Laura Riding

(January 16, 1901 – September 2, 1991 / New York City)

Biography of Laura Riding

Laura Riding poet

an American poet, critic, novelist, essayist and short story writer.

Early Life

She was born Laura Reichenthal in New York to a family of Austrian Jewish immigrants, and educated at Cornell University, where she began to write poetry, publishing first (1923–26) under the name Laura Riding Gottschalk. She became associated with the Fugitives through Allen Tate, and they published her poems in The Fugitive magazine. Her first marriage, to historian Louis R. Gottschalk (1899–1975), ended in divorce in 1925, at the end of which year she went to England at the invitation of Robert Graves and his wife Nancy Nicholson. She would remain in Europe for nearly 14 years.

Poetry: Association with Robert Graves

The excitement stirred by Laura Riding's poems is hinted at in Sonia Raiziss' later description: 'When The Fugitive (1922–1925) flashed down the new sky of American poetry, it left a brilliant scatter of names: Ransom, Tate, Warren, Riding, Crane.... Among them, the inner circle and those tangent to it as contributors, there was no one quite like Laura Riding' ('An Appreciation', Chelsea 12 1962, 28). Riding's first collection of poetry, The Close Chaplet, was published in 1926, and during the following year she assumed the surname Riding. By this time the originality of her poetry was becoming ever more evident: generally she favoured a distinctive form of free verse over conventional metres. She, Robert Graves, and Nancy Nicholson were based in London until Riding's failed suicide attempt in 1929. It is generally agreed that this episode was a major cause of the break-up of Graves's first marriage: the whole affair caused a famous literary scandal.

Thereafter, until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Riding and Graves lived in Deià, Majorca, where they were visited by writers and artists including James Reeves, Norman Cameron, John Aldridge, Len Lye, Jacob Bronowski, and Honor Wyatt. The house is now a museum. Progress of Stories (1935) would later be highly esteemed by, among others, John Ashbery and Harry Mathews. Between 1936 and 1939 Riding and Graves lived in England, France, and Switzerland; Graves accompanied Riding on her return to the USA in 1939.

Riding and Graves were highly productive from the start of their association, though after they moved to Majorca they became even more so. While still in London they had set up (1927) a private press (the Seizin Press), collaborated on A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) (which inspired Empson to write Seven Types of Ambiguity and was in some respects the seed of the New Criticism), A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928), and other works. In Majorca the Seizin Press was enlarged to become a publishing imprint, producing inter alia the substantial hardbound critical magazine Epilogue (1935–1938), edited by Riding with Graves as associate editor. Throughout their association both of them steadily produced volumes of major poetry, culminating for each with a Collected Poems in 1938.

Graves and Riding left Majorca in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, they moved to the United States and took lodging in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Their changing relationship is described by Elizabeth Friedmann in A Mannered Grace, by Richard Perceval Graves in Robert Graves: 1927–1940, The Years with Laura and by T.S. Matthews in Jacks or Better (1977; UK edition published as Under the Influence, 1979), and also was the basis for Miranda Seymour's novel The Summer of '39 (1998). In 1939 Riding and Graves parted, and in 1941 she married Schuyler B. Jackson, eventually settling in Wabasso, Florida, where she lived quietly and simply until her death in 1991, Schuyler having died in 1968. The vernacular "cracker" house in which they lived has been renovated and preserved by the Laura (Riding) Jackson Foundation.

According to Graves' biographer Richard Perceval Graves, Riding played a crucial role in the development of Graves' thoughts when writing his book The White Goddess, despite the fact the two were estranged at that point. However, on reviewing the book after publication Riding was furious, saying: "Where once I reigned, now a whorish abomination has sprung to life, a Frankenstein pieced together from the shards of my life and thoughts."

Renunciation of Poetry; Later Writings

In about 1941 Riding renounced poetry, though it would be fifteen to twenty years before she would feel able to begin explaining her reasons and exploring her unfolding findings. She withdrew from public literary life, working with Schuyler Jackson on a dictionary (published posthumously in 1997) that would lead them into an exploration of the foundations of meaning and language. In April 1962 she read "Introduction for a Broadcast" for the BBC Third Programme, her first formal statement of her reasons for renouncing poetry (there had been a brief reference book entry in 1955). An expanded version of the piece was published that year in the New York magazine Chelsea, which also published "Further on Poetry" in 1964, writings on the theme of women-and-men in 1965 and 1974, and in 1967, The Telling.

The 62 numbered passages of The Telling, a 'personal evangel', formed the 'core part' of a book of the same title, thought by some to be her most important book alongside Collected Poems. Writings and publications continued to flow throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties, as Laura (Riding) Jackson (her authorial name from 1963–64 onwards) explored what she regarded as the truth-potential of language free from the artificial restrictions of poetic art. 'My faith in poetry was at heart a faith in language as the elementary wisdom', she had written in 1976 ('The Road To, In, And Away From, Poetry', Reader 251). Her later writings attest to what she regarded as the truth-potential contained in language and in the human mind. She might be regarded as a spiritual teacher whose unusually high valuation of language led her to choose literature as the locus of her work.

Two entire issues of Chelsea were given over to new writings by her, It Has Taken Long (1976) and The Sufficient Difference (2001). Publication of her work has continued since her death in 1991, including First Awakenings (her early poems) (1992), Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words (1997), The Poems of Laura Riding, A Newly Revised Edition of the 1938/1980 Collection (2001), and Under The Mind's Watch (2004). The most recent books to appear are The Failure of Poetry, The Promise of Language (2007), On the Continuing of the Continuing (2008), and two volumes of her collected autobiographical writings, published as The Person I Am (2011). Her works have been published in France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Poland, and Brazil.

Laura Riding's Works:

The Close Chaplet (London: Hogarth Press, [October] 1926; New York: Adelphi Company, 1926)
A Survey of Modernist Poetry [with Robert Graves] (London: Heinemann, 1927; New York: Doubleday, 1928)
Voltaire: A Biographical Fantasy [with Foreword, 1921] (London : Hogarth Press, 1927).
Anarchism Is Not Enough (London: Cape; New York: Doubleday, 1928; new ed. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2001)
Contemporaries and Snobs (London: Cape; New York: Doubleday, 1928)
A Pamphlet Against Anthologies [with Robert Graves] (London: Cape; New York: Doubleday, 1928)
Love as Death: Death as Love (Seizin Press, Hammersmith/London, 1928)
Twenty Poems Less (Paris: Hours Press, 1930)
Poems A Joking Word [with Preface] (London : Cape, 1930)
Four Unposted Letters to Catherine (Paris: Hours Press, n.d.[1930])
Experts Are Puzzled (London: Cape, 1930)
Though Gently (Deya: Seizin Press, 1930)(reproduced, with responses from commentators and critics, in Delmar 8, Winter 2002)
Laura and Francisca: a poem (Deya: Seizin Press, 1931)
Everybody's Letters (London: Barker, 1933)
The Life of the Dead. With Ten Illustrations by John Aldridge (London: Arthur Barker, 1933)
Poet: A Lying Word (London: Barker, 1933)
Focus I – IV (ed. with Robert Graves and others, four vols published, Deya, Majorca, 1935)
Progress of Stories (Deya, Majorca: Seizin Press; London, Constable, 1935)
Epilogue: a Critical Summary (ed. with Graves) (Deya: The Seizin Press; London: Constable, 1935–1938)
A Trojan Ending (Deya, Majorca: Seizin Press; London: Constable, 1937)
The Collected Poems of Laura Riding (London: Cassell; New York: Random House, 1938)
The World and Ourselves (London: Chatto & Windus, 1938)
Lives of Wives (London: Cassell, 1939)
Selected Poems: In Five Sets (London: Faber, 1970; New York: Norton, 1973; New York: Persea, 1993)
The Telling (Athlone 1972, Harper & Row 1973, Carcanet 2005)
It Has Taken Long (Chelsea 35 [whole issue], New York, 1976)
The Poems of Laura Riding: A New Edition of the 1938 Collection (Manchester: Carcanet; New York: Persea 1980)
Some Communications of Broad Reference (Northridge, CA: Lord John Press, 1983)
First Awakenings (Manchester: Carcanet; New York: Persea, 1992)
The Word 'Woman' and Other related Writings (New York: Persea, 1993; Manchester: Carcanet, 1994)
A Selection Of The Poems Of Laura Riding (edited with an Introduction by Robert Nye) (Manchester: Carcanet, 1994; New York: Persea, 1996)
Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words [with Schuyler B. Jackson] (edited by William Harmon) (University Press of Virginia, 1997)
The Sufficient Difference: A Centenary Celebration of Laura (Riding) Jackson (guest-edited by Elizabeth Friedmann) (Chelsea 69 [whole issue], New York, Dec. 2000)
The Poems of Laura Riding Newly Revised Edition (edited by Mark Jacobs, Note on the Text by Alan J. Clark) (New York: Persea, 2001)
Under The Mind's Watch: Concerning Issues Of Language, Literature, Life Of Contemporary Bearing (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2004)(edited by John Nolan and Alan J. Clark)
The Failure of Poetry, The Promise of Language (edited by John Nolan) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007)
On the Continuing of the Continuing (London: Wyeswood Press, 2008) (fine-printed limited edition)
The Person I Am (edited by John Nolan and Carroll Ann Friedmann) (Trent Editions, Nottingham Trent University, two volumes, 2011)

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The Simple Line

The secrets of the mind convene splendidly,
Though the mind is meek.
To be aware inwardly
of brain and beauty
Is dark too recognizable.
Thought looking out on thought
Makes one an eye:
Which it shall be, both decide.
One is with the mind alone,

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