Born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents five years before the beginning of the Great Depression, Edward Field remained intimately associated with New York City for most of his life. His poetry frequently alludes to a childhood in which the young Field longed for a father’s love, which he believed was denied to him. Field’s comment in “The Sleeper” (from Stand Up, Friend, with Me) is telling: “when I look back on childhood// (That four psychiatrists haven’t been able to help me bear the thought of)/ There is not much to be glad for. . . .” One of six children, Edward appears to have felt neglected by his parents and to have been regarded with hostility or contempt by his peers. Trained in music from an early age, Field played cello in a musical trio made up of members of his family. In 1942, while working at a Manhattan department store, Field met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, an occasion he was to commemorate in 2001 in the same building (now the Mid-Manhattan Library) at a reading of his own work.
Field joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and flew twenty-five bomber missions, during which, he reported, “five planes had been destroyed by flak under me.” In March of 1943, while still undergoing his military training, he was given a Red Cross package containing, among other things, an anthology of poetry. As he later wrote, “This was a bombshell. I knew immediately that I was going to be a poet.” He left the military with the rank of second lieutenant, and after returning to New York, he sought to pursue his education under the G.I. Bill. He gradually came to realize that university life was not what he had hoped for and left New York University in 1948. With one thousand dollars in savings, he sailed for France. On the ship, he met a poet named Robert Friend, whom Field later credited as having introduced him to the fundamentals of modern poetry.
Remaining in Paris until the spring of 1949, Field...
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