Born in Berlin, the son of Hungarian nationals, Carl Rakosi came to the United States in 1910. He was educated at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. He changed his name legally to Callman Rawley but retained the name Rakosi for his literary work.
Dudley Randall was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to Detroit in 1920. He worked in a foundry early on, then served in the military during World War II, an experience described in some of his poems. He earned degrees in English and library science and took several library positions during his career, but he is perhaps most famous as the 1965 founder of Detroit's Broadside Press. The press issued the first books of a considerable number of black writers, along with an extensive series of historic poetry broadsides.
A versatile, unpredictable, and frequently iconoclastic figure, Ishmael Reed has written ten novels, edited several anthologies, written songs and operas, and recorded some of the poetry from his books of poems. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and raised in Buffalo, New York. He enrolled at the State University of New York at Buffalo, but left to do civil rights and community reporting for a Buffalo newspaper. While there he met Malcolm X and decided to move to New York in 1962, where he worked in numerous jobs, joined a writing workshop, and produced his first novel.
Born in Pulaski, Tennessee, John Crowe Ransom was educated at Vanderbilt University and Christ Church College at Oxford University in England. After World War I service on the front in France, he joined Vanderbilt's faculty, where he helped lead the Agrarian Movement. It counted Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren among its members, generally resisted racial integration, urged a renewal of religious belief in the context of a hierarchical society, and championed a southern agrarian economy as an antidote to northern industrialism.
Perhaps no other major modern American poet's work is so deeply and irreducibly conflicted. Pound was at once the impresario of high modernism—promoting the work of those contemporaries he admired, among them H. D., Marianne Moore, and James Joyce; editing T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land so drastically he is almost its coauthor; defining the imagist movement and making metrical innovation and metaphoric concision central to modernist poetics—and its most tragic figure, undermined by his own arrogance and eventually allied with the worst political impulses of the century.
A lifelong resident of New York, Herman Spector was a regular contributor to New Masses for several years, a key figure in the founding of the short-lived radical poetry journal Dynamo, and a contributor to many of the proletarian literature collections of the 1930s. Toward the end of the 1930s, he worked for a year on the WPA Writers' Project. Thereafter he withdrew from his literary and political contacts, worked as a welder during the war, and finally survived in a series of marginal odd jobs before becoming a cab driver until his death.
Born in the Brooklyn Jewish community of the 1890s, Charles Reznikoff earned a law degree but did not practice for long. He did work at a legal publishing firm in the 1930s, which proved a major inspiration in his writing. He began his career as a poet, however, as an imagist. Many of these early poems appeared in hand-set books that Reznikoff published himself. Meanwhile, his focus began to shift. At the publishing firm he was summarizing court records of legal cases for publication in reference books. They provided a unique, often violent, history of American social life.
Born in South Bend, Indiana, Kenneth Rexroth moved to Chicago with his family at age twelve. Although he attended classes at Chicago's Art Institute and later at the Art Students League in New York, he was largely (and prodigiously) self-educated. He would learn several languages, translate poems from the Chinese, French, Spanish, and Japanese, and exhibit his own paintings in several cities. He also worked early on as a fruit picker, a forest patrolman, a factory hand, and an attendant at a mental institution.
Born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of a postal worker, Charles Olson was educated at Wesleyan, Harvard, and Yale Universities. As a child, he spent summers on the Massachusetts coast at Gloucester, the city that would be the setting for his major poem sequence, The Maximus Poems. Anticipating a scholarly career, he completed doctoral research for a project on Herman Melville. It was interrupted by work for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York and for the Office of War Information in Washington.
Born in New York and raised in San Francisco, George Oppen enrolled at Oregon State University but left after his future wife, also a student there, was expelled when they stayed out all night on a date. The couple went to France, where they founded a small press, publishing Louis Zukofsky's An "Objectivists" Anthology in 1932. In addition to Oppen and Zukofsky, the loose confederation of Objectivists included Pound, Reznikoff, and Williams. All shared at least a partial interest in the material presence of the poem and in its linguisticality.