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First awakenings : the early poems of Laura Riding

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  • "When Laura Riding sailed for England in December, 1925, she left many of her personal belongings in the safekeeping of a friend in Greenwich Village. Among these items was a box containing the typescripts of more than two hundred poems, a few of which had been published in magazines such as The Fugitive, Poetry Nomad, Lyric West, and Contemporary Verse. Then aged twenty-four, Laura Riding had already been hailed as a leading voice of her generation. She had come to New York to pursue a life devoted to poetry, but saw her American contemporaries as lacking a seriousness, both poetic and personal, which she considered to be the poet's essential attribute. So when an invitation came from Robert Graves and Nancy Nicholson in England, she accepted. In Europe she found "solitariness in which to probe the reality of poetry as a spiritual, not merely literary, inheritance." Although by 1938 she could say that "to live in, by, for the reasons of, poems is to habituate oneself to the good existence," her probing finally led her to renounce poetry; she had found poetic utterance inherently incapable of yielding the full truth-potential of words. Meanwhile the correspondence with the friend in New York had continued. In 1979 her friend wrote that she had discovered, in storage, the cache of poems left behind. Arrangements were made for its return, and during the months before her death in 1991, Laura (Riding) Jackson was preparing these early poems for publication. Rediscovering these poems of her youth, Laura (Riding) Jackson saw in them "a precise anticipation of an envisaged whole of poetry." Readers will find here the same confident authorial presence that permeates the "self-determining canon" of her poetic work, which she identified as her Collected Poems of 1938 (reprinted in 1980 by Persea as The Poems of Laura Riding), many of the themes developed in her later work, and a characteristic freshness of vision and scrupulosity of word-use. These poems are experiments in what poetry can do. They are early stepping stones on the path that led Laura (Riding) Jackson ultimately to a realization of what poetry cannot do. Those familiar with the poetry of Laura Riding will read First Awakenings with the delight of enlarged recognition, and those approaching it as an introduction to her work will find direction for the mind's journey."

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  • "First awakenings : the early poems of Laura Riding"