The editors of Rolfe’s COLLECTED POEMS have brought together in one handsomely designed volume the three gatherings that were prepared during Rolfe’s lifetime (the third was published posthumously) as well as a large body of previously uncollected and unpublished poems. Thus the Rolfe canon is available for the first time in this inaugural volume of the publisher’s American Poetry Recovery Series. While the politics of literary history have left Rolfe and many other fine writers to the dustbin, his merit is unmistakable. Whether writing as a spokesman for the working-class poor, as a partisan in the Spanish war against Franco, or as a conscientious crusader against the abuses of the McCarthy era, Rolfe proves himself a serious and sophisticated artist. These are not crude songs for political rallies, marches, or strikes, but rather the heightened formulations of a practiced poet whose control over metrical emphasis and other matters of craft is confident and richly expressive.
Cary Nelson’s detailed introduction to the collection, “Lyrical Politics: The Poetry of Edwin Rolfe,” attains the same high standard that Nelson has achieved in his writings about better-known modern and contemporary American poets. Together, the poems and Nelson’s masterful exploration begin a necessary remapping of our not-so-distant literary and cultural heritage. We are reminded of how quickly we turn away and forget, and at what price. Extensive notes to the poems and “An Edwin Rolfe Bibliography” enhance the scholarly utility of this important volume.