Featured Binder: Terese Svoboda
We spoke with Terese Svoboda about her new book, Anything That Burns You: A Portrait
of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet
a rich, detailed account of Ridge's life and world.
What about Lola Ridge drew you to write her biography?
I'd never heard of her, and she lived in my neighborhood on the Lower East
Side a hundred years earlier. Her first book, The Ghetto and Other Poems
portrayed that neighborhood with such sympathy and directness that I
couldn't resist. The title poem of her second book, Sun-up and Other Poems
captured what it was like to be a rebellious child, a voice I'd never
imagined in that era, and the rest of that book is about sex and radical
politics – eye-opening. By the time I got to Red Flag
, I was hooked. She
was as rebellious in life as in her work, at a time when women were
breaking out of the Victorian mold with sledgehammers. She left her son in
an orphanage after coming from Australasia, worked for Emma Goldman and
Margaret Sanger while conquering the poetry world which included her
friends Williams, Moore, and Crane. Her parties and her editorship of two
important magazines stayed the path of modernism. Her last two books recall
Crane's, whom she mentored early in his career – or his work mimics hers.
She's kind of a Pound/Crane/Loy rolled into one, with a anarchistic spirit
that the Occupy generation should appreciate.
In an essay
about the parallels between you and Ridge, you wrote, "The biographer’s
life must not compete, and most importantly, must not obstruct in the
telling." How did you avoid competition or obstruction while writing this
Originally I envisioned a blended biography/memoir in which I would expand
moments in my own life to illuminate our differences and make clear the
contemporary lens. This became too cumbersome, and anyway, I was always
headed for 1941, her death and the summing up of her work, which spooked
me. I tried instead to approach the controversial aspects of her life as
impartially as possible, offering numerous rationales for her decisions, to
avoid condemnation or even unearned adulation. The biographer can't avoid
picking and choosing her material and revealing where her interests lie, of
course, but she can offer it without undue emphasis.
As a poet, novelist, memoirist, short story writer, librettist,
translator, biographer, critic, and videomaker, you work across genres and
forms. What advice do you have for writers exploring new mediums?
It is not a good idea to spread yourself thin if you can avoid it. Since we
are not Europeans who accept and promote the woman or man of letters, you
risk losing your audience if you write in numerous genres. My rationale for
my own practice ignores what I just wrote. Whenever I feel blocked or
discouraged by one genre, I turn to another. That way at the least the
dopamine flow continues uninterrupted. When I sense new failure, I return
to that earlier genre with lessons learned, some of them useful to the
inert material that resisted me before.