Commissioned by Stroma with the support of Creative New Zealand.
For me, Lola Ridge is a haunting–and haunted–figure. A celebrated poet and activist in her lifetime, her death from tuberculosis in 1941 was marked in a
New York Times obituary, but she has since been largely forgotten in her adopted country and her homeland.
Rose Emily Ridge was born in Ireland in 1873, and after the deaths of her father and siblings, she emigrated with her mother to the West Coast of New Zealand. As a young woman, she married a Kanieri gold miner and had two sons, the first of whom died when he was 2-weeks-old. Ridge left her husband to move to Sydney with their son Keith, where she studied painting. After her mother died, she moved again, leaving Keith in a San Francisco orphanage and reinventing herself as Lola Ridge, an unmarried woman a decade younger than her true age. She settled in Greenwich Village in New York City and lived an ascetic lifestyle, publishing poetry and engaging in political activism. In 1935 she won a Guggenheim Fellowship and she was acknowledged as one of the leading poets of her generation.
Among Ridge's radical feminist and anarchist verse and her well-known portraits of immigrant populations and the writhing poverty of New York City's tenements, she wrote tender, wrenching poems about motherhood, love, and death. I am fascinated by her brave, unconventional life in the first part of the 20th Century, and the contradictions between her deeply emotional writing and her steely public persona. Ridge erased and rewrote her own biography several times during the course of her life, yet she was transfixed in her poetry by memories of her childhood in New Zealand and her early adulthood in Australia.
I decided to set "A Memory", which was published in
The Ghetto and Other Poems (B.W. Huebsch, 1918), because it is such an extraordinarily beautiful, sultry, and unabashedly romantic poem recalling a single evening in the author's life.
By Lola Ridge
I remember The crackle of the palm trees Over the mooned white roofs of the town... The shining town... And the tender fumbling of the surf On the sulphur-yellow beaches As we sat...a little apart...in the close-pressing night.
The moon hung above us like a golden mango, And the moist air clung to our faces, Warm and fragrant as the open mouth of a child And we watched the out-flung sea Rolling to the purple edge of the world, Yet ever back upon itself... As we...
Inadequate night... And mooned white memory Of a tropic sea... How softly it comes up Like an ungathered lily.
"A Memory" was published in "The Ghetto and Other Poems" (B.W. Huebsch, 1918).