Born Rose Emily Ridge, 12 December 1873, Dublin, Ireland; died 19 May 1941, Brooklyn, New York
Also wrote under: Lola, L. R. Ridge
Daughter of Joseph H. and Emma Reilly Ridge; married Peter Webster, 1895; David Lawson, 1919
Lola Ridge lived with her mother in Australia and New Zealand as a child. Her early interests included art and music, and when her marriage to the manager of a New Zealand gold mine proved unhappy, she moved to Sydney to study painting under Julian Ashton. Ridge later regretted having destroyed poems she wrote during this period, but a collection of her work was recently discovered at the Mitchell Library in Sydney.
Ridge emigrated to San Francisco in 1907, and moved to New York City in 1908. She supported herself as a writer of fiction and poetry for popular magazines. At meetings of the Ferrer Association she met her second husband.
The Ghetto (1918), written during a five-year absence from New York City, was hailed as a book that seemed destined for greatness. Revolutionary in spirit and written in free verse, the title poem dwells on life among the Jewish immigrants of New York's Lower East Side and illustrates themes recurring throughout Ridge's work—the moral courage of ordinary men and women, the paramount importance of liberty in human lives, and faith in the possibilities that America holds.
After the success of The Ghetto, Ridge edited a number of issues of Others and served as the American editor of Broom. She also toured the Midwest, speaking on subjects such as "Individualism and American Poetry" and "Woman and the Creative Will."
Sun-Up (1920) contains both personal and public poems. The title poem draws heavily on the author's own childhood. Technically, its flashing pictures resemble those of the Imagists; psychologically, it shares ground with the experiments of James Joyce. The public poems "Sons of Belial" and "Reveille" demonstrate Ridge's sympathy with an exploited working class and affirm her function as a poet "[blowing] upon [their] hearts / kindling the slow fire."
Red Flag (1927) also includes poems saluting those who have fallen in the cause of freedom. "Red Flag" focuses on Russia and figures in the Russian revolution, and "Under the Sun" commemorates martyrs of other struggles. Most of the poems in this volume, however, are poems about natural and spiritual beauty and imagistic portraits of Ridge's contemporaries.
Ridge's last two books are characterized by an increasingly stylized language and growing mysticism. Firehead (1929), her response to the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, retells the story of the Crucifixion. The nine sections view the Crucifixion from a variety of points of view, including those of Judas, the two Marys, and Jesus himself; the Christ of the poem is viewed as "one who had proclaimed men equal—aye / Even unto slaves and women… / And babbled of some communal bright heaven." During her lifetime, Firehead was widely acclaimed as Ridge's masterpiece.
On a visit to Yaddo in 1930, Ridge outlined a poem cycle, "Lightwheel," which was to occupy the greatest portion of her creative energies in her last years. "Lightwheel" was to include Firehead and five other books treating ancient Babylon, Florence during the Renaissance, Mexico at the time of Cortez and Montezuma, France during the revolution, and Manhattan after World War I. Ridge traveled to the Near East (1931-32) and to Mexico (1935-37) to research her epic work, but the cycle remained unfinished at her death.
Ridge's theory of history also shapes a sonnet sequence called "Via Ignis, " the central poem in Dance of Fire (1935). But despite the poem's large theme—that we are at a crucial stage in history, but "may come forth, for a period, into a time of light"—its language is essentially private.
Though plagued by illness during much of her life, Ridge is remembered as an energizing person. Her work attests to the continuous if not special concern that American women poets have had with social issues.
Gregory, H., and M. Zaturenska, A History of Modern Poetry: 1900-1940 (1946). Perkins, D., A History of Modern Poetry: From the 1890s to the High Modernist Mode (1976). Untermeyer, L., The New Era in American Poetry (1919).
Living Authors: A Book of Biographies (1931). NAW (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
SR (31 May 1941).