Friday, August 15, 2014

Some quotations on Kenneth Fearing

Ron Capshaw notes that poet and novelist Kenneth Fearing was one of the founders of the Partisan Review.

I discovered Fearing's poetry in my first year as an undergrad. I've since had a weakness for his 'American Rhapsody (5)', which begins near the bottom of p. 649 of this old anthology. I've inserted that page below. (The poem appears to have been incorrectly labeled 'American Rhapsody (4)' in this anthology, though that might have been the correct numbering when this collection was published.)

Capshaw says,
When Fearing, who died in 1961 and would have turned 102 this week, was asked the $64,000 question when he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950—“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”—he answered, “Not yet.”
David Orr: 'Fearing’s poetry is what you’d get if you threw five newspapers, ten comic books, Das Kapital, the script for The Big Heat, and Palgrave’s Golden Treasury into a blender'.

Walter Kalaidjian (quoting something that Kenneth Burke wrote in 1935):
As [Kenneth] Burke pointed out ..., Fearing more than Cummings effected a powerful "fusion of ecclesiastic intonations (the lamentation) and contemporary cant (slang, business English, the imagery of pulp fiction, syndicated editorials, and advertising)."
Robert M. Ryley:
[Fearing's] "St. Agnes' Eve" is a little anthology of American styles, focusing attention not so much on crime and suffering and death as on their transformation into the language of film, newspaper, cartoon, poem, and ordinary speech. It is as if we are meant to see at work in the poem, and at a distance that protects us from its normally irresistible power, the mythmaking machinery of the whole culture.
Robert Polito:
Ordinary life rarely enters Fearing’s poems except through the slippery deflections of popular culture, and there is no snooty distance or criticism, as though for a poet and citizen of the 20th century the inescapable, omnipresent urban media assume roles that the natural world, say, performed for prior poetry.
Weldon Kees (1941):
[Fearing] has taken over and extended techniques of the anti-poetic common to both Whitman and Sandburg, supplementing them with more raucous tricks not unknown to the soap-boxer, the radio orator, and the side-show barker. Principal among these are the device of repetition, esteemed also by the writer of advertising copy, and the device of listing and cataloguing.
More from Kees' review of Fearing:
Contemporary civilization has been anything but reserved in providing its satirical writers with abundant horrors; and Fearing, who gathers up-to-the-minute horrors with all the eager thoroughness of a bibliophile cackling over pagination errors, has ... much cause to be grateful.

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