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Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics, Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics, 0817317139, 0-8173-1713-9, 978-0-8173-1713-3, 9780817317133, , , Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics, 0817384456, 0-8173-8445-6, 978-0-8173-8445-6, 9780817384456,

Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics
Stevens, Cummings, Frost, and Williams in the 1930s
Milton A. Cohen

Trade Cloth
2010. 280 pp.
978-0-8173-1713-3
Price:  $39.95 t
E Book
2011. 280 pp.
978-0-8173-8445-6
Price:  $39.95 d

Different as they were as poets, Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, Robert Frost, and Williams Carlos Williams grappled with the highly charged literary politics of the 1930s in comparable ways. As other writers moved sharply to the Left, and as leftist critics promulgated a proletarian aesthetics, these modernist poets keenly felt the pressure of the times and politicized literary scene. All four poets saw their reputations critically challenged in these years and felt compelled to respond to the new politics, literary and national, in distinct ways, ranging from rejection to involvement. 

Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics closely examines the dynamics of these responses: what these four poets wrote—in letters, essays, lectures, fiction (for Williams), and most importantly, in their poems; what they believed politically and aesthetically; how critics, particularly leftist critics, reviewed their work; how these poets reacted to that criticism and to the broader milieu of leftism. Each poet’s response and its subsequent impact on his poetic output is a unique case study of the conflicting demands of art and politics in a time of great social change. 


Milton A. Cohen is Professor of Literary Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas and the author of Movement, Manifesto, Melee: The Modernist Group 1910–1914 and Hemingway’s Laboratory: The Paris in our time. 

“Cohen has located a rich vein of materials. All four of his featured writers were either well established as major poets by the beginning of the 1930s (Frost and Cummings) or were beginning to establish a significant reputation as poetic innovators on the strength of one or two published collections of their work (Williams and Stevens). They therefore merit Cohen’s characterization as being tempting targets for the emerging Leftist critics, whether as foils to lambaste for their ‘social fascism’ or cultural figures to be won over to the cause. ”Cohen’s writing style is crisp and lively. . . . All of the chapters offer something new and interesting, whether to our understanding of the individual poets covered or the milieu of 1930s literary radicalism.”
—Mark W. Van Wienan, author of Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War

“Cohen offers a fascinating study of the intersection of politics and literature in the 1930s. Focusing on four modernist poets—Wallace Stevens, e. e. cummings, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams—the author examines the demands leftist readers and critics exerted on them. These critics asserted that writers in all genres should celebrate the working class, proletarian movements, and liberal—preferably leftist—politics. In addition to poems, Cohen draws on letters, essays, and lectures to portray each poet's distinct response. Most interestingly, he quotes generously from contemporaneous reviews published in magazines ranging from the left-wing New Masses to the more mainstream Nation, which represent the sometimes shrill, sometimes strident voices that evaluated these poets’ contributions. Although all four poets produced work with political themes during the 1930s, their views differed greatly: Frost and cummings championed the individual rather than any collective movement; Stevens was absorbed more with aesthetics than with politics; Williams was more overtly political, both during and after the 1930s. None, as Cohen shows persuasively, was able to escape the pressures of the time. Summing Up: Recommended.” —CHOICE

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