Born Solomon Fishman in New York, Edwin Rolfe grew up on Coney Island. He took the pen name Rolfe in high school and eventually adopted it as his only name. Rolfe began writing revolutionary poems while he was still in high school and was soon publishing them in the Party's newspaper, Daily Worker.
From the outset, Muriel Rukeyser was at once a political poet and a visionary. At times, as at points in "The Book of the Dead," those qualities were intensified and in those moments she was simultaneously a revolutionary and a mystic. But to grasp the forces that drive her work—through a career that spanned five decades of American history—we have to come to terms with a visionary impulse rooted in time, embedded in a struggle with lived history. Politics is not only the large scale public life of nations.
Although much of Robinson's work was done before American modernism's heyday, in several respects his poetry heralds elements of what was to come. Best known for his portraits of individuals, portraits often comparable to those done by Edgar Lee Masters, he is actually more versatile, writing dramatic monologues and blank verse narratives of considerable length. If his use of the vernacular and the absence of sentimentality in some of his portraits helps usher in modernism, so does a quality of indirection and irresolution in other poems.
Born Anne Gray Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts, the child of a wool merchant, Sexton's family lived in Boston suburbs and spent the summers on Squirrel Island, Maine. She married Alfred Sexton in 1948. Experiencing severe depression after her daughters were born in 1953 and 1955, she attempted suicide in 1956. Her doctor recommended writing poetry as an outlet for her feelings, and she attended Boston poetry workshops run by John Holmes and Robert Lowell.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Sylvia Plath grew up in Winthrop. She was raised by her mother after her father died of complications from diabetes when she was eight. Plath was educated at Smith College and at Newnham College of Cambridge University. In 1953, after serving a month as a college guest editor at the New York fashion magazine Mademoiselle, she had a breakdown, and was unwisely subjected to electric shock therapy. She then attempted suicide and was hospitalized for six months, events she later adapted for her novel The Bell Jar (1963).
Lowell was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, of a family long influential in New England commerce, history, and culture. Her ancestors founded Lowell, Massachusetts; George Washington had appointed one a judge; others founded the Lowell textile mills. But the family lineage also included scholars and educators and the poet James Russell Lowell. Largely self-educated and more than slightly self-assured, she turned to writing poetry seriously in her thirties, publishing her first book in 1912.
Born and raised in Illinois, MacLeish was educated at Yale University and Harvard Law School. He lived in Paris in the early 1920s after frontline service in World War I. On the editorial board of Fortune magazine in the 1930s, MacLeish served as both Librarian of Congress and Assistant Secretary of State in the Roosevelt administration. Despite the self-sufficiency of poetic form he argues for in "Ars Poetica," he often addressed political topics in poems or radio plays.
Born in England, Loy studied art in Germany, France, and Britain and continued to paint thereafter. She moved to Florence and became deeply involved with the futurist movement, though she gave its politics and cultural ambitions a feminist inflection, as her 1919 "Aphorisms on Futurism" suggests. Eventually she abandoned the movement as its patriarchal bias evolved into an emergent sympathy for fascism. Although she did not move permanently to the United States until 1936—first living in New York and then in Aspen, Colorado—and take up U.S.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, and educated at Wayne State University, Levine later studied at Iowa with Robert Lowell and John Berryman. Along the way, he took a number of working-class jobs; those, and the ruined industrial landscape of Detroit, helped shaped the settings and political loyalties of his poems.
Kumin was born Maxine Winokur of Jewish parents in Philadelphia and educated at Radcliffe. She has written poetry, criticism, fiction, and more than twenty children's books, including four coauthored with Anne Sexton, and taught at Tufts, Massachusetts, and Princeton. Kumin spends much of her time in rural New Hampshire, where she raises horses. Although she has often written about middle-class suburban experience, seeking survival and continuity in the vestiges of nature it encompasses, she has also made harsh and witty appraisals of rural life.