The Poems of Laura Riding
Newly revised edition of the 1938-1980 edition with a Centennial Preface by Mark Jacobs
Persea Books, Inc. 2005.
"A Karen and Michael Braziller book"
ISBN 0-89255-258-1 (pbk.)
From the Centennial Preface
She published these Collected Poems 1938 – each poem scrupulously chosen, each representing an essential point in the trajectory of her poetic life - with Cassell-Random House, when she herself was thirtyseven years old. Roughly three years later, having returned to live in her native America, it became clear to her that the practice of poetry is fundamentally mis-leading, a fundamental mistake, in the ever-persistent and pressing human endeavour to arrive at a complete state of knowledge of human existence within the entirety of being called 'the universe'. So she turned away from the appeal of poetry's promise of a way of perfect speaking, traditionally held by poets, but others, too, as necessarily beyond the reach of all other forms of communication. She faced herself, instead, towards the study of words and the language they compose - or, as she would later say, the study of language and words as they compose us and we them. She and her husband, Schuyler B. Jackson (they married in 1941), worked at this project among others for the rest of their lives, and, after numerous publications by her from 1962 onwards, the results of their studies were finally published, with substantial supplementary essays, as Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words (University Press of Virginia) in 1997, six years after her death (Schuyler Jackson died in 1968).
Laura (Riding) Jackson, or Laura Reichenthal as she was until her first marriage, was originally drawn to poetry because, as she explains in the Introduction she added to the 1980 Collected Poems, she understood poetry as promising 'a transformation, through poetic apprehension of the spiritual function of language and the natural force of the life-breath of the word-animating human mind, of ordinary human verbal intercourse into a spiritually expressive, a spiritually successful, order of human existence.' She believed, that is, as many another poet has, that poetry offers a means of expression that lifts ordinary discursive thought to the plane of absolute clarity and vision, of all-instantaneous thinking and being, parallel to the religious absolute, and in which change may be wrought, not as promise, as in religion, but as fact in immediately apprehended existence. Laura Riding understood, and said repeatedly, that there is only one way for the world to change, to become 'better', and that is for ourselves to change, individually, and to do so now, not in some tomorrow, our world being a multiple reflection of ourselves, each. This is the principle governing her poetry, her work in its entirety, and her relations with her fellows.