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Thomas McGrath (Thomas Matthew McGrath) Biography

(1916–90), (Thomas Matthew McGrath), Longshot O'Leary's Garland of Practical Poesie

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Harriet Martineau Biography to John McTaggart (John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart) Biography

American poet, born near Sheldon, North Dakota, educated at the University of North Dakota, Louisiana State University, and New College, Oxford. After working as a writer of scripts for documentary films he became Associate Professor of English at Moorhead State College, Minnesota, in 1969. Much of his verse is informed by a political radicalism originating in his early involvement with militant socialist movements in the 1930s. He first achieved recognition as a poet with Longshot O'Leary's Garland of Practical Poesie (1949), which reflects his engagement in trade union activities on the New York waterfront. Witness to the Times (1954) and Figures from a Double World (1955) established the fusion of angry dissent, wit, and thematically encompassing lyricism that distinguishes his major work, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, parts of which appeared successively in 1962, 1970, and 1985. The poem's comprehensive survey of America since the 1920s is authenticated by its sustained autobiographical orientation; the landscapes and townships of North Dakota supply a wealth of vivid imagery emblematic of social and cultural conditions throughout the USA. Other collections of verse by McGrath include the sixty short poems of Open Songs (1977); Echoes inside the Labyrinth (1983); and the posthumously published Death Song (1991), which complements outspoken political testimony with transcendent lyrics of natural phenomena. Selected Poems 1938–1988 appeared in 1988. Among his other works is the novel This Coffin Has no Handles (1984), which is based on the New York longshoremen's strike of 1945.

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