Laura Riding was one of the central women writers of the period of modernism, because of her contributions as a poet, her collaborations with Robert Graves on literary-critical works, and their editorial work on the journal Epilogue (1935-37), as well as for her writings on poetry's form and function. During Riding's early poetic career, she was a member of the fugitive/agrarian school of poets, who praised her poetry's ability to avoid the sentimentality of contemporary female poets, such as Edna St. Vincent millay. Riding's own poetic quest was to find language that illuminated what she called "truth," which, in her own poems, included shunning a reliance on analogy, metaphor, and sensuous language. After the publication of her Collected Poems (1938), her meditations on poetry's inability to contain truth ultimately led her to stop writing poems altogether. Although Riding herself was uncomfortable with poets naming her as a literary precursor, such poets as Graves, W H. auden, and John ashbery claim her as a poetic influence.
Laura Reichenthal was born in New York City and attended Cornell University from 1918-21, leaving before completing a degree. In 1927 she changed her name to Laura Riding. Riding's first book, The Close Chaplet, was influenced by her friendship with Graves, who invited Riding to come to England with him and his wife in 1926, the same year Riding's first book appeared. Riding and Graves coauthored A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and founded the Seizin Press in 1928. Later they moved the press to Deya, Spain. When the Spanish civil war broke out, Graves and Riding returned to Pennsylvania, where Riding met Schuyler Jackson, whom she married in 1941. Riding received the Bollingen Prize for her contributions to poetry in 1991, the same year she died.
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Ridings recurrent subjects in her poetry were the observation of the rift between mind and body, as well as a preoccupation with death as a way to unite to this rift. The evanescence of the sensory world led Riding to believe it did not contain unity, or truth. As she writes in "Truth and Time" (1926), "The succession of fair things / Delights, does not enlighten." In the preface to the reprint of her Selected Poems in Five Sets (1970), Riding rejected poetry as her cause, explaining her quest for truth to be a "something" beyond poetry: "My cause is something poetry fails to be— belying its promissory advertisement of itself" (17). Nevertheless one of the lasting values of her poems lies in the inherent tension they display, "excit[ing] some sense of wherein the failure of poetry lies, and some fore-sense of what that something might be" (Preface 17).
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