Kreymborg’s Correspondence

After weeks of research on Kreymborg, I have much to share—having read hundreds of letters written to him, the occasional letter written by him, much of his creative and critical work, and a variety of autobiographical and critical sources that address him, I feel as though I’ve become a personal acquaintance of Kreymborg’s, and have begun to develop a much fuller picture of his work and life.

Because of the amount there is to discuss, I am going to divide my updates into three posts over the next week, one focused on Kreymborg’s correspondence, one on his creative and critical work, and one on critical and autobiographical works that involve him.

Reading through Suzanne Churchill’s article, “Making Space for ‘Others’: A History of a Modernist Little Magazine,” I came across a footnote saying that the largest collection of Kreymborg’s papers may be found in the Alfred Kreymborg Collection at the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Amazed that I had overlooked this, I packed up a suitcase, secured a place to stay with an old friend in Charlottesville, and immediately made the trip to UVA. After about thirty hours of letter reading, I made it through the five-box collection, coming across documents signed by people as diverse as Helen Keller, Pablo Picasso, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The collection consists almost entirely of letters written to Kreymborg, and I was especially interested in correspondence dated 1925 and later, as scholarship on this period (coming after his editorial work on little magazines) is virtually nonexistent. Also, because there is no biographical source to consult—and Kreymborg’s autobiography, Troubadour, was written in 1925—these letters helped me develop a narrative of his later life.

To briefly list some of the more interesting biographical discoveries: Kreymborg’s radio play, The Planets, was submitted to the Pulitzer Prize Committee in 1938; he joined the staff of the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in 1940 for a brief stay; he received a Carnegie Grant in 1940 to work on Poetic Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Verse; a letter from Kimball Flaccus suggests that he received a second Carnegie Grant in 1942 to work on a sequel to Troubadour; he started a Joint Committee for the Restoration of Burned and Banned Books in Europe in 1943; and he was invited to join a number of literary societies, including the Poetry Society of America, the Lotos Club, the Eugene Field Society. He served on a number of Committees, including the Pulitzer Prize Committee in 1948 and 1952, and late in his life he was still actively supporting emerging artists, writing recommendations to publishers, to Yaddo, and to the Guggenheim Grant Committee, among others.

One of the interesting arguments that I’ve come across involves Kreymborg’s role in editing Broom with Harold Loeb. Accounts of the magazine vary, with some claiming that Kreymborg resigned because he was a more conservative editor, committed to an American nationalist agenda, whereas others claim that Kreymborg’s judgment was the more sophisticated, with Loeb somewhat blindly accepting the work of the younger generation of Modernists (Burke, Cowley, & co.). Either perspective is dependent on the literary camp with which one is aligned—after reading Malcolm Cowley’s deprecatory description of Kreymborg’s role in Broom, I found support of Kreymborg from the older generation of Modernists, with Pound writing, “Never said you were to blame for Broom. I think you meant to make a damn good thing of it, and wd. have done so had you been free. Low-ebb too gt. a handicap,” and a letter from Stieglitz stating, “That you are no longer associated with Harold L. does not surprise me—as a matter of fact I felt when you left that you could not work together long. You are creative…I feel you are better off ‘free.’” With the complete issues of Broom having arrived through InterLibrary Loan, I’m hoping to offer my own insights on the debate.

Perhaps the most exciting documents that I encountered were a number of letters rejecting publication of Kreymborg’s The New Troubadour: sad, especially in the volume of the rejections, but exciting in that he completed another autobiography that details his later life. I’m not sure whether any manuscripts still exist—and I’m sure that if it does, the search will be a frustrating one—but it’s something I am going to look into, and hopefully with a little luck, may find.

There’s much more to discuss with Kreymborg’s correspondence, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll leave it off here  with some kind words from Archibald MacLeish that describe Kreymborg in a way that I’m beginning to understand him: “Indeed, you are becoming a sort of mythical figure – the great granddaddy of American literature. I am proud to have known you.”

(All quotations from letters are taken from the Alfred Kreymborg Collection at the Special Collections Library, University of Virginia)