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Louis Untermeyer ( 1885 - 1977 )  Category ( Poets ) [suggest a correction]

Creative people are often known for their controversial views and expressions. United States Poet Laureate Louis Untermeyer is among these, though he was likely not always intentionally controversial.

Born in New York City to Emmanuel Untermeyer and Julia Michael, the poet, author, and anthologist dropped out of high school not long before graduation, and began to pursue a career in writing and literature. During his long lifetime he married five times. His first marriage was to Jean Starr, in 1906. A year later their son Richard was born, but he died in 1927 under unclear circumstances. The couple divorced in 1926 but reconciled in 1929. The same year they adopted two children, sons Laurence and Joseph.

Between his divorce from Starr and the adoption of his sons, he managed to squeeze in a second marriage to the poet Virginia Moore, with whom he had a son, John Moore Untermeyer (who was renamed after the bitter divorce in 1929). His reunion with Starr was short-lived, and during the 1930s the couple divorced again and Untermeyer married Esther Antin. They divorced in 1945 and he married once more, to Bryna Ivens, who was an editor of Seventeen magazine.

In addition to his controversial personal life, Untermeyer was known for his edgy politics. For some years he was an avowed Marxist, and wrote for the magazine The Masses, and other left-wing publications. He helped to establish the poetry magazine The Seven Arts, which helped to introduce a number of new poets, including Robert Frost. Untermeyer and Frost became closer friends and corresponded regularly. Untermeyer was featured as a panelist on the television program What's My Line? in 1950.

The program drew at least some unwanted attention to the poet and political activist, as he was named during the hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He began to receive harassment from the Catholic War Veterans and other right-wing organizations. The protest against Untermeyer became so intense that the producer of the television program told him he had to leave. The controversy continued to follow him and he was blacklisted by a number of industries.

Untermeyer authored or edited nearly 100 books during his career. American schools used his Modern American and British poetry books for decades. He and his last wife, Bryna Ivens, wrote numerous books for children, under the Golden Treasury of Children's Literature. Untermeyer was the 1956 recipient of the Poetry Society of America's Gold Medal. He was selected to serve as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1961 to 1963.

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