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Haniel Long's Pittsburgh memoranda: documentary form and 1930s political poetry.

Recent studies of 1930s political poetry understandably tend to look at the period through a Marxist lens, but as a result they neglect Haniel Long's innovative documentary poem Pittsburgh Memoranda (1935). This essay seeks to recover Long--who was not a Marxist, though certainly a political radical--in order to arrive at a more complete picture of both the documentary genre and the cultural work of the times, complementing and complicating the existing scholarship. It argues for the importance of Long's idiosyncratic political and aesthetic stances and puts him in conversation with contemporary Marxist poets and critics, utilizing Edwin Rolfe and Stanley Burnshaw as examples. Further, it positions Long's work as a forerunner to and possibly an influence on Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead" (1938). Thus, this essay restores Long to the discussion about the political poetry of the Thirties generally and the documentary political poem more specifically.


In a 1986 interview, the poet Ed Dorn remarked of Haniel Long, "He's one of those minor, unknown, unread writers that can do more for you than anybody else" (1986, 12). From the early to mid-twentieth century, Long (1888-1956) was a well-known and well-regarded poet who published in literary journals and anthologies alongside many of the major modernist figures of the day. (1) His poetry and prose collections were reviewed and praised by some of the era's most prominent critics. (2) Nevertheless, through the vicissitudes of time and the vagaries of the shifting canon, and despite the occasional posthumous compliment such as Dorn's, Long eventually lapsed into that nebulous state dreaded by all writers, critical neglect. In a 1990 article, John Timberman Newcomb situated Long (along with Archibald MacLeish, Muriel Rukeyser, Carl Sandburg, and others) among "a number of modernists once widely read and respected, now largely ignored or disparaged" (1990, 9). Since 1990, as rigid conceptions of modernism have given way to a variety of "modernisms," many such previously overlooked figures have in fact been recovered. For the most part, however, Long continues to be neglected.

The reasons for this neglect are complex. Shelley Armitage suggests that Long is not really a modernist at all, arguing that he remained "outside mainstream literary movements and cults" (1986, 230). "Long was a contemporary of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound," Armitage observes, but he "ignored the experimental movement in modern poetry, even though he shared the classical enthusiasms of Eliot and the Chinese interests of Pound. Reviewed retrospectively, Long's poetry--merely out of step with poetic modes considered superior by the New Critics of his time--stands up remarkably well" (230-31). To be out of step with New Criticism could imply many things, a perceived leftist politics among them; and this perception would be true in the case of Long's Pittsburgh Memoranda (1935), arguably his most significant poetic work. A long political poem notable for its use of documentary and pastiche techniques, Pittsburgh Memoranda is roughly concurrent with the first installment of Charles Reznikoff's Testimony (1934) and precedes other major works in the genre such as Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead" (from her collection U.S. 1 published in 1938), and William Carlos Williams's Paterson (conceived in the late 1930s but begun in earnest by the early 1940s). (3) Indeed, Pittsburgh Memoranda could be said to be a key entry in the continuum of documentary poetics which was especially prominent during this era. Yet despite its republication by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1990, it remains largely unstudied.

Long's work resists the oversimplified narrative of a New Critical purging of 1930s political poets from the canon followed by an eventual but inevitable moment of recovery. Long indeed was politically engaged and anti-capitalist, clearly making him anathema to those insular "high-modernist" tastemakers who, as Newcomb suggests, were in a position to critically devalue those who insisted "on integrating their progressive politics with their modernist poetics" (1990, 10). He was not a Marxist or a communist, however, and his idiosyncratic political and economic views are difficult to classify. Thus, he does not quite fit with poets like MacLeish or Rukeyser, who were previously marginalized in part because they were seen as having communist sympathies, (4) and certainly not with an overtly communist poet such as Edwin Rolfe, all of whom have now been recovered to one degree or another. In the last couple of decades, there have been numerous works published which reassess the literary landscape of the 1930s and/or laud the poets of the left, such as Walter Kalaidjian's American Culture between the Wars: Revisionary Modernism and Postmodern Critique (1993), Robert Shulman's The Power of Political Art: The 1930s Literary Left Reconsidered (2000), Michael Thurston's Making Something Happen: American Political Poetry between the World Wars (2001), Cary Nelson's Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left (2001), Alan M. Wald's Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left (2002), and John Lowney's History, Memory, and the Literary Left: Modern American Poetry, 1935-1968 (2006). Some of these exhibit their own politically grounded concerns, (5) but none of them so much as mentions Long. For that matter, neither does Peter Conn's recent study The American 1930s: A Literary History (2009), which, though it aspires to survey the "enormous ideological and imaginative complexity" (2009, 6) of the decade, betrays an animosity toward left writers and thus reinscribes the New Critical binary of "high art" versus "political propaganda." (6) Therefore, as a poet with a singular political and artistic vision, a further example of "ideological and imaginative complexity" especially as expressed in his Pittsburgh Memoranda, the recuperation of the still vastly understudied Haniel Long is well overdue.

Pittsburgh Memoranda not only puts forward a worldview unique for its time period--instead of Marx, Long extols the now nearly forgotten political economist Henry George; where elitists like Eliot, Pound, and Stein looked to Europe for inspiration, Long reaffirms a Whitmanian vision of America--but it is also an important iteration of the long-form documentary poem. Published by Writers' Editions in 1935 and running to 85 pages in length, it is Long's most formally innovative work and counters Armitage's assertion that he "ignored the experimental movement in modern poetry" (1986, 230). Both Armitage and folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin point out that Long worked on Pittsburgh Memoranda intermittently for decades. He initially composed a version in blank verse, but, after that earlier manuscript was rejected, he reconceived it (Botkin 1971). In a letter to the poet Witter Bynner, Long discusses his move toward documentary, explaining that he wanted

to come as close as possible to the actual scene and use words from the people engaged in the different actions. This meant goodbye to all the blank verse. Then it seemed necessary for me to use terse pieces of prose along with the passages of poetry. One of my great aims was to save the reader as much time as possible in traversing a region full of high voltage wires and infinite detail. I wanted also to make the greatest possible effect on him in the few moments. (Quoted in Armitage 1986, 234)

As a pastiche of poetry, prose-poetry, and prose--the latter culled from a variety of sources including biography, journalism, historical accounts, correspondence, and personal conversation--Pittsburgh Memoranda notably anticipates Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead" and William Carlos Williams's Paterson, (7) Certainly, it deserves to be taken into account along with these subsequent poems in order to arrive at a more complete picture of both the documentary genre and the cultural work of the times. Therefore, this essay seeks to recover Long among the ranks of Thirties poets, complementing and occasionally complicating recent studies such as those mentioned above. The first part of this essay analyzes the method of composition of Pittsburgh Memoranda, discusses Long's political and artistic stances, puts him in conversation with contemporary political poets using Edwin Rolfe as an example, and explores the poem's critical reception. The second part then uncovers the ideological underpinnings of the Memoranda, analyzes the ways in which Long's documentary form furthers them, and positions him as a forerunner of (and possibly an influence on) Rukeyser. The aim is finally to restore Long to his place in the wider discussion of the political poetry of the 1930s generally and the documentary political poem more specifically.


Like the later Paterson, Long's epic takes as its locus an American city somewhat removed from the coastal centers, a more "regional" city yet one that is posited as quintessential American. Long was from Pittsburgh, a city with a history of economic exploitation and labor unrest, and this history is central to the poem as it grapples with infamous events such as the 1892 Homestead Strike, capitalist figures like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and anarchist Alexander Berkman, who attempted to assassinate Frick during the strike. Starting from these points of departure, Long elaborates a poetics intertwined with a socioeconomic stance that is radical and anti-capitalist in character but which eschews the dogmatism of then-contemporary Marxist political movements. Long emphasizes the vital humanity of individuals in the modern city reflecting on themselves and fostering interconnections with others and the world around them. He sets himself the ambitious task through poetry of affirming the value of both individuality and collectivity--a tension that has always been at the heart of American society--in a time of desperate economic circumstances (the Depression) and the concomitant ideological political movements it gave rise to. Long puts forward his central theme in Pittsburgh Memoranda's, "Prologue," concluding this initial section with an assertion of "our need to come to terms with ourselves, / with the others who live life with us, / and the life that lives all" (1935, 3). The theme, then, is really threefold: the individual wrestling with him or herself; the role of the individual in society, as part of a larger, collective group of people; and the individual as part of the wider cosmos (perhaps after Whitman). This tripartite theme is elaborated throughout the poem in its different sections, as Long explores various aspects of Pittsburgh history as springboards for socio-political and aesthetic arguments.

By far the longest section of Pittsburgh Memoranda, "Homestead" deals with the Homestead Strike of 1892, a violent labor dispute that took place in the town of Homestead just outside of Pittsburgh. During the strike steel workers battled the Carnegie Steel Works company, Andrew Carnegie's surrogate Henry Clay Frick, and their mercenaries the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, and at one point the anarchist Alexander Berkman attempted to assassinate Frick. Long situates this event in both historical and personal terms--it is "almost my first memory," he writes--and goes on to describe a headline in the newspaper with its "big black type":

My father starts when he sees the headlines and says to my mother, "Some anarchist has stabbed Clay Frick."

"Men in action are the poet's proper theme."

That spring Andrew Carnegie sailed for Skibo castle leaving behind him a memorandum for John A. Potter, superintendent of the Homestead works, "to roll a large set of plates ahead, which can be finished should the works be stopped for a time."

Frick wrote Pinkerton on the 25th of June: "We will want 300 guards for service at our Homestead mills against interference with our plan to start operations July sixth .." (Long 1935, 5; two ellipsis points in original)

In this pastiche, a visceral childhood memory is immediately juxtaposed with a paraphrase of Aristotle from part 2 of the Poetics ("Men in action are the poet's proper theme"), which serves as one of the guiding principles for the poem itself. Then comes the quoted memorandum from Carnegie instructing the factory to produce surplus in the event of a shutdown and Frick's order to the Pinkerton agency for paramilitary support. This juxtaposition and interweaving of quotation with the personal sets out the manner in which the poem will proceed.

Via this method of juxtaposition and collage, Long puts forward a proposition: "What matter whether Frick was right, so long as he was Frick? What matter whether the Homestead men were right; what matter whether you were right, Berkmann {sic}? The waves smash against the rocks, boulder thunders upon boulder. Granite men grind one another, leaving their clean sand to floor the ocean" (1935, 12). "Men in action" may be the "proper" theme of poetry, but Long does not valorize these figures simply because they take action. They are not portrayed heroically; they merely "grind one another" without producing any real change. The kind of action that Long has in mind is something different than individual egoism. He rejects both Frick and Berkman as "granite men"--evaluations of their particular, opposed political positions notwithstanding--and proposes in their place a vision of cooperation: "The alternative would be for the republic to breed up a race of men who could work together without growing violent: men more interested in getting somewhere than in having their way" (12). Indeed, his use of quotation and pastiche, the staging of multiple voices, models this cooperative process on the poetic level--it gestures toward collaboration in the construction of the poem itself and in so doing acts as an inherent critique of hegemonic social and political systems. While the political valences of pastiche are not always clear-cut given that is is a widely employed modernist technique, nonetheless as a documentary strategy in Long's hands it becomes a means for, as he put it in his letter to Bynner, using "words from the people engaged in the different actions" (quoted in Armitage 1986, 234; emphasis added)--that is, the performance of democratic participation.

Pittsburgh Memoranda, however, is not merely a work of political analysis; Long grounds his argument in personal terms. Homestead is a childhood memory for him, which mingles in his mind among them all: "This scene, woven into the other strands at the beginning of me, / lying hidden below nearly all I think and do, / along with Homestead, along with Carnegie, Frick, Berkmann" (1935, 10). It is worthwhile here to compare his rendering of the speaker or self to that of Edwin Rolfe in his poem "Credo," written in 1931 and published in both the radical anthology We Gather Strength (1933) and Rolfe's first collection To My Contemporaries (1936). "Credo" opens with the lines,
   To welcome multitudes--the miracle of deeds
   performed in unison--the mind
   must first renounce the fiction of the self
   and its vainglory.

   (Rolfe 1993, 59)

The phrase "the fiction of the self' is arresting; to the present-day reader it appears almost to anticipate postmodern ideas about the socially constructed nature of the individual or even, in poetry, of the lyric "I." At first glance, it may seem not so very different from Long's assertion later in Pittsburgh Memoranda that "the need for the disappearance of the individual / has come upon us--" (1935, 63-64). Long, though, quickly follows his dash with the qualifying phrase "but never of the individual soul" (64), while Rolfe instead wants to translate the "fiction of the self' into "fists tight-clenched around a crimson banner / flying in the wind above a final, fierce / life-and-death fight against a common foe" (1993, 59). Michael Thurston notes that Rolfe in this period "articulates the lyric to the specific political agendas of the Communist Party" (2001, 52), and Rolfe's lyrical skills are on display in this poem, with the alliteration of the "f" sound intensifying this stanza's effect. However, the sublimation of the self to the collective in the short poems of To My Contemporaries diverges from Long's tactic of juxtaposing autobiography and public history, of allowing them to coexist in the staging of multiple voices within the larger documentary Pittsburgh Memoranda, (8) Cary Nelson identifies "the most fragile sort of autobiographical reference" (2001, 98) in Rolfe's work, but observes that "writing a poem for him is {also} partly a matter of deciding how to handle biographical materials at the politically pertinent distance" (103). In contrast, Long unashamedly places himself at the forefront of events, whether as an actor in the histories that he poetically analyzes or in the way that he portrays himself as speaker.

Certainly there are similarities between Long and Rolfe, especially in how they approach history. Taking up the Homestead Strike, Long positions himself as an actor in shaping its meaning for a 1930s readership just as, according to Nelson, "Rolfe and the people who become subjects of {his} poems are positioned primarily as subjects of history" (2001, 103). For Long, however, the documentary aspect of the Memoranda facilitates this. Paula Rabinowitz posits that political documentary "construct{s} a spectator whose position is located within history, essentially remaking the relationship of truth to ideology by insisting on advocacy rather than objectivity" (1994, 7). Having put forward the history of the Homestead Strike utilizing documentary-style quotation, Long now editorializes on it: "The Homestead strikers were Americans; many of them had been boys on farms near Pittsburgh like Frick himself. There was no difference of kind between Frick and the strikers. After Homestead, ... the gap between owners and workers became a thing to torture the conscience" (1935, 13). Framing the strikers as "boys on farms near Pittsburgh" asserts their shared social position, and the rejection of a "difference of kind" between them and Frick not only morally undermines Frick's claim to a right to order the Pinkerton attack but challenges static class distinctions, implicitly subverting the very hierarchy that grants Frick power and privilege. Furthermore, by describing the strikers as "boys on farms near Pittsburgh," Long, who grew up in Pittsburgh the son of a Methodist minister who worked with and among the poor (Armitage 1986, 231), also clearly rejects any "difference of kind" between his subjects and himself. Emphasizing the commonalities forged by their collective home place, he asserts his interrelatedness with those around him, here the exploited workers. Again, the events of Homestead are so enmeshed with Long's childhood memories that it is almost unavoidable that he be aware of himself in this social context from a young age. Pittsburgh Memoranda is therefore infused with the sense of the individuality of its speaker while also affirming his place in a larger social history.

In this regard, Long's speaker is similar to the all-encompassing persona that Walt Whitman creates in "Song of Myself," and Whitman's influence on Pittsburgh Memoranda is salient. Long was not alone in vaunting Whitman, however, as socially-engaged and leftist writers looked to literary and historical examples from the past, seeking to negotiate the turbulent times they faced. As John Lowney writes, "nowhere is this more evident than in the revision of Walt Whitman's literary reputation during the 1930s. The recuperation of Whitman as a precursor to Left poetry transformed the cultural significance of his poetics: his work became at once romantic, proletarian, and protomodernist.... {a} precursor to an extraordinary range of stylistic tendencies" (2006, 20). Not only does Whitman exert an influence on Pittsburgh Memoranda, but in 1938 Long published Walt Whitman and the Springs of Courage, which serves both as a study of his oeuvre and a further statement of Long's own poetics and personal stance. In the latter book, he highlights Whitman's "refusal to consider mankind in classes. He sees men as individuals on the one hand and as a social whole on the other, never as a series of intermediate groups of units sans identity" (Long 1938, 71). In "Homestead," he paraphrases Whitman (from section 40 of "Song of Myself"): "Whitman had vibrated: 'I do not give a little charity. When I give, I give myself'" (Long 1935, 17). Whitman too, then, is someone who poetically merges himself with those around him, who imparts a sense of something larger than himself, who looks beyond class identity but is at the same time an embodiment of American individualism. Through Whitman, Long puts forward a vision of America in which class distinctions dissolve. As Whitman himself goes on to write in section 40 of "Song of Myself": "To cotton-field drudge or cleaner of privies I lean, / On his right cheek I put the family kiss, / And in my soul I swear I never will deny him" (2001, 94). Long similarly refuses to recognize barriers between himself and the workers at Homestead. This is not to say that he pretends class does not exist, but in his treatment of historical events, he, like Whitman, asserts that no one is intrinsically limited by such preconceptions. Like Whitman, he gestures toward the lost ideals of America--an equitable, democratic society for all--which here have been betrayed by the likes of Frick, who espouses base bootstrap capitalism in their place.

However, this ready Whitmanian negotiation between the collective and the individual was not taken up by all writers on the left in the 1930s, as Rolfe's "Credo" demonstrates. Lowney observes, "Given that Whitman's defense of individual freedom was as adamant as his advocacy of social equality, Left writers struggled to reconcile his individualism with the socialist vision implicit in his poetry and social criticism" (2006, 21). For Long, no such struggle existed. He was certainly on the left in his rejection of capitalism, with Kenneth Burke characterizing Pittsburgh Memoranda as "unquestionably suggesting} the magnitude and the quality of the psychological issues arising from the confused ways in which late capitalism both stimulates and frustrates ambition" (1935, 83). For example, in the section "Two Memoranda," Long writes,

O my fellow-stockholders in the steel and coal companies, the meat and bread companies--blackbirds whose song is the profits of human agony, what can we do about you, what can we do about ourselves? (Long 1935, 54)

Deconstructing the language of business, he frames this "memorandum" as a poetic apostrophe that asks not-so-rhetorical questions. That the stockholders ("whose song is the profits of human agony") could be "fellows" is clearly ironic, and so poetry fosters a kind of protest of or resistance to a dominant capitalist narrative by subverting such an address. Yet a gesture like "fists tight-clenched around a crimson banner" does not suffice for Long as it did for Rolfe and others. Putting the focus partly back on "ourselves" by asking such a challenging question makes things a bit more complicated. It is not a simple case of us versus them; introspection is required alongside a critique of the "companies," and for Long there can be no viable collective resistance without individual self-awareness. Such a political stance, though, not only made him anathema to the New Criticism that was soon to come to prominence, but its unorthodoxy also put him at odds with the leftist political movements that predominated during his era and with the writers associated with those movements who have now been recuperated in our own.

Walter Kalaidjian observes that "in the divisive milieu of the Great Depression, the sign of a poem's cultural power lay not in its widespread acclaim, as it does today, but instead in the critical conflict it provoked" (1993, 160). Indeed, Long came in for attack from the Marxist perspective by Stanley Burnshaw in a 1935 essay for New Masses titled "Turmoil in the Middle Ground," a joint review of Pittsburgh Memoranda and Wallace Stevens's Ideas of Order. Burnshaw begins by seeing much to praise; both Long and Stevens are "poets whose artistic statures have long been recognized, whose latest books ... form a considered record of agitated attitudes toward the present social order. Like all impressive phenomena of the middle ground, {the two books} show troubled, searching minds" (1935, 41). Insisting on viewing Long through this class lens, Burnshaw then goes on the offensive: "Now, it is manifestly impossible to analyze the complex corruptions and miseries of such a phenomenon as Pittsburgh without some feeling for class antagonisms-- ... there is scarcely a human habitat more obviously stratified into economic classes. But Long insists on 'understanding' Pittsburgh as the joint handiwork of all classes" (41). While Burnshaw concedes that Long argues "some form of collectivism," he claims that the reader of the Memoranda "hungers for proletarian feeling" and goes on to wonder "why Long does not recognize that 'the worst within ourselves' is the product of economic states which must be eradicated before we can hope for any human perfection.... Where else can he turn to for real hope except Marxism?" (41). (9)

Notwithstanding that on the textual evidence Long would clearly agree that economic injustice needs to be eradicated, ideological shibboleths were of little concern to him. As his son Anton Long describes in a 1970 letter to Botkin, "He felt that the hope for the sanctity and free development of the individual was here and he kept his hope while inclining toward suspicion of all causes and all leaders" (quoted in Botkin 1971). In Walt Whitman and the Springs of Courage, Long attacks "our twentieth century world of megalomaniacs, neurotics, and convicts locked up in the jail of themselves and their theories" (1938, 43). In fact, it is the propensity toward ideology ("theories") that Long identifies in Pittsburgh Memoranda as part of the problem: "Frick was sure God was with him. {parallel} So was Berkmann. {parallel} Reality almost gave Carnegie a neurosis" (1935,30). As a counterpoint, Long offers: "Some people are not afraid things can overpower them. Some people can accept things without forcing their will upon them" (30). While Burnshaw emphasizes "class antagonisms," Long starkly notes, "Maybe if we keep on knifing one another we will get sick of it finally. When a man sickens of violence and self-assertion, sometimes a spirit flows into him the way the ocean flows into an inlet" (30). It is the complexity of social relations that Long wishes to articulate in his work instead, the poetic negotiation of the tensions between individualism and collectivism. However, this same complex socio-political stance is what has also made it difficult to categorize Long and thus recover him in conjunction with the more identifiably socialist poets of the 1930s.

The idea that Long lacks what Burnshaw terms "proletarian feeling" is belied by a deeper reading of Pittsburgh Memoranda itself. Take, for example, this lyrical passage addressed to Andrew Carnegie:

These Pittsburgh men and boys working your mills, walking your streets, these delicate living columns caught in the black and widening web of your iron, the masculine smouldering of their lives stranger in the mesh of steel, in the webbed aluminum, always to be stranger, more gleaming, than skein of metal; whether magnesium, or an undreamt metal, comes, always with their full healthy bloom of life, their sleepy bliss, their painful urgent angers, to be more complicated, more attractive to thought, than any world thought can erect.... (Long 1935, 16)

This is an affirmation of the workers' very humanity, of the particular psychological states in which they live and work. They work in the mills, but they also walk the streets; they are complete human beings who cannot quite solely be defined by their jobs--they are "delicate living columns" who are up against circumstances more powerful than they, the "widening web of your iron." Thus, "the masculine smouldering of their lives" is "always to be stranger." This suggests two possible concurrent meanings. On the one hand, the workers are indeed angry and alienated (they are "strangers" in the city at large), their masculinity oppressed in the "mesh of steel," the machine which seemingly prevents them from fulfilling their human potential. At the same time, they continue to resist oppression; they rage against it ("smouldering"), however unsuccessful the Homestead Strike may have been. On the other hand, Long actually celebrates their stranger-ness--it is a "gleaming" quality, "more gleaming, than {the} skein of metal" which cannot contain them. They are not merely, then, an undifferentiated class unit--Long would likely eschew Burnshaw's connotation of the word "proletarian" in that particular sense--but they are surely proletarians as Marx defined the term: those who do not own the means of production and therefore must sell their labor in order to survive.

In contrast to what Kalaidjian terms the Marxist "proletcult," with "its imported images, styles, and subcultural signs {that} cut against the vernacular grain of nativist popular culture so that it often simply repulsed noninitiates" (1993, 61), Long, though certainly no nativist, views the strikers as a group of working people within a local identity: they are "Pittsburgh men and boys working your mills" or "boys on farms near Pittsburgh" who, while clearly exploited by an inhuman capitalist system, retain their faith in the immanent beauty of life. Comparing Long's work to Rolfe's is once again instructive. In "Brickyards at Beacon," first published in 1929, Rolfe writes of workers so dehumanized by their jobs that "they are stooped and bent and vaguely deathlike, / their chests are tragic parodies of chests" (1993, 63). Long's workers, however, while they too exist "under a spectral whisper," are nonetheless "more complicated, more attractive / to thought, than any world thought can erect." These workers (being "complicated") cannot be reduced either by Marxist or by capitalist ideology ("any world thought") to an abstract mass. Rolfe's workers, in contrast, are types, merely victims placed in the poem to elicit sympathy and outrage. Though at night they sing sad and "beautiful" songs that are "outlets / for a million pains" (Rolfe 1993, 63). The best they can hope for is some vague, far-off possibility of deliverance: "Some day ..." (64; ellipsis in original). Thurston writes that "'Brickyards at Beacon' sets out first to preserve the human beauty of the workers even under inhuman and degrading conditions and then to rearticulate the category of beauty to the conscious recognition of suffering under these conditions" (2001, 52). Such beauty, though, inheres only in a song that gestures toward an as-yet-ungraspable future redemption. In the present, Rolfe's workers are "stooped and bent," whereas Long's are "gleaming" and "attractive" in the "full healthy bloom of life" and have already demonstrated their willingness to challenge the economic exploitation that is foisted upon them, as their actions at Homestead have demonstrated.

If Long's feeling toward the workers is different from that of Rolfe and similar to that of Whitman, he nuances his argument about "our need to come to terms with ourselves, / {and} with the others who live life with us" (1935, 3) by paying homage to two further figures: the songwriter Stephen Foster and the Italian actress Eleanora Duse. Through the examples of Foster and Duse, Long insists on an important role for the artist in society as both a creative individual and the voice of the people. In Pittsburgh Memoranda's titular section on Foster, he is portrayed as "Another Pittsburgher" who had "Something perfectly original, which was to give him trouble when he went to school and afterwards." Personally alienated, Foster as a songwriter was nonetheless the supreme interpreter of the folk mood. Long quotes Foster's biographer Harold Vincent Milligan: "every folk-song is first born in the heart of some one person, whose spirit is so finely attuned to the inward struggle which is the history of the soul of man, that when he seeks for his self-expression, he at the same time gives voice to that 'vast multitude who die and give no sign'" (Long 1935, 19). The inward contemplation of the "soul," Long suggests, leads to an intuitive understanding of the human condition. In a subsequent lyrical passage, Long writes that Foster, like Whitman,

did not give a little charity, gave himself, rendered back to us the old ghosts, kept himself a gateway for songs of homelessness, despair and tears, agonies of a foundling crying for the harmony out of which he was born. (Long 1935, 24)

Long celebrates Foster's role as the spokesperson for the whole ("a gateway") who empathizes with the most wretched of society. Foster is a quintessential figure who enacts this role, an artist who personifies both individuality and collectivity. Because Long approaches these questions through aesthetic praxis, it is also clear that he sees Foster as an analogue for himself. For Long, Foster is an antecedent through whom he puts himself forward as a populist poet capable of articulating the concerns of all of Pittsburgh--and concomitantly the whole country.

So too is Eleanora Duse, the famous Italian actress who died in Pittsburgh in 1924, and whom Long rhapsodizes in the aptly titled section "Duse Dies in Pittsburgh." He does this against a further historical context. In the years after the First World War, "there was another steel strike, larger than Homestead, and again the strikers lost. And there were strikes over the country like lightning round the entire horizon" (Long 1:935, 63). The poem goes on to quote the Secretary of Labor, who in a subsequent public affirmation of capitalism claimed, "Every man is entitled to the full social value of what his labor produces, of course; but.... the only method we have devised is the method we are using, competition" (63). Long then notes the deaths of both Lenin and Woodrow Wilson: "And many people grieved, because Lenin and Wilson, each in his way, had been working at new methods of computation." Having laid out this backdrop through documentary pastiche, Long pivots to poetic lines, lauding Duse because she represents a "different system of computation" from either Lenin or Wilson, and because contemplating her reveals that "the need for the disappearance of the individual / has come upon us--but never of the individual soul." Duse herself epitomizes this "need for the disappearance of the individual," acting being on one level an erasure of the self Furthermore, her late career choice to "never again play any parts / but those of mothers" (64) exemplifies the ethos that Long puts forward throughout the Memoranda:

She had acted the passions. She knew how they can destroy the soul of a person and the soul of a world, and she saw that the nations of the earth had reached their black hour.

It was then she became the divine Duse, rose before the nations and showed them the only way out of blackness: became the mothers, left passion behind and lived only for what cherishes. (Long 1935, 64-65).

Long imparts incredible power to Duse (the ability to rise "before the nations and {show} them the only way out of blackness"); she is portrayed as being capable of effecting change in the world through her art. Her importance lies both in what she represents as an avatar of a collectivist social and political vision and in her strength as an actress, a singular artist who inhabits the same role Long claims for himself as a poet. Clearly, he views poetry as capable of effecting change too, and, in claiming Duse and Foster as artistic forebears, he links his aesthetic perspective to theirs.


We have seen that while Long puts forward a vision of collectivism existing side by side with individuality (and even personal idiosyncrasy), he rejects class politics and what he refers to as ideological "theories." While he celebrates working people, he resists reducing them to a "proletarian" mass for the efficacy of a party line. While he exposes and critiques the exploitation that capitalists like Carnegie and Frick engage in as owners and bosses, he eschews the violent fanaticism of a figure like Berkman. All of this goes some way toward accounting for the difficulty in assimilating Long to the canon of 1930s poets; but it also raises the question, what then does Long posit in place of these "theories," in place of Marxism? How does he undergird his own argument in Pittsburgh Memoranda? We have some suggestions already. Whitman was a political thinker as well as a poet; he saw these roles as one and the same. As Jason Frank notes, "For Whitman, not only was poetry a kind of democratic action, but democratic action should itself be understood as a kind of poetry" (2007, 415). For Long, the polyvocalism of the documentary form enacts on the page the democratic poetics that he, like Whitman, practices. Long's medium is thus also, in part, his message. Documentary, despite appearances, is certainly not objective, and Long does not pretend it is. In a footnote addressing a factual error in one of his quoted sources, he excuses himself by revealing, "I had arranged the cadences of my page before I noticed the discrepancy " (Long 1935, 7; emphasis in original), indicating that he will shape such material according to the needs of his own argument. As noted in the earlier discussion of "Homestead," Long does not simply let documented voices speak for themselves; rather, he interprets and comments on them, foregrounding his own voice and sometimes creating unexpected juxtapositions or cognitive leaps in the process, asserting Pittsburgh Memoranda as a new and original form. Thus, it is both as an iconoclastic voice in the landscape of 1930s political poetry and as an innovator in documentary poetics that Long should be recognized.

The collage effect of Long's poem did not in fact escape the notice of contemporary critics. Burke in his 1935 review saw Pittsburgh Memoranda as being "pinned together rather than formed" (1935, 83), while Burnshaw, despite (or perhaps in keeping with) his political rebuke, argued that "the chief importance of this book as art is structural. Long attempts a politico-social analysis not by anatomizing distinctions (the method of logic), but by perceiving beneath the surface of disparate material elements bearing a basic kinship" (1935, 41). Long's combination of documentary quotation, prose passages, and poetry creates an aesthetic space for democratic expression--a space that is perhaps messy and seemingly arbitrary ("pinned together")--but one that models the polyvocal nature of the democratic arena and updates Whitman for a twentieth-century moment. William Stott notes, "Documentary is a radically democratic genre. It dignifies the usual and levels the extraordinary" (1986, 49). Accordingly, Long's use of documentary form breaks the frame of lyric convention and allows him (as Whitman had done in his own way) to communicate directly with the people. Pittsburgh Memoranda thus enjoins readers to revivify democratic values, seeks to foster community solidarity, and urges resistance to capitalist exploitation.

Further underpinning Long's political stance is the work of the political economist Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty, first published in 1879. George in a sense plays the role that Marx did for Rolfe and other 1930s poets, here inspiring and informing Pittsburgh Memoranda. While nowhere in the poem does Long express hostility toward Marxism (in fact, his reference to Lenin as having "been working at new methods of computation" suggests he might even have been sympathetic to some of its ideas), it is clear that he rejected it as a "theory" where many writers embraced it. Uneager to join the "proletcult," Long's interest in George represents a different means of opposing capitalism, one more reflective of his Whitmanian hope in the potential of American democracy. His use of George also parallels William Carlos Williams's interest in C. H. Douglas's Social Credit movement during the 1930s, which influenced Williams's subsequent exploration of economic themes in Paterson (Weaver 1971, 111-13). Bob Johnson notes that "Social Credit ... offered Williams an alternative economic reform ideology that avoided the sort of threats to the individual that many modern artists felt communism posed" (2002, 195). While Nelson observes, "Despite his differences with communism, ... Williams was effectively allied with the New York-area Left" (2001, 153), Carla Billitteri has convincingly argued that for Williams in the 1930s "the doctrine of Social Credit {was} the best form of governance that would serve (and preserve) the welfare of the artist" as an aloof, aristocratic genius (2007, 52). Long, like Williams a fellow traveler on the left, does not however cling to an aristocratic image of the artist. For him, George is another figure who bridges the gap between individual and collective: "More than anyone you help me to be / both individual and non-individual," Long writes (1935, 51).

Pittsburgh Memoranda is markedly influenced by George's thinking and in the "Henry George" section, Long lauds him in a way that is similar to the poem's treatment of Foster and Duse. The primary argument in Progress and Poverty is that land should be considered the common property of all and, therefore, that the way to remedy the unequal distribution of wealth and the poverty that arises from it is to impose a progressive tax on land ownership and abolish all other taxes. By "abolishing} all taxation save that upon land values" (George 1942, 341), George claims, the onus would fall "only upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, of that value which is the creation of the community" (353). Consequently, "it would at the same time, and in the same degree, become possible ... to realize the dream of socialism.... Government would change its character, and would become the administration of a great co-operative society" (382-83). The state, according to George, should be refigured primarily as the guarantor of social and economic equality. Here, the significance of Progress and Poverty for Long should be obvious: the communitarian--even "socialist"--ethos, the cross-class appeal, and the call for a radical refiguring of society.

Long does not somehow merely deliver Progress and Poverty in verse, however. He does not quote George, nor does he rally readers around a symbolic "Georgist" banner. Instead, he identifies "a basic kinship" (as Burnshaw puts it) with George and translates the energy of his ideas on the aesthetic level. The section once more begins in the documentary mode, incorporating a quote from a 1913 Pennsylvania tax law (applied to the cities of Pittsburgh and Scranton) that attempted to put George's ideas into practice. The language is quotidian: "I. The entire tax revenue for municipal purposes is derived from taxes on real estate. There are no other taxes levied by the city government on any other form of property or income. II. The municipal tax rate on buildings is fixed at one-half of the tax rate levied upon land" (Long 1935, 49). Long then makes another fast-forward leap, suddenly locating himself as speaker in a landscape overlooking the factories of Pittsburgh. He addresses George by name and identifies him as a signal figure in his political development:

There above the stacks and lying on artemisia and on artemisia, I believe I had my first revelation of you. No doubt there had been events paving the way; but you are, and always will be for me, born out of that wealth of botany and landscape. (Long 1935, 50-51)

It is no accident that he describes a "wealth of botany and landscape" as the setting for his insights about George, land being posited in Progress and Poverty as having intrinsic community value. Grappling with the problem of "fortified privilege," Long reimagines "the warm / symbol of us all, the STATE" (51), identified with the land, the earth, the conception of which he cites as having arisen out of his previously described "revelation" of George. He goes on to further delineate his conception of the state:

The STATE has a sacred physical body and her sacred physical body is the earth and for all men is the equal right to the use of the earth.... a patriotism born of unbroken communion with the sun, with the planets, with the dark nights and the stars through the trees of one's own landscape. (Long 1935, 51)

Long here transforms some of George's political ideas, refiguring them as poetry in a way that is again reminiscent of Whitman. The state is equated with the earth itself as a "sacred" body. Patriotism is expressed as a "communion" not only with the land and the earth but the whole galaxy, concentrated into a specific, powerful image that is accessible to all of us, he suggests, if only we go out into the night of Pittsburgh or indeed anywhere.

Recall that the third part of Long's overarching, tripartite theme is "the life that lives all," and now in "Henry George" he moves from the political into mystical or revelatory experience. If mysticism can be thought of as the direct communication of an ultimate or divine truth, then his method in this passage is similar to Whitman's in section 33 of "Song of Myself': "Space and Time! now I see it is true, what I guess'd at, / What I guess'd when I loaf'd on the grass" (2001, 76). It is a method by which the poet, as Long writes in Walt Whitman and the Springs of Courage, "exchanging a blind trust in tradition for an open mind toward knowledge, will use the imaginative faculty, as {Whitman} says, with religious fervor to vivify facts, common lives, and things as they are" (1938, 84). Through his own antinomian "open mind," his "imaginative faculty," and inspired by the philosophy of George, Long intuits a vision of the state which is based in nature and respect for the earth, and a new kind of "patriotism" that is neither nationalistic, exclusivist, nor supremacist, but open enough to encompass all of space. (10) The "George" section of the Memoranda concludes, "Feeling the pulse in my wrist / I feel underneath that pulse of personal blood / another pulse deeper than I know" (Long 1935,51), where a personal "feeling" allows for an intuitive leap, a supposition about deeper, non-personal values. Certainly there is something Romantic in this (the revelations that the solitary poet can have out in nature), but instead of privileging the position of an aggrandized speaker (a hallmark of English Romanticism), Long frames the situation as a bridge to a collective moment.

There is an urgent rhetorical context to Long's call for the collective renewal of society. Not only was Pittsburgh Memoranda published in the midst of the Depression and its attendant economic uncertainties, but the poem suggests that American democracy has been under threat for a long time before. In the penultimate section of the poem, whose title "Bloom Forever, O Republic" is a quotation from Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, Long ramps up his anti-capitalist attack. The section opens, "After the steel companies beat the unions at Homestead the officers of the company became the leaders of the workers, having done away with any other leaders" (1935, 67). The poem identifies "Big Business" and corporations as the problem, as a corruption of society: '"Big Business is a real menace.' {parallel} Even a store at a country cross-roads is a real menace, when it is inhuman" (72)--and quotes Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot in 1927: "Politics in this state has been run as a part of the business of certain moneyed interests.... What these interests buy is non-interference, tax exemption, extortionate rates allowed public utilities and other special privileges for themselves at the expense of the people" (73). In response to this problem, and fleshed out by further quotations, Long limns a more egalitarian arrangement of society that involves a redistribution of wealth, asserting that the state needs to become human by safeguarding the people from the depredations of "moneyed interests." He then exhorts citizens themselves to respond actively, to reclaim American democracy: "we the people do nothing about it--{parallel} forget that the country is ours, and there is no such thing as the rights of property as distinguished from our rights" (73). The influence of George's thinking is evident here, recalling the argument in Progress and Poverty that "Government {should} change its character, and ... become the administration of a great co-operative society" (1942, 383). Long suggests in Pittsburgh Memoranda that when the state begins to favor "moneyed interests" over those of society as a whole, democracy itself becomes corrupt: "we go to the polls and vote, even when the election / is fraudulent, and the candidates vile" (Long 1935, 73). Through poetry, he seeks to bypass "fraudulent" institutions and appeal directly to the people: "What causes our hallucinations and disease is the belief that we can get to work on the State without getting to work on ourselves" (74). As Botkin writes, "Unlike those who believe that society can be made over by legislation or revolution, Long tells us that, since individuals make up society, society can be made over only as individuals make themselves over" (1971). Though the nation may be in the throes of "disease" and on the verge of a kind of death, Long asserts that it can yet be revitalized. The effectiveness of this assertion lies partly in the form Long utilizes in this section: a collage of documentary quotation punctuated with lyrical, sometimes hortatory, commentary upon it.

At this juncture, it would be helpful to compare Long's work to that of another of his contemporaries, Muriel Rukeyser. Unlike Long, Rukeyser has now been more or less thoroughly reassimiliated into the canon of modernism. Like Pittsburgh Memoranda, however, Rukeyser's long poem of 1938, "The Book of the Dead," utilizes a combination of documentary and lyric that would in fact appear to be at least partly inspired by the earlier work. Not only is it comparable in form, but Tim Dayton also describes Rukeyser's themes as "the rift between subjective meaning, the importance that one ascribes to something as an individual, and objective values, the importance that one's society ascribes to something. This rift is paralleled by another: the one between values, whether those of individual or collective subjects, and reality, whether understood as 'society' or as brute nature" (2003, 22-23). As we have seen, Long similarly negotiates individual and collective concerns and seeks to define a set of values that would counter those of capitalism. Just as Dayton writes that the likely influence of Pound on Rukeyser "is not yet provable" (2003, 65), a direct connection between Long's and Rukeyser's poems cannot be categorically established at present. However, given both the thematic and formal affinities between the two works, as well as the sequence of their publication dates, such a connection appears quite plausible and is well worth considering, given what many critics consider to be the groundbreaking nature of Rukeyser's poem. Pittsburgh Memoranda was published in 1935 and its review by Burnshaw in New Masses appeared the same year. Rukeyser began an ongoing association with that journal in 1934 (Shulman 2000, 34-35), so it is virtually inconceivable that Long's book would have escaped her attention. She then traveled to West Virginia, site of the Gauley Bridge tunnel disaster that she writes about in "The Book of the Dead," in March 1936 and began work on her poem in the summer of 1937 (Dayton 2003, 15).

Like the earlier Pittsburgh Memoranda, "The Book of the Dead" constructs poetic resistance to capitalism by undermining its narratives, and Rukeyser utilizes a documentary technique remarkably similar to Long's in order to achieve this. Kalaidjian, in a passage that could apply as well to Long as to Rukeyser, observes, "Rukeyser employs the documentary mode of depression era reportage, ... {and} 'The Book of the Dead' exploits the American long poem in order to lodge a more nuanced ideological contestation of corporate powers in the depression era" (1993, 170). While Rukeyser, despite her ambivalence about the Communist Party, engages with a Popular Front version of Marxism for the ideological underpinning of her project and Long looks elsewhere (to George, for example), both quote outside sources extensively, including public testimony To compare some particular examples, in "Bloom Forever, O Republic," Long gives excerpts from the 1925 proceedings of the Academy of Political Science. Henry L. Stimson, a former Secretary of War, is paraphrased as stating "that the relations between capital and labor, and producer and consumer, were only a modified war" (Long 1935, 69), and a Mr. Cravath notes that "Big Business is a real menace" (71). Long then brings in the testimony of R. B. Mellon ("former chairman of Pittsburgh Coal") during a Senate committee hearing:

MR. EATON: You have read all about these social conditions among these employees and the terrible destitution, have you not?

MR. MELLON: Yes...

MR. EATON: What have you ever done to alleviate these conditions?

MR. Mellon: O there are a number of charities and schemes of different kinds. They have been taken care of. I think they have been well taken care of all during the winter.

SENATOR WHEELER: You think these striking miners and their families have been well taken care of?

MR. MELLON: I think so, from what they tell me.

SENATOR WHEELER: You have not seen any of them, have you?

MR. MELLON: No; I did not go out to see them. I would not be out there, way out in the mines.

(Long 1935, 72)

Similarly, in the section of "The Book of the Dead" titled "The Dam," Rukeyser includes official testimony, in this case from a House of Representatives subcommittee investigating the Gauley Bridge tragedy:

MR. GRISWOLD: "A corporation is a body without a soul."

MR. DUNN: When they were caught at it they resorted to the methods employed by gunmen, ordinary machine-gun racketeers. They cowardly tried to buy out the people who had information on them.

MR. MARCANTONIO: I agree that a racket has been practiced, but the most damnable racketeering that I have ever known is the paying of a fee to the very attorney who represented these victims. That is the most outrageous racket that has ever come within my knowledge.

MISS ALLEN: Mr. Jesse J. Ricks, the president of Union Carbide & Carbon Corporation, suggested that the stock-holder had better take this question up in a private conference.

(Rukeyser 2005, 101)

In both cases, Long and Rukeyser arrange the testimony in such a manner as to expose the hypocrisy of those giving it. Dayton notes that Rukeyser's method is to make "minimal alteration of the testimony for maximal impact" (2003, 72). As we have seen, this is also Long's method. Stott terms it "expose quotation" and observes that it "turns a subject's most calculated utterance, his public statements, against him. It shows his ideals so compromised in practice as to be but scraps of paper" (1986, 175). Not only do they each manipulate their sources in this way, but Rukeyser's passage--in the manner that it is arranged, with its open attack on corporations, and with its satiric reference to "stockholders"--could almost have been taken from Pittsburgh Memoranda itself.

The two works are not only comparable in their use of documentary technique but also in their heterogeneous methods of composition. Both move easily from the "factual" or mundane to the visionary or poetic, and back again. In "The Portent" section of the Memoranda, Long incorporates a list of figures enumerating Carnegie's net worth at the time of his retirement from business, columning the dollar amounts company by company (1935, 33). This use of "unpoetic" financial material has a disjunctive effect in the text, engendering a sense of irony and outrage that corporations are able to amass such obscene amounts of wealth while the people suffer. In "The Dam," Rukeyser similarly offers a stock quote for Union Carbide, listing dividends, sales figures, and so on (2005, 101). As we have often seen Long do, Rukeyser then proceeds to frame her documentary material with an extended lyrical passage, finally ending "The Dam" with the lines,

Be born again. Nothing is lost, even among the wars, imperfect flow, confusion of force. It will rise. These are the phases of its face. It knows its seasons, the waiting, the sudden. It changes. It does not die. (Rukeyser 2005, 102)

Alluding to both the water of the dam and the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, Rukeyser implies that despite the seeming stranglehold that corporations have on the life of the country, the potential for personal or societal transformation persists. Robert Shulman observes that, among other possible readings of this passage, it is an expression of "the power of revolutionary change" and that "Rukeyser affirms a radical faith that encompasses politics, religion, and nature" (2000, 230). Compare it with a passage of Long's as he builds toward the conclusion of Pittsburgh Memoranda-.

We germs have many lives. Corpuscles die, corpuscles get better, are reborn, transformed; majorities can become minorities. Blood must course through the whole body, work and happiness through the whole nation. (Long 1935, 83)

Both revolve around metaphors of regenerative nature. Long draws a parallel between the physical human body and a democratic electorate, the scientific and the political; Rukeyser, in her poem, puts forth the symbol of a flowing river. In so doing, each emphasizes a desire for social or political change, here intensified by the poetic contrast to and coexistence with a sometimes statistical mode of documentary quotation.

In her recent book on Rukeyser, Catherine Gander compares her "relational poetics" to Gilies Deleuze and Felix Guattari's rhizomatic literary model. (11) Gander goes on to suggest: "That the French philosophers submitted their theory forty years after Rukeyser had argued hers serves to demonstrate the innovative nature of Rukeyser's poetics" (2013, 185). By the same token, Long's Pittsburgh Memoranda, whose innovations precede those of Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead," should be similarly recognized. One reason why this has not happened heretofore is, I would argue, politics. While Rukeyser, to reiterate, had a much more ambiguous relationship to the Communist Party than once assumed, she is still widely seen in this period as a Marxist poet, making her a more efficacious figure for studies such as Shulman's, Thurston's, and Dayton's, all of which recuperate her under the aegis of Marxism. No one has written, nor would it be possible to write, a survey of 1930s "Georgist" poets. Rabinowitz argues, however, that documentary art is not only intended to move others to action but is also an act of self-definition: "This is a highly personal form which takes as its subject public affairs; but it is also a political practice which comes from private vision" (1994, 12). Long's public poetic interventions spring from such a "private vision" that has not until now been accounted for.

The "Epilogue" of Pittsburgh Memoranda recapitulates Long's themes and advances them in a sustained poetic burst that instantiates this private vision. He opens by revisiting many of the figures from earlier in the book--Carnegie, Frick, Berkman, and others--incorporating new documents that shed further light on them. Then, though, he once more veers away from the collage of quotation and presents an extended lyric passage:

My Pittsburgh is all these people, and others too; my Pittsburgh is more than I can ever say-- the people, and the buildings, and the streets in which I live my life; the loneliness of heart and body here; the mind's confusion; the evening pools of light in living rooms; the conversation, the strange flow of words, the inward hesitations and delays, the phantom steel mills floating in these words, phantom statistics--all reality become abstract, unless I see revealed some human destiny in particular. (Long 1935, 79)

In these lines, Long comments on his own use of documentary sources and exposes their limits. For him, without a personal, poetic interpretation of historical data, all is merely "phantom statistics" and reality becomes "abstract." On the other hand, it is certainly possible to construct a documentary poem utilizing collage only--Reznikoff's Testimony, for example, achieves its goal through nothing more than the artful arrangement of quoted source material. However, in Pittsburgh Memoranda Long draws on the differing effects that the documentary and lyric modes have, which are emphasized in their juxtaposition. This has been operative throughout the poem but now, as it builds toward a conclusion, Long conspicuously brings in the lyric form to frame the documentary and puts forward a personal-political manifesto foregrounding the emotional bonds of human connection:

Pittsburghers, what is Pittsburgh? It is the total of the relationships of us who live in Pittsburgh: is nothing else, now and forever. And it can be reciprocalness in growth. And it can be accordances of being. And it can be an unfolding all together. (Long 1935, 83)

In a written interview with Mary Frances Mackel, Long states, "You will see that Values' play a large part here.... At the end of the Prologue to my Pittsburgh book I say that our task is to come to terms with ourselves, with others, and with the life that lives in us all. We cannot do without a sense of values, i.e., without feeling, which is the only true source of value" (quoted in Botkin 1971). Stott observes, "Those who practice documentary tend to be skeptical of the intellect and the abstractions through which it works. Like artists {sic}, they believe that a fact to be true and important must be felt" (1986, 12). "Feeling" for Long is also what binds people together and allows them to forge meaningful relationships, which in turn can act as a bulwark against egotism and economic exploitation. Such an affective gesture makes particular sense when contrasted with the inhuman, unfeeling character of capitalism that Long confronts in Pittsburgh Memoranda.

As an idiosyncratic but striking example of the 1930s documentary political poem, Pittsburgh Memoranda collages genres and forms, the historical past and the present. The extent of its influence has yet to be fully considered, and whether or not a direct line of influence can be traced from Long to Rukeyser, and from there perhaps to Williams's Paterson, (12) studying Pittsburgh Memoranda allows us to expand our view of both the documentary poem as a distinct form and the political poetry of the 1930s more generally. While the majority of recent studies of the era have understandably focused on the Marxist context, Long's work demonstrates the multiplicity of social, political, and aesthetic stances that poets and artists put forward in response to the Depression. Incorporating historical moments and felt experience, it delineates the Pittsburgh of his time--and yet perhaps it is also in a sense the Pittsburgh of ours. Long emphasizes the values of human feeling, connection, and engagement, and limns a sense of hope for a democratic present and future not hamstrung by dehumanizing economic exploitation on the one hand or dogmatic ideologies on the other. As contemporary writers seek for ways to grapple in poetry with the problems of corporate personhood and the corruption of American democracy, and as critics continue to broaden the remit of modernism, it is worth reconsidering a 1930s poet who grappled with problems in some way similar to those we face today and who, in the process, created something much more than mere "memoranda."

MICHAEL S. BEGNAL teaches composition, creative writing, and literature in the English Department at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. A poet as well as a scholar, his most recent book of poetry is Future Blues (2012).


(1) For instance, Long appeared in Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse (1920), edited by Alfred Kreymborg, which also included William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Carl Sandburg, and Lola Ridge. He contributed to multiple issues of Poetry magazine (Armitage 1986, 230) and, to list one other example, his poem "Sand Storm" was published in the second issue of A Tear Magazine (Stoll 1933, 149), which also featured an essay that Williams offered as part of "A Symposium: The Status of Radical Writing."

(2) Kenneth Burke described Long's Pittsburgh Memoranda (1935) as "grave and disquieting.... combining the statistical and the impressionistic" (1935, 83), while Stanley Burnshaw in his joint review of Pittsburgh Memoranda and Wallace Stevens's Ideas of Order devoted the greater part of the essay to Long (1935, 41-42).

(3) Mike Weaver credits David Lyle, with whom Williams began corresponding in 1938, with "turn{ing} Williams' attention to the news, and the conception of a poem as the truth of contemporary events" (1971, 123-26). Paul Mariani describes Williams actively researching and collecting source material for Paterson in 1942 (1981, 461-71).

(4) In reality, both MacLeish's and Rukeyser's relationships to communism were more ambiguous. Newcomb observes that "MacLeish's evolving position was consistently unpopular with the orthodoxies prevailing at various times and in various cultural and political circles" (1990, 24). Janet E. Kaufman, Anne F. Herzog, and Jan Heller Levi note, "Rukeyser never fit{ted} easily into prescriptive categories. She never functioned as a spokesperson for any partisan organization and never was a 'card-carrying member' of the Communist Party as she was thought to be" (2005, xxxiv).

(5) For example, though Shulman states that "I am a critic and scholar interested in Marxism, not a Marxist critic or scholar" (2000, 1), he attacks Kalaidjian for minimizing Rukeyser's Marxism and the influence of Popular Front thinking on "The Book of the Dead" (240-41). Nelson writes, "If a democratic international socialism is to remain available as a cultural and political resource in the decades to come ... then the visionary Marxism that recurs throughout {Rolfe's} To My Contemporaries needs to remain part of our cultural memory" (2001, 89). Thurston goes so far as to excuse Rolfe's tacit Stalinism (2001, 77-78).

(6) Conn refers to a number of recovered 1930s political writers as "allegedly substantial figures" and claims that "there is often more than a hint of nostalgia and advocacy in the way these writers and texts are treated, since their vanished dreams of dissent rhyme with contemporary discontents and aspirations" (2009, 209).

(7) Denise Levertov, for example, considered Pittsburgh Memoranda and Paterson to be in the same category. Discussing the composition of her own long poem To Stay Alive (1971) in a 1972 interview, she stated that she sought "the elbowroom of a diary form, incorporating prose passages as Williams had done in Paterson ... and as Haniel Long had done in Pittsburgh Memorandum {sic}" (1998, 74).

(8) Nelson suggests, "one way that To My Contemporaries must be read is as Rolfe's contribution to a dialogic chorus of voices" (2001, 97), in that Rolfe was aware of himself as part of a community of political writers. In this broader context, Nelson certainly has a point, but To My Contemporaries as a collection is composed of stand-alone lyric poems.

(9) In a 1961 look back at this review, which had became famous for the response it provoked from Stevens, Burnshaw writes that "it is never easy for a critic to shed his assumptions, and it is especially difficult for an American, in our anti-Marxist midcentury, to give up, even temporarily, the attitudes that compose his security. Yet unless he is able to do this, he will never understand the writings of the thirties for what they were" (1961, 356).

(10) In the explicitly anti-war section of the Memoranda, "Frank Hogan and Fred Demmler," Long quotes Hogan: "I do believe that patriotism is partisanship glorified by nothing" (1935, 55).

(11) Gander describes Deleuze and Guattari's theory of the rhizome: "The rhizomatic structure ... fosters multiplicity ... having no centre but rather a network of branches and roots, all segments of which are fertile " (2013, 181).

(12) Mariani notes that Williams had been "looking for leads for his own new work" (i.e. for Paterson) when he reviewed Rukeyser's U.S. 1 for the New Republic in 1938 (1981, 417).


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Author:Begnal, Michael S.
Publication:College Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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