-swigging boarder around making like of solid ground.