Who is Lola Ridge?
In short, she's a poet.
Though a poet you may have never heard of: who hung around the likes of Emma Goldman, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams; who has been called the nearest prototype in her time of the proletarian poet of class conflict; who extended her youth by claiming to be ten years younger, avoiding the taboo of being a single woman over forty in the early twentieth century; who was born in Dublin and once married to a New Zealand miner -- the stuff of a revolutionary.
Unjustly pushed out of critics' circles, Lola was a strong voice in activist circles and a prominant poetic archivist of the human landscape of early twentieth-century New York City. Recently she has resurfaced with a few collections and an extensive biography, Anything That Burns You (2016), penned by Terese Svoboda. Robert Gray over at Shelf Awareness talked with Svoboda about Ridge's life and how it occurred that so few of us were hip to it.
"I touch on the highlights of her life in the opening few pages: starting with her immobile under rearing police horses at the demonstration against execution of Sacco and Vanzetti," Svoboda told me. "I talk about her trek from New Zealand, dropping her son off at an orphanage, working for Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger, and turning into the doyenne of poetry as a friend of Williams, Moore, Jean Toomer and Hart Crane -- but then I have to go off book and summarize about her struggle with the wealthy Harold Loeb to keep the modernist movement going, her drug use, wandering penniless through Baghdad and taking a lover in Mexico, and the various shenanigans of the poetry world. While daunting, that's what I use to tease them into the q&a. Unlike the biographies of many other writers, hers is so full of incident it seems to have been lived by at least two people."
"For booksellers, handselling titles they love means honing the irresistibility factor so potential readers feel they need a particular book. I asked Svoboda how she would approach the handselling challenge with Anything That Burns You. 'I'd say the book turns on its head the idea that poets are extraneous to the cultural conversation,' she replied. 'Lola lived her wild life dedicated to freedom, and that's what America was founded on, and that's what modernism in America was all about, and that's what poetry encourages.'"
Here's an excerpt of Lola Ridge's Debris which appears in Anything that Burns You:
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.