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As Editor of Broom, Lola Ridge Objected to Stein: “A bladder blown up by many breaths”

By Harriet Staff

Yesterday we got deeper into Ernest Hemingway’s salty annotation of the “Lady Poets,” one of whom, “the nearest prototype in her time of the proletarian poet of class conflict,” is Lola Ridge. Ridge has had more longevity than most of those women–Factory School republished her book The Ghetto in 2006. It was already pretty much downloable/readable (see all the links here). A bit about it, firstly:

Lola Ridge makes no plea for popular favor. She knows, as every revolutionary knows, that only a few will understand, and that fewer still will like what she has to offer. Her dedication is ‘To the American People’ in these lines:

Will you feast with me, American People?
But what have I that shall seem good to you!

On my board are bitter apples
And honey served on thorns,
And in my flagons fluid iron,
Hot from the crucibles.

How should such fare entice you!

We mentioned that Thom Donovan had posted some book covers on his site Wild Horses of Fire–it turns out he also reviewed, back in 2007, the Factory School edition of The Ghetto:

Here to lay a politics on one’s sleeve, as I believe Ridge does, does not mean to resort to easy caricatures of marginalized ethnic identities or social standing/class position. Likewise, for Ridge, it is not to suture identity categories easily, where “to suture” means to smooth over difference, eliminating conflict for a general cause, ideal, belief or social goal. A commitment to class antagonism—radical indeed for a (presumably) Catholic Irish immigrant (which is to say, an “outsider”)—does not mean the subsuming or synthesizing of other identity categories.

Rich Owens–who, btw, has just published an epic issue of Damn the Caesars called “Crisis Inquiry”–actually just wrote about Lola Ridge on Gertrude Stein earlier this month, referring back to Donovan’s 2007 review. The current post is interesting in light of the Stein wartime discussion going on right now as well; but mostly Owens looks at Ridge’s work as editor of Harold Loeb’s Broom:

Born into considerable poverty and having worked during the first half of her adult life as a model, factory hand, illustrator and, later, a labor organizer, the question of class dominated her work as a poet. But for Ridge class never functioned as a blunt transcendental category capable of blindly trumping other subject positions delicately and differentially articulated with class, and this sensitivity to identity bears itself out not only in her writing, but also her work as editor.

From 1922 through 1923 Ridge served as American editor of Harold Loeb’s journal Broom, a short but decisive tenure during which Ridge edited the so-called “American” number of the magazine, the January 1923 issue containing writing from William Carlos Williams, Kay Boyle, Marianne Moore, Margaret Evans, Hart Crane, Jean Toomer, Kenneth Burke and others. Often, at least so far as I’ve seen, Ridge’s work with Broom is framed as a challenge to European cultural hegemony — that is, a challenge to European cosmopolitanism in favor of a more insular American nationalism.

Things got trickier as her editorship developed–read on for her letters to Loeb regarding a resistance to the inclusion of Gertrude Stein:

But for [scholar Belinda] Wheeler it is Ridge’s work with Broom that demands attention, “because the disagreements she had with Loeb highlight prescribed roles female editors encountered, polarize the modernist debates on both sides of the Atlantic, show her confronting one of modernism’s well-known artists, and demonstrate how the fallout over the American issue irrevocably affected Broom‘s future.” The magazine folded four issues after Ridge’s resignation, but it is Ridge’s challenge to Gertrude Stein’s inclusion in the American number I find most fascinating. In a 2 January 1923 letter to Loeb tendering her resignation, Ridge writes:

You say it is difficult for you to analyze the cause of my resignation, “as the effect is entirely disproportionate to the cause.” I took hold of BROOM early last March for the purpose of saving a failing venture in which I felt strongly interested. But I did not propose to do this either as your agent or as your mss. reader, but as the American editor.

[...]

2. G. Stein.
Her words satisfy Sherwood Anderson’s nostralgia [sic; nostalgia] for home-cooking. I see that you advance his slushy sentimentalities about her in the New Republic as an argument in support of your opinion of her importance. I object to her work in BROOM, not because of the missing substance in her work, not because she merely plays with language, but because she does not do it well enough. If you must play with words, as such, with no impetus or passion behind, then you must do it skillfully as a swordsman plays with rapiers — as Marsden Hartley, Amy Lowell, Wallace Stevens have done it. G. Stein’s words — house-wife’s canning plums — peanuts rattling in a straw hat — at best, corn popping in a skillet.

Personally, I have nothing against Miss Stein. I do not know her, but she is doubtless a lady of charm. Witness her power thereof in her literary reputation — a bladder blown up by many breaths. Well, my breath will not help to fill this particular bladder.

You say in your letter of December 6th, that you gather that my resignation was conditional. It was — on the withdrawal of the Stein page from the American number. I should not have greatly objected to it in any other. You, on the other hand, felt that “any review of American literature that left out G.S. would be incomplete.”

Is the January number intended as a review of those arrived American writers whose work has already influenced their contemporaries? [...]

And then what about the impression given in your December ad which presages a rushing to the front of little known or totally unknown American writers? Ten years ago, when Kay Boyle was a child of ten, Gertrude Stein was quite the rage in her mother’s literary set in Cincinnati … I mention this fact to show the incongruity of the inclusion of Stein — a woman who reached the height of her notoriety a decade ago — in the group of unknown or little known moderns mentioned in your ad.
[...]

However, you are right in believing that the Stein poem was not the sole cause of my resignation, but merely the last jerk that snapped the string.

The veiled indictment of hereditary class privilege advanced through Ridge’s opposition to Stein should not be dismissed.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.