Born on a farm near Sheldon, North Dakota, the grandchild of Irish Catholic homesteaders, McGrath was educated at the University of North Dakota, Louisiana State University, New College, and Oxford University, the latter as a Rhodes Scholar. He was in the U.S. Air Force in the Aleutian Islands during World War II, isolated from combat in a unit full of radicals feared by the high command.
Among progressive modern American poets working with social and political themes and using traditional forms, Aaron Kramer may well be the single most accomplished figure. From his first protest poems, written in the mid-1930s when he was barely a teenager, through to his pointed critiques of the 1983 war in Grenada and Ronald Reagan's 1985 visit to Nazi graves in Bitburg, what stands out about Kramer's work is the musical character of his acts of political witness.
yusef Komunyakaa is an African American poet who was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, the son of a carpenter. He grew up in Louisiana and was educated at the University of Colorado, Colorado Sate University, and the University of California at Irvine. Long interested in the relationship between jazz and poetry, he has coedited two volumes on the subject.
Born in Volcano, Hawaii, of Japanese-American parents, Hongo grew up on the North Shore of Oahu and later in California. His father was an electrician and his mother a personnel analyst. He was educated at Pomona College, the University of Michigan, and the University of California at Irvine. He was the founding director of a Seattle theater group called the Asian Exclusion Act.
With its concise and telling graveyard epitaphs, Masters's 1915 collection, Spoon River Anthology, established his reputation and remains his best-known work. Born and raised in a small town in Illinois, his first and last volumes of poetry focus on the life of his native Midwest. Yet he also took up other subjects and used a variety of verse forms in the course of his career, meanwhile working as a lawyer and writing biographies of Vachel Lindsay, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain. See especially Spoon River Anthology: An Annotated Edition (1992).
Born in Beatrice, Nebraska, Weldon Kees graduated from the University of Nebraska. After an editorial job with the Federal Writers' Project in Lincoln, he moved to Denver to direct its bibliographic center. A few years later, he left for New York, where he earned a living for a while writing for Time magazine, until he moved to San Francisco in 1951. He also became a committed Trotskyite, the Marxist group cast out of the official Communist Party. Kees was not only a poet—one often cynical about American middle class values—but also a painter, a pianist, and a jazz composer.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Randall Jarrell was educated at Vanderbilt University and taught at a number of colleges and universities, meanwhile acquiring a reputation as a devastatingly witty reviewer of other people's poetry. After enlisting in the Army Air Force in 1942, he was assigned to an aviation facility in Tucson, Arizona, where he became a celestial training navigator.
Etheridge Knight was born in Corinth, Mississippi. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and joined the Army in 1947. He was trained as a medical technician before being discharged in 1957 after receiving a serious shrapnel wound in Korea. Thereafter he had problems with drug and alcohol addiction, finally being arrested for robbery in 1960. In prison, he began to write, encouraged by poets Gwendolyn Brooks, Dudley Randall, and Sonia Sanchez.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robinson Jeffers's father was a minister and a professor of biblical literature. The family moved to northern California in 1903, before the area was fully settled. Jeffers himself was educated at Occidental College in Los Angeles. His initial interests were in medicine and forestry, which he studied, respectively, at the University of Southern California and at the University of Washington.
James Weldon Johnson's work and multiple careers defy easy characterization. He was born and grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where his grandfather had moved after a hurricane destroyed his business in the Bahamas. Johnson graduated from Atlanta University and then studied law, serving simultaneously as principal of the Stanton School. But he also began writing poems, which served as the lyrics for songs his brother John, a trained musician, had begun composing. At the turn of the century, both brothers were in New York composing songs for Broadway musicals.