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Kenneth Fearing

imagesKenneth Fearing (July 28 1902 – June 26, 1961) was an American poet, novelist, and founding editor of the Partisan Review. Literary critic Macha Rosenthal called him “the chief poet of the American Depression.”

Fearing was born in Oak Park, Illinois. His parents divorced when he was a year old, and he was raised mainly by his aunt. After studying at the University of Wisconsin, Fearing moved to New York City where he began a career as a poet and was active in leftist politics. In the Twenties and Thirties, he published regularly in The New Yorker and helped found The Partisan Review, while also working as an editor, journalist, and speechwriter and turning out a good deal of pulp fiction. Some of Fearing’s pulp fiction was soft-core pornography, often published under the pseudonym Kirk Wolff.

A selection of Fearing’s poems has been published as part of the Library of America’s American Poets Project. His complete poetic works, edited by Robert M. Ryley, were published by the National Poetry Foundation in 1994.

Fearing published several collections of poetry including Angel Arms (1929), Dead Reckoning (1938), Afternoon of a Pawnbroker and other poems (1943), Stranger at Coney Island and other poems (1948), and seven novels including The Big Clock (1946). He is the father of poet Bruce Fearing. (PoemHunter.com)

I think it was both the ambiance of this poem and the total isolation from each other experienced by the people in the cafe that sank into me and captured my attention. Maybe because I feel like I’ve been there?


4 A.M.

It is early evening, still, in Honolulu, and in London, now, it
must be well past dawn;
But here, in the Riviera Cafe, on a street that has been lost and
forgotten very long ago, as the clock moves steadily toward
closing time,
The spark of life is very low, if it burns at all–

And here we are, four lost and forgotten customers in this place
that surely will never again be found,
Sitting, at ten-foot intervals, along this lost and forgotten bar,
(Wishing the space were further still, for we are still too close
for comfort)
Knowing that the bartender, and the elk’s head, and the picture
of some forgotten champion
(All gazing at something of interest beyond us and behind us,
but very far away)
Must somehow be aware of us, too, as we stare at the cold
interior of our lives, reflected in the mirror beneath and in
back of them.

Hear how lonely the radio is, as its voice talks on, and on,
How its music proves again that one’s life is either too humdrum
or too exciting, too empty or too full, too this, too that;
Only the cat that has been sleeping in the window, now yawning
and stretching and trotting to the kitchen to sleep again —
Only this living toy knows what we feel, knows what we are,
really knows what we only think we know–

And soon, too soon, it will be closing time, and the door will be locked
Leaving each of us alone, then, with something too ravaging for
a name
(Our golden, glorious futures, perhaps).

Lock the door now and put out the lights, before some terrible
stranger enters and pits, to each of us, a question
that must be answered with the truth—

They say the Matterhorn at dawn, and the Northern Lights of
the Arctic, are things that should be seen;
They say, they say–in time, you will hear them say anything,
and everything.
What would the elk’s head, or the remote bartender say, if they
could speak?
The booth where last night’s love affair began, the spot where
last year’s homicide occurred, are empty now, and still.


Picture Source: Food for the Spirit and the Soul by Robert Neralich