Friday, June 27, 2008

a Zelig of modern poetry

Very soon we at PennSound will be announcing a new page of recordings: those of the poet Walter Lowenfels. We've been working with WL's daughter Judy to preserve readings and interviews that have been stored on reel-to-reel and cassette tapes. First they were digitized and put onto CDs. Then we've been selecting batches to upload, tag, name and organize on the new Lowenfels author page: here. We'll be adding more soon, but check it out now. Rare stuff there.

Lowenfels is, in a way, the Zelig of modern American poetry--part of nearly every aesthetic and political movement of his time. In the 20s he was an expatriate avant-gardist living, writing, experimenting, publishing, frolicking in Paris; toward and in the 1930s he became a political activist, and a member of the Communist Party; in the 1950s he actually went to jail after having been convicted under the anticommunist Smith Act, and wrote sonnets to love and liberty while in jail; re-emerging in the early and mid-1960s, he was taken up avidly by a new generation of readers and became a leader among the poet-activists who opposed the war in Vietnam.

For my book on the poetry of the 1950s and the way it responded to modernism in the 1930s, I spend a good deal of time tracking down Lowenfels' publications and reading among his unpublished letters and other archival materials. So this new Lowenfels PennSound gives me special pleasure.

Armand Schwerner: "Way before the sixties, Walter Lowenfels perceived the lopsided canon of our poetry; he did a great deal to change the climate, in which, as he writes, the country needed to include 'the vast emotional resources and insights that Indian, Black and Chicano people express in their poetry."