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Eye On Kenneth Fearing

From time to time, Eyewear will narrow its gaze and consider a poet of the past whose writing should be attended to in the present.

Today, Kenneth Fearing, pictured here.

Fearing was my favourite poet when I was an adolescent one winter, and I recall reading his cynical proletarian broadcasts on the page (from an anthology of "modern verse" my mother had used in college) with a vital thrill - the sky was a dark blue, and it was very cold outside, and this seemed like the world as it was to me then (sometime at the start of the Reagan-Thatcher 80s it must be said). But then, he seemed to slip from view - mine, readers, critics, anthologists - until quite recently.

I suppose what held against him was his life (somewhat shabby and unattended) and his broadly observant, but political poems, that were not in favour for a time; and his mordant, almost accidental Marxism. To one generation, he was the news; to the next, he was old news; and to ours, he seems to be returning as news that never staled. But, pulp novelist that he was, he must have sensed that style is the key - and I think he's a bit of a master of that.

I think an element of my poetry which is (and more often was) public in its pronouncements, and satirical, emanates like a long-lost radio wave from that time. I think I also loved the slovenly noirishness of his look, his person. At times, it almost seems as if he was single-handedly the only American Communist poet writing anything of interest during the spectacularly interesting period of the 30s through WWII - and certainly the only one doing so while wearing a fedora. Meanwhile, his crime novel The Big Clock was a Hollywood hit, so there was that twist in the tale - a dialectical man then, with hands turning both ways - towards profit, and a critique of capital. There's mystery in that, too, which he could've mined more.

I'll be reviewing the Fearing volume from the APP series mentioned in a previous post (it is number 8) when it arrives in the post.

In the meantime, here's a good biographical sketch:


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Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

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He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.