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George Oppen Biography

(1908–84), An ‘Objectivists’ Anthology, Discrete Series, The Materials, This in Which, Seascape, Primitive, Of Being Numerous

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American poet, born in New Rochelle, New York, he grew up in California. From 1930 to 1933 he lived at Le Beausset in France, where he and his wife founded To Publishers, producing editions by various poets associated with Objectivism, including Louis Zukofsky's An ‘Objectivists’ Anthology in 1932 (see Objectivist Poetry). His first collection of poetry, Discrete Series (1934), for which Ezra Pound supplied a preface, conveyed responses to his urban surroundings in austere verse characterized by a stark clarity of imagery and a mutedly emphatic tone. In 1935 he joined the Communist Party, after which his work as a poet was for many years subordinated to his political activities. He was wounded on active service during the Second World War and subsequently established himself as a cabinet-maker in Los Angeles, moving his business to Mexico in 1950 due to anti-communist agitation. From 1958 onward he lived in San Francisco, publishing his second volume, The Materials, in 1962; his remarkable ability to suggest passionate moral and emotional conviction through images of great concrete particularity is clearest in the poems drawing on his trade as a skilled woodworker. His further collections include This in Which (1965), Seascape (1973), and Primitive (1978), after which he contracted Alzheimer's disease and effectively ceased writing. Of Being Numerous (1968; Pulitzer Prize), widely considered his finest achievement, is permeated by his stoically affirmative belief in ‘survival's | Thin, thin radiance’; each of the forty sections of the title sequence functions both as an autonomous poetic unit and as a development of the whole, which amounts to a vividly realized confrontation with the significances of urban existence. A Collected Poems appeared in 1975. Meaning a Life: An Autobiography (1978) is by the poet's wife Mary Oppen.

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