Welcome to the Laura (Riding) Jackson Website
Who was Laura (Riding) Jackson?

Laura (Riding) Jackson (1901-1991) was a great twentieth century poet and intellect. For the first twenty years of her adult life, between 1919 and 1938, Laura Riding (as she then was known) dedicated her life to poetry, publishing ten volumes which culminated in her Collected Poems (1938), poems which must be read, as she said at the time, ‘in relation to each other to appreciate the large coherence of thought behind them.’ Her influence as a poetic practitioner can be seen in the work of many other modernist poets, notably her associate of many years, Robert Graves, with whom she settled in Mallorca between 1929 and 1936, but also diverse others including Hart Crane and W.H. Auden.

While poetry always had primacy in those years, criticism—of the arts and of life in general, was also an essential part of her literary activity. Her influence on the development of The New Criticism was pervasive, arising particularly out of A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1926) by Riding and Graves, although efforts have been made to airbrush her influence out of literary history. Her influence, leaving unmistakeable traces in the introduction and in the selection of contributors, was also substantial on Michael Roberts’ Faber Anthology of Modern Verse, arguably the most influential poetry anthology in English of the twentieth century. The wide-ranging periodical Epilogue, which ran for four issues between 1935 and 1937, and which she described as a Critical Vulgate, crowned her critical efforts during this period of her life.

Laura Riding’s famous renunciation of poetry, which came some years after the publication of Collected Poems, has been widely misunderstood and misrepresented. In fact, the same impulse that took her into poetry in the first place eventually took her out of poetry, and into her post-poetic work on language. Her first substantial statement on her position was not made until 1970, in her preface to her Selected Poems: In Five Sets where she said that ‘for the practice of the style of truth to become a thing of the present, poetry must become a thing of the past.’

She adopted the name Laura (Riding) Jackson some years after her marriage to Schuyler B. Jackson in 1941, the new name ‘containing’, as she said, ‘the poetic identity.’ The couple settled in Florida where they set up a successful citrus fruit growing business. She began publishing prolifically again only after 1967, when her post-poetic evangel, The Telling, was first published in Chelsea magazine, edited by Sonia Raiziss. Chelsea also published new essays by Laura (Riding) Jackson and devoted whole issues to her work, including selections from her early work, critical essays and bibliography. Books and essays on her life, on woman, on poetry and language, and on thought, ensued. Some of these, including Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words (1997), on which she and her husband had worked for decades, were only published after her death in 1991, shortly after she was awarded the Bollingen Prize for poetry.

Although she was such a rigorous writer her work has proved indigestible to the academic-critico world; it cuts through conventional literary categories with great freedom, as exemplified in her post-poetic evangel, The Telling (published in expanded book form in 1972), and it owes to a very small number of influences or predecessors. Academics have tended to latch on to her complexities, as though she were producing literary puzzles, and indeed she never dodges difficulty, but we argue, with her, that she ‘splits incontrovertibles’ of the conventional kind, literary and other, and aims to achieve simplicity and truth by an unencumbered immediacy of mind.

The Purpose of the Website

The purpose of the website is to publicise and promote the work of Laura (Riding) Jackson by

  • Giving access to her work
  • Making available texts not readily available elsewhere
  • Providing a bibliography of the author’s main works
  • Signposting significant essays and books on her work and life
  • Providing a select and updated bibliography, with abstracts of key works
  • Making available new and previously issued texts not readily available elsewhere
  • Providing information and links about new or forthcoming work or events
  • Creating a forum for a community of interest.