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Left of PoetryDepression America and the Formation of Modern Poetics$
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Sarah Ehlers

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469651286

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469651286.001.0001

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The Left Needs Rhythm

The Left Needs Rhythm

Popular Front Poetry, Antifascism, and the Counterarchives of Modernism

(p.181) Chapter Five The Left Needs Rhythm
Left of Poetry

Sarah Ehlers

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter considers the role of the archive in left literary studies through a recovery of Jewish-American communist poet Martha Millet. Specifically, it uses Millet’s work to trace a history and theory of poetic rhythm that rethinks the relationship between modernist poetic forms and left politics. The chapter’s first section uses Millet’s involvement with the children’s magazine The New Pioneer to unpack the historical relationship between traditional forms and political community formation. The generic histories enacted by communist children’s poems provide a foundation for considering how rhythm was evoked in Popular Front and antifascist poetic discourses. The second section argues that during the Popular Front diverse traditional genres were collapsed into an ideal rhythmic poem, where rhythm described both form and function. The third section focuses on Millet’s contributions to Seven Poets in Search of an Answer (1944) to demonstrate how rhythm was redefined in antifascist discourses. Throughout, the chapter suggests how Millet’s poetry might be read in relation to poets such as Carl Sandburg, Lorine Niedecker, and Kenneth Fearing. A coda returns to Millet’s Cold War criticism in order to ask what is at stake in her critical erasure and her critical recovery.

Keywords:   Modernism, rhythm, antifascism, Martha Millet, Carl Sandburg, Lorine Niedecker, Kenneth Fearing

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