Randall Swingler (1909–67) was arguably the most significant and the best-known radical English poet of his generation. A widely published poet, playwright, novelist, editor and critic, his work was set to music by almost all the major British composers of his time. This new biography draws on extensive sources, including the security services files, to present the most detailed account yet of this influential poet, lyricist and activist.
A literary entrepreneur, Swingler was founder of radical paperback publishing company Fore Publications, editor of Left Review and Our Time and literary editor of the Daily Worker; later becoming a staff reporter, until the paper was banned in 1941. In the 1930s, he contributed several plays for Unity Theatre, including the Mass Declamation Spain, the Munich play Crisis and the revues Sandbag Follies and Get Cracking. In 1936, MI5 opened a 20-year-long file on him prompted by a song he co-wrote with Alan Bush for a concert organised to mark the arrival of the 1934 Hunger March into London. During the Second World War, Swingler served in North Africa and Italy and was awarded the Military Medal for his part in the battle of Lake Comacchio. His collections The Years of Anger (1946) and The God in the Cave (1950) contain arguably some of the greatest poems of the Italian campaign. After the war, Swingler was blacklisted by the BBC. Orwell attacked him in Polemic and included him in the list of names he offered the security services in 1949. Stephen Spender vilified him in The God That Failed.
The book will challenge the Cold War assumptions that have excluded Swingler’s life and work from standard histories of the period and should be of great interest to activists, scholars and those with an interest in the history of the literary and radical left.
Table of Contents
4. Entrance to the City
8. Imperialist War
13. Cold War
15. The People’s Republic of Pebmarsh
16. The True Dark
Andy Croft has published numerous anthologies of poetry as well as several previous studies of Randall Swingler and of political literature including Randall Swingler: Poet of the Italian Campaign (2008); Comrade Heart: A Life of Randall Swingler (2003); A Weapon in the Struggle: Essays on the Cultural History of the Communist Party of Great Britain (1998); and Red Letter Days: British Fiction in the 1930s (1990).
A genuinely ground-breaking biography that restores to view a forgotten world of left culture in twentieth-century Britain. — Ben Harker, University of Manchester, UK
Unjustly neglected as a poet, Randall Swingler is one of the most fascinating figures in the cultural history of British communism. Scholarly, empathetic and beautifully written, Andy Croft's biography is a wonderful work of retrieval and one of the best accounts we have of the cultural politics of the popular front and cold war years. — Kevin Morgan, University of Manchester, UK
...Croft tells the story with his usual clarity and balance. For the main part, Croft limits himself to chronicling the facts, but when he allows himself to make judgments and interpretations, these are always to the point... It is impossible to imagine a more sensitive summary of this tragic life. — Robert Chandler, Poet and Literary Translator, UK
[T]he biographer must be fully at home with the events and impacts of the age of his or her subject and, at the same time and without the imaginative freedom of fiction, convey that subject’s personal life experiences, feelings and responses. Andy Croft successfully meets those criteria in his biography of Randall Swingler… [he] is in an ideal position to rescue Swingler the man and the poet from anonymity. — Gordon Parsons, the Morning Star, UK
This beautifully written and researched biography, especially strong on the now forgotten but once very influential Communist background and foreground, will surely make an unknown name a memorable one. — Nicholas Jacobs, Camden New Journal, UK
The journey detailed in Andy Croft's biography spans the most turbulent decades of the twentieth century... This biography will be of interest not only to historians of the British left... There is a wealth of closely researched information here... Croft comments extensively on the poetry which he knows inside out. — Ben Thompson, Socialist History, Volume 59, UK
Talk with Andy Croft, the author, as part of the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) Invisible Histories series: