John Beecher was born in New York, the great-great-nephew of Abolitionists Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher; it was a heritage his life would honor. He grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where his father was a U.S. Steel executive, but Beecher entered the industry at the bottom. From age 16, he worked twelve-hour shifts on the open hearth furnaces. Educated at Cornell, Alabama, Harvard, and North Carolina, Beecher worked eight years during the New Deal era as a field administrator of social programs devoted to sharecroppers and migrant workers. He then took up a teaching career.
Born in a small Ohio town, Hart Crane grew up in Cleveland. He went to New York after leaving high school, but ended up returning to Cleveland until 1923, along the way accumulating work experience in advertising agencies, a newspaper, and in his father's businesses. He faced continual difficulty and much stress supporting himself and had to rely on relatives and a benefactor.
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 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.
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 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.
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).
Born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, Charles Henri Ford was first known as the editor of Blues: A Magazine of Verse (1929-30), after which he lived in Paris for several years. He edited the beautiful surrealist magazine View in New York from 1940-47 and lived in Italy from 1952-57. He began publishing his own surrealist poetry in the 1930s and began to exhibit his paintings worldwide in the 1950s.
Born in Oakland, California, Robert Duncan was adopted after his mother died in childbirth and given the name Robert Edward Symmes, but Duncan took his biological father's surname in 1941. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley from 1936-1938, spent some time in New York, and then returned to San Francisco, where he became a key figure in what came to be known as the "San Francisco Renaissance" and where he resided for the rest of his life.
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.