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Kenneth Fearing was an American poet and novelist, often associated with the Depression Era and known for his urban and leftist themes. Born in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 28, 1902, Fearing was a significant voice during the 1920s and 1930s, particularly known for his involvement with the Chicago literary renaissance and later with the movement of proletarian literature.

Literary Background

After attending the University of Wisconsin, Fearing moved to New York City, where he became immersed in the literary and bohemian circles. During the 1920s, he was a contributor to various literary magazines, and by the 1930s, he had become a notable figure in the New York literary scene, associated with the rise of proletarian poetry—a form of Marxist-inspired poetry focused on workers and the class struggle.

Early Influences

Fearing's early influences include modernist poets and the dynamic and rapidly changing urban environment of America in the early 20th century. He was also influenced by the disillusionment following World War I and the social and economic crises of the 1930s. His work echoes the disjointed and alienating effects of modern urban life, similar to the styles of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, though with a more accessible and direct language.

Poetic Schools or Movements

Kenneth Fearing is most commonly associated with the proletarian poetry movement, which was part of the larger sphere of proletarian literature. This movement sought to address issues of class struggle, capitalism, and the plight of the working class during the turbulence of the Great Depression. His poetry is also linked with modernism due to its structural experimentation and themes.

Poetic Oeuvre: Phases and Themes

Fearing's poetry is characterized by its urban and industrial landscapes, often infused with a sense of apprehension and uncertainty that mirrored the economic and social instability of his time. His first book of poetry, "Angel Arms," was published in 1929, and his work from this period captures the spirit of the Jazz Age and the onset of the Great Depression.

In poems such as "Dirge" and "$2.50," Fearing employs a colloquial voice and free verse to capture the anxiety of economic despair and the impersonality of the capitalist machine. His later work, including his 1935 collection "Poems," reflects the increasing political turmoil of the 1930s, with its leftist leanings and its sympathy for the working class.

Influence and Honors

While Fearing did not achieve significant fame during his lifetime, his work was influential in the development of American poetry, particularly for its incorporation of contemporary social and economic issues into a modernist aesthetic. His works are seen as precursors to the confessional poetry of the 1950s and 1960s, with their personal voice and exploration of social issues.

Kenneth Fearing's contributions to literature were recognized by his contemporaries, but he did not receive major honors that his work might have deserved, possibly due to its political content during a time of shifting American sentiments with the approach of the Cold War.


Kenneth Fearing's legacy is one of a skilled interpreter of his times, a poet who brought the experience of urban life and the struggles of the common man to the fore in a manner that was both critically engaging and widely accessible. His work encapsulated the fears and hopes of an era, making him an essential, if not widely recognized, voice in American literature. His portrayal of the dehumanizing aspects of industrial and commercial culture, combined with his leftist leanings, offers a poignant critique that remains relevant in discussions of 20th-century poetry and its intersections with social and political movements.

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