Poet George Oppen (1908-1984) and artist and writer Mary Oppen (1908-1990) were striking, exemplary, and somewhat mysterious figures of the last decades of the twentieth century. They had a gift for poetry, politics, and friendship. In this book, poets, editors, writers of fiction and screen-plays, composer, and teachers who were shaped by knowing the couple consider their encounters and relationships with George and Mary Oppen.
This experiment in collective biography shows the ways groupings, poetic generations, and gender operate in the arts. Oppen functioned as a mentor, an irritant, a support, an example; the Oppens together, because of their own intense coupledom and the strength of Mary Oppen, provided a gender model and a model of the companionate artistic life.
These memoirs are set at a politically crucial time in US history, from the Cold War through the war in Vietnam and the women's movement, from debates over extreme left allegiances to the dilemma of the draft. Together, they show how people tried to integrate art and politics (both left politics and feminist politics) in the spirit of the Oppens' own self-debates and choices on various issues. They reflect the period's sense of massive social change and challenge to the authority of state power and to the ideological narratives around race, gender, national defense, sexuality, and economic inequality.
No explicit poetic movement formed around George Oppen (in contrast, for instance, to the poet Charles Olson), and it is striking that the contributors to this book, the poets and writers affected by Oppen, are such an eclectic group-from Paul Auster to David Antin, from Kathleen Fraser to Sharon Olds, from Michael Heller to Ted Pearson.