Kenneth Fearing (Kenneth Flexner Fearing) Biography
(1902–61), (Kenneth Flexner Fearing), Angel Arms, Poems, Dead Reckoning, Afternoon of a Pawnbroker
American poet and novelist, born in Oak Park, Illinois, educated at the University of Wisconsin. The radical antagonism towards middle-class values expressed in Angel Arms (1929) and Poems (1935), his first two collections of verse, gained him eminence among the American socialist poets of the 1930s; his expansive free verse employs vigorously colloquial diction to frame its blackly humorous and sometimes surreally imaginative views of the desperation underlying normative urban existence. Dead Reckoning (1938) and Afternoon of a Pawnbroker (1943) sustain his tone of relentless disillusion and dissent with increasing deftness in the use of a range of topical idioms, among them the styles of police reports, newspapers, and the dialogue of popular films. His later verse in Stranger at Coney Island (1948) and New and Selected Poems (1956) exhibits a measure of lyrical detachment but remains fundamentally political in its themes. Fearing's bleak socio-cultural vision informs the concern with hypocrisy and corruption central to his novels, the first of which, Hospital (1939), takes a highly sceptical view of medical ethics through its treatment of one hour in the life of a large hospital. Dagger of the Mind (1941) and Clark Gifford's Body (1942) are experimental murder mysteries, the latter's reworking of the story of John Brown forming an allegory of political revolution. The Big Clock (1946), his best-known novel, which hinges on a wealthy publisher's murder of his mistress, was adapted for the cinema in 1948 and has been frequently reprinted.