Fast Water off the Bow-Wave

Jeremy Harding

‘We had seen bare land/And the people bare on it’: two lines from a retrospective poem by George Oppen that appeared in 1963 in a small magazine published out of New Rochelle, the poet’s birthplace. Oppen (b. 1908) had recently broken a long silence and become a poet of his time – the 1960s and 1970s – however much he may have insisted, as he did in the same poem, that he was ‘of the Thirties’. He had come home to the US, after a decade in flight from McCarthyism, and settled in Brooklyn. His days as an active member of the Communist Party had long since passed. He was still mulling over his relationship with Ezra Pound, whom he had admired and published many years earlier, before their political differences set in. The poem ends with a quotation from Canto IV.

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