George Oppen in Exile: Mexico and Maritain (For Linda Oppen) 1
(For Linda Oppen)
In 1960, George Oppen and his wife Mary settled in New York City after a period of nine years of political exile in Mexico. Oppen was the author of a slim volume of poems entitled Discrete Series, published back in 1934 with a then highly desirable preface by Ezra Pound. Few of Oppen's contemporaries, however, would remember him now as a poet, and back in New York he was having to reckon with what he would term in a later interview “my rejection of poetry for twenty or twenty-five years.”. For only at the end of the fifties, at the very end of the period spent in Mexico, had Oppen begun to write again. Success would come to him later in the decade, with the award of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, but, for the time being, as Oppen observed of the rather similar case of Basil Bunting, he felt as if he had returned to poetry “as from the dead.”
For Linda Oppen
1 My special thanks to Linda Oppen for her generous help with this essay and for allowing me to quote from our correspondence. I am also grateful to her for granting me permission to quote from unpublished material held in the George Oppen Archive at the Mandeville Special Collections, University of California at San Diego. My thanks too to Diana Anhalt, Jean Rouverol and Susan Drucker for information on the Mexico City community and to Crawford Kilian for allowing me to draw on his unpublished memoir of the period. I am grateful to the Leverhulme Trust for funding a period of research in which to write a book about Oppen of which this essay is part.