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The Fugitive Movement
John Crowe Ransom
Robert Penn Warren
Laura Riding Jackson
A Brief History
In 1922, in Nashville, Tennessee, a major literary movement began with the appearance of the magazine, The Fugitive.
John Crowe Ransom and Walter Clyde Curry served a professors of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1914, Ransom and Curry began holding meetings to discuss poetry and related issues with undergraduates students at the home of Sidney M. Hirsch.
The meetings were suspended while several group members served in WWI, but they resumed in 1920. The original group members, Ransom, Curry, and Hirsch, were joined by Donald Davidson, William Yandell Elliott, Stanley Johnson, and Alec B. Stevenson.
Later Merrill Moore, Allen Tate, Jesse Wills, Alfred Starr, and Robert Penn Warren joined the group. After winning the Nashville Poetry Prize in 1924, Laura Riding was invited to join the group.
Criticism and Creativity
At the meetings the poets handed out copies of their poems, then read poems aloud; then the others would respond, offering thorough critical analyses. Strong poems would motivate lively discussions, while weak poems would simply be passed over with little or no response.
Donald Davidson found the thorough critiques helpful: "this severe discipline made us self-conscious craftsmen, abhorring looseness of expression, perfectly aware that a somewhat cold-blooded process of revision, after the first ardor of creation had subsided, would do no harm to art."
After the group had accumulated a large collection of poems, Sidney Hirsch proposed the idea of starting a magazine. They decided to use a secret ballot to vote for the poems to include. They did not appoint an editor, but Donald Davidson took the tally of the poems' votes.
Alec B. Stevenson suggested the title for magazine, The Fugitive, about which Allen Tate says, "a Fugitive was quite simply a Poet: the Wanderer, or even the Wander Jew, the Outcast, the man who carries the secret wisdom around the world."
The first issue of The Fugitive appeared in April 1922, and the last was printed in December 1925. Supported by the Associated Retailers of Nashville, the magazine was always successful and never lacked funds.
Eschewing romantic sentimentalism while emulating traditional forms, these poets were considered experimental because they were unpublished novices, except for John Crowe Ransom, who had published a volume of poetry titled Poems about God in 1919.
The Cousinship of Poetry
The Fugitives shared strong bonds of beliefs about what poetry should be. They held similar notions about nature and society and about God and mankind. From 1914, with its first meeting until approximately 1930, when the Agrarian Movement replaced it, the Fugitive Movement forged a pattern and path for poetry that has made its mark on American Poetry.
Donald Davidson has described the Fugitive philosophy: "the pursuit of poetry as an art was the conclusion of the whole matter of living, learning, and being. It subsumed everything, but it was also as natural and reasonable an act as conversation on the front porch."
One Door Closes, Another One Opens
After Donald Davidson's Fugitives: An Anthology of Verse appeared in 1928, the movement gave way to its successor the Agrarians. The Fugitive Movement focused on form in poetry, and then a slightly new focus brought an emphasis on content: the Fugitives became concerned that the South was evolving away from its agrarian/country roots and taking on too many characteristics of an industrial/urban society.
From the focus on Southern Agrarianism came the book of twelve essays, Ill Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, by Donald Davidson, John Gould Fletcher, H. B. Kline, Lyle H. Lanier, Stark Young, Allen Tate, Andrew Nelson Lytle, H. C. Nixon, F. L. Owsley, John Crowe Ransom, John Donald Wade, and Robert Penn Warren.
The Fugitives were responsible for creating an influential literary movement that motivated poets to examine their craft and their motives as they composed. And as the movement morphed into the Agrarian Movement, it provided an additional impetus for poets to consider their very paths through life and the best ways to follow them.
- Mark G. Malvasi, "The Fugitives," The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
- Fugitive Agrarians
(Note: Readers who are interested further information about the Fugitive Movement and its writers may find this collection of essays useful: I'll Take My Stand: The South and Agrarian Tradition.)
An overview of the Fugitives & the Agrarians
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes