Although Edwin Rolfe published mainly poetry, he also wrote reviews, short stories, screenplays, and prose narratives. His articles appeared mostly in leftist periodicals and newspapers such as New Masses and The Daily Worker. His experiences during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) led to a history of the International Brigades titled The Lincoln Battalion: The Story of the Americans Who Fought in Spain in the International Brigades, published by Random House in 1939. His 1946 mystery novel, The Glass Room, written in collaboration with Lester Fuller, was translated into Portuguese and French. He also wrote the verse accompaniment for Muscle Beach, a satirical short film that won a prize at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1948, and a prose treatment based on Dorothy Parker’s short story “Big Blond.”
Among American poets, Edwin Rolfe produced the most sustained work about the Spanish Civil War and McCarthyism. Most of the war poems are included in his book First Love, and Other Poems. Among them, “Elegia” was translated by Rolfe’s friend José Rubia Barcia and was often recited by Spanish exiles in Mexico, Argentina, and Chile at their gatherings. Rolfe’s prose narrative The Lincoln Battalion is one of the earliest factual histories of the International Brigades in Spain. This history remains perhaps the best contemporary account of the battalion.
Kalaidjian, Walter. “’Deeds Were Their Last Words’: The Return of Edwin Rolfe.” College Literature 24 (October 1997): 55-69. The essay examines Rolfe’s poetic strategies and socialist politics, emphasizing him as a subversive voice in the postwar solipsism. It also uses the reception of Rolfe’s poetry to discuss how academic valuation of his poems is influenced by the dominating critical tradition, American New Criticism.
Nelson, Cary. Introduction to Collected Poems, by Edwin Rolfe. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993. Nelson’s introduction to this comprehensive edition of Rolfe’s poetical work, which includes Rolfe’s three collections and more than thirty previously uncollected and unpublished poems, examines Rolfe’s life and poetry, focusing on his political belief, subject matter, and poetic techniques.
_______. Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. New York: Routledge, 2001. Nelson re-examines the works of the writers of the American Left, making a case for these works as poetry. Includes a chapter on Rolfe.
Nelson, Cary, and Jefferson Hendrick. Edwin Rolfe: A Biographical Essay and Guide to the Rolfe Archive at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1990. The first book-length biography of Rolfe as a poet, journalist, and war veteran. Includes illustrations, letters, photographs from his childhood to 1952, a working bibliography of his prose and poetry, and a detailed register of his correspondence.
Thurston, Michael. Making Something Happen: American Political Poetry Between the World Wars. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Thurston examines the political poetry of Rolfe, Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, and Muriel Rukeyser. He argues that political poetry can be good poetry, worth reading for its aesthetic qualities as well as its message.