Back New York Public Radio: Kenneth Fearing’s media fixations made him ahead of his time

Poet and novelist Kenneth Fearing (1902–1961) enjoyed a gratifying moment in the spotlight earlier today—and, appropriately enough, it happened on the radio, when WNYC’s The Fishko Files devoted a segment to Fearing in honor of National Poetry Month.

Kenneth Fearing: Selected Poems

In the segment, embedded above, host Sara Fishko explains how Fearing’s “real preoccupation: media” is the common denominator underlying both his “darkly entertaining” poetry and his classic noir novel The Big Clock (1946). On hand for commentary are film scholar Jeanine Basinger; Robert Polito, editor of the Library of America volume Kenneth Fearing: Selected Poems; and former Library of America editor-in-chief Geoffrey O’Brien.

In 1930s poems like “Dear Beatrice Fairfax:” and “Cracked Record Blues,” Fearing displayed a prescient attentiveness to the emerging language of mass culture—as it was transmitted, for instance, through tabloids, jukeboxes, and advertising. Tracing a line between the poetry and The Big Clock‘s atmosphere of “frantic paranoia and corporate domination,” Fishko concludes that Fearing’s “media fixation” is only too relevant to present-day concerns.

“Kenneth Fearing was looking at media manipulation and advertising and obsessively pointing to it and saying, Look what’s happening to us. Now, we get his message.”

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