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Laura Riding's "Selected Poems in Five Sets" was first published in England in 1970 and for a long while was out of print. It includes 61 poems personally selected and arranged by the author, drawn from her 1938 volume of "Collected Poems." Influential among the literary avant-garde during the 1920's and 30's, Riding has a significant impact on the formation of New Criticism. Consequently, it is hard to quibble with the idea that this represents the very best of her poetry. Even more fascinating is the preface, which explains Laura Riding Jackson's renunciation of the writing of poetry for being "inadequate," and comments upon the nature of contemporary poetry as well. After her marriage to the critic Schuyler B. Jackson, she spent most of her time working on lexicographical studies and philosophical works, including 1972's "The Telling" (comments that she gave up poetry to be a housewife for 50 years are patently absurd). W. H. Auden once called Riding the only living "philosophical" poet, while Kenneth Rexroth labels her "the greatest lost poet in American literature." Her poetry is marked by concisely phrased lines, never ten syllables long, and matched by sparse imagery that produces clarity (e.g., "With the Face"). Riding's eventual disenchantment with poetry is, perhaps, foreshadowed in "The World and I": "Perhaps this is as close a meaning As perhaps becomes such knowing. Else I think the world and I Must live together as strangers and die" Laura Riding Jackson was awarded the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1991, the year of her death. The following year "First Awakenings: The Early Poems" was published. Students may well enjoy the clarity of Riding's poetry, but her renunciation of the very art form she had mastered may well be the most provocative piece from this book with which to confront them.
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