Straight

Jimmy Baca

Born in Sante Fe, New Mexico, of Chicano and Apache Indian descent, but abandoned at age two, Jimmy Baca lived part of the time with a grandparent. By his fifth birthday, his father was dead of alcoholism, his mother had been murdered by her new husband, and Baca was in an orphanage. He escaped at age eleven and lived on the street, moving on to drugs and alcohol. Soon he was convicted on a drug charge, though he may not have been guilty. He wrote the poems in his first book, Immigrants in Our Own Land (1979), while he was in prison, where he had taught himself to read.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He was educated first at Harvard University and then at Oxford University, with a break at the Sorbonne in Paris between his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Boston. He moved to England and began a strained marriage with Vivian Haigh-Wood in 1915. He supported himself by working at Lloyd's Bank in London from 1917-1925, then joined a publishing firm. In 1927, he became a British citizen and joined the Anglican Church. He was drawn to European fascism in the 1930s, but unlike Pound remained uninvolved in politics.

Martín Espada

Born in Brooklyn, New York, of Puerto Rican parents—his father was a photographer who illustrated his first book—Espada now teaches at the University of Massachusetts, but his earlier experience is much wider. He was a night clerk in a transient hotel, a journalist in Nicaragua, a welfare rights paralegal, and later a tenant lawyer in Boston. In addition to writing his own poetry, he has edited collections of political poetry and of contemporary Latino poets. His political poetry is notable for making its points with great wit and bravado.

Robert Creeley

Robert Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, near where he grew up on a small farm. As a young child he suffered two losses, that of his father and that of his left eye. He was raised by his mother, who worked as a public health nurse. Creeley enrolled at Harvard but took a leave to be an ambulance driver for the American Field Service toward the end of World War II. He was in the India-Burma area from 1944-1945. He returned to Harvard but left without his degree, taking up subsistence farming for a time in New Hampshire.

Louise Erdrich

Born in Little Falls, Minnesota, Louise Erdrich grew up in the town of Wahpeton, North Dakota, near the Minnesota border and the Turtle Mountain Reservation. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe of North Dakota; her mother is of French-Chippewa descent, and for many years her grandfather was Tribal Chair of the reservation. Her parents were Bureau of Indian Affairs educators; both taught at the boarding school in Wahpeton. Erdrich was educated at Dartmouth College and Johns Hopkins; she has taught poetry in prisons and edited a Native American newspaper.

Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché was born in Detroit; her father was a tool and die maker, while her mother was a journalist. She studied both international relations at Michigan State University and creative writing at Bowling Green State University. From 1978-1980 she worked as a reporter and human rights activist in El Salvador; "The Colonel" describes a meeting with a Salvadoran military officer. She went on to spend time in South Africa. She has thus been interested both in the impact of U.S. diplomacy and in local revolutionary movements.

Joseph Freeman

Born in the Ukraine, Joseph Freeman came to the United States in 1904. A socialist from age seventeen, he was one of the more visible figures of the Left in the 1920s and 1930s as an editor of the Liberator and cofounder of New Masses. His poetry regularly appeared in journals, but it was never collected in a book. He worked for the Soviet news agency TASS from 1925-1931 but later broke with the party. His most famous work is his political autobiography An American Testament (1936).

Harry Crosby

There is no other poet in our history quite like Harry Crosby. He is above all else a poet of one unforgiving obsession: the image of the sun and every variation he can ring on it in poems of ecstatic incantation. Poems like "Pharmacie Du Soleil" should be read aloud, preferably by a score of people speaking either in unison or in counterpoint. Born Henry Sturgis Crosby into an upper class Boston family, his education at privileged Boston schools gives little anticipation of the iconoclastic Paris expatriate of the 1920s. But World War I changed him.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Born Alice Ruth Moore, in New Orleans, of mixed African American, Native American, and European ancestry, Dunbar-Nelson was educated at Straight College (now Dillard University). Her Cornell master’s thesis on the influence of Milton on Wordsworth was cited at the time. A 1998-1902 marriage to poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar and a later marriage to civil rights activist Robert J. Nelson are the source of her hyphenated name. She is known not only for her poetry but also for her short stories and posthumously published diary.

William Everson

Born in Sacramento, California, William Everson was the son of a Norwegian composer. He attended Fresno State College until leaving in 1935 to write poetry. Robinson Jeffers was one of his strongest literary influences at the time. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, working as a forester in Oregon for three years, and soon afterwards joined the San Francisco anarcho-pacifist group centered around poet Kenneth Rexroth. In 1949, Everson converted to Roman Catholicism, wrote “The Making of the Cross,” and the following year he joined the Catholic Worker Movement.

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