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Lola Ridge: The radical modernist poet we won't forget twice


At the Boston Review, Terese Svoboda writes about forgotten modernist poet, immigrant, and anarchist Lola Ridge, best known in her day for radical verses about the immigrant ghettos of New York’s Lower East Side, which she called home. An excerpt:

Ridge was not just a poet of activism. She was one of the first to delineate the life of the poor in Manhattan and, in particular, women’s lives in New York City. The title poem of her second book, Sun-up and Other Poems, is a striking modernist depiction of a child’s interior life. Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry, and William Rose Benét, founder of the Saturday Review of Literature, called Ridge a genius. Four years before T. S. Eliot, an anti-Semite, published The Waste Land (1922), Ridge’s long poem “The Ghetto” celebrated the Jewish Lower East Side and prophesied the multiethnic world of the twenty-first century. “An early, great chronicler of New York life,” Slate summarized when it published Robert Pinsky’s praising column about Ridge in 2011. She embraced her subject along Whitmanesque lines, yet here is a small bomb of a poem from The Ghetto and Other Poems—likened at the time of its publication to the poetry of H. D. and Emily Dickinson—that remains a model of Imagist engagement with the world:

I love those spirits
That men stand off and point at,
Or shudder and hood up their souls—
Those ruined ones,
Where Liberty has lodged an hour
And passed like flame,
Bursting asunder the too small house.

Ridge also presided over Thursday afternoon salons filled with modernist hotshots. This was in the early 1920s, while Ridge was the editor of the influential Others: A Magazine of the New Verse and, later, Broom. Eating slices of Ridge’s cake and drinking whatever Prohibition would allow (and not), William Carlos Williams and Robert McAlmon hatched plans for their magazine Contact, twenty-year-old Hart Crane flirted with everyone in sight, Marianne Moore read early drafts of her own work, and Vladimir Mayakovsky stomped on her coffee table.

Painting of Lola Ridge via