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Cities of the Soul

By Scott Greer (1922 -1996)
Edited by Susan Bright
Research by Ann L. Greer and Scott L. Greer

360 pgs., $17.95, ISBN: 0-911051-70-8,

[Poetry, Social Science, Sociology]

In 1941, Scott Greer, a native Texan raised in Sweetwater, edited a literary Journal in Waco, Tx called "Crescendo -- A Laboratory for Young America." It was a forum for artistic and cultural visions central to the American peace movement. While it was his writing as an urban sociologist that brought him world recognition, he continued to publish poetry in the literary press for four decades. The book is a weaving of poetry, social theory and letters presented in sequences that trace the development of Greer's thinking about the major issues of the twentieth century. The fact that we"ve recorded the publication history of each poem makes this also a fascinating record of small press publishing between 1940 and 1980.

Scott Greer's poetry strikes one like a force of nature, fusing together landscape, humanity, and the city. . . . It is a poetry of visionary passion and breath, rich with image and metaphor and music, an instrument capable of sublime effects of landscape and cityscape and the pageant of peoples crossing them. From the furnace of language, from its continental sweep, the poetry modulates through a variety of tones to the softer, more intimate, tones of love. Love is the word to end on, for these are the poems of a man who loved the world in all its imperfection and studied to make it better, watching over it like a lover.

Robert Siegel, Poet, author of "The Beasts and the Elders" and "In a Pig's Eye."

The breadth of his work mirrors the vibrancy of his era. Whether in intimate love lyrics or mediations on the spoils of war, his voice rings with passionate intensity and authentic engagement. Scott Greer understands that the brittle, jagged edges of history threaten human hope; but his poems also trace how "the shape of love unites the forms of time."

Ben Johnson, Professor of History, South Arkansas Community College, author of "Fierce Solitude: A Life of John Gould Fletcher."

Society is Scott Greer's conscience and the theory of society is his invention. His anger at the carnage of war boils over in a series of vividly descriptive poems. He is dazed that people can be "so terribly hurt, and needlessly." The publication of "Cities of the Soul" is a timely reminder that human integrity will not be without a mouthpiece so long as there are poets like Scott Greer prepared to speak out, to articulate our horror and to soothe our despair.

Carol Diethe, Reader, European Cultural History, Middlesex University, London. Author, "Towards Emancipation: German Women Writers in the Nineteenth Century."

The war between C.P. Snow's two cultures -- the humanities and the sciences -- is not just an abstract social and metaphorical divide. It is the felt stuff of the universal human condition. These two selves and cultures are interwoven in this single volume that combines his poetry and his social science writing. Here is a unity wrought by a sensitive observer, committed to truth, in love with the beauty of language, and possessing an enduring faith in the power of words to make a difference.

Albert Hunter, Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University. Author of "Symbolic Communities."

About the Author


1922-1938: Scott Allen Greer is born October 25 in Sweetwater, Texas. He is oldest of three children of Azzie Allen Greer and Mary Lee (Scott) Greer. Allen, a laborer with the Santa Fe Railroad, is a gregarious man who sells men's shirts on the side, plays baseball with a local team and is devoted to Mary Lee, a homemaker. Cutbacks at the railroad yards in 1937 cost Allen his job with the railroad. He moves the family to Waco, Texas, a larger town where he hopes he can expand his sideline in sales.

1939-40: Scott graduates, at sixteen years of age, from Waco High School. Enrolls in Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth where he lives with family friends and works as a jazz musician. Forced by illness to return to Waco, he applies to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is posted to the Gunnison National Forest in Colorado.

1941-1944: Enrolls in Baylor University. Living at home, he works several jobs while studying English, Sociology and Mathematics. Becomes friends with graduate student Judson Crews and with the family of Edmund Kinsinger, head of the Art Department. Publishes his first poem ("Thirst") in 1941. With Crews as "advisor," founds "Crescendo: A Laboratory for Young America" which he types, edits and publishes from a garage behind his parent's home (Crescendo 1941-44). A war objector, he resolves to refuse combat service in the military but, due to bad eyesight, he fails the physical examination at induction and the issue is moot. He leaves Waco as a hitchhiker in 1944. En route to the Pacific Northwest, he travels to Arkansas and Missouri to meet John Gould Fletcher and James Franklin Lewis, older poets who have become his mentors through correspondence.

1945-1946: Establishes connections with West Coast poets and artists. Meets and marries painter, Dorothy Anderson, (nee Dewey). Dorothy gives birth to Eve Greer in January 1947. Scott works as a fire spotter in the national forest at Klamath, Oregon, as a postal carrier in Seattle, as a dish washer, a ditch digger, a migrant farm hand, and as a landscaper. He lives at various Pacific Coast locations including a houseboat in Seattle. Places poems in more prominent magazines ( 'Poetry," "Arizona Quarterly," others). Publishes his first volume of poetry, "The Landscape Has Voices", in 1946.

1946-1952: Arrives in Los Angeles in 1946. Becomes friends with labor leader and poet Jack Lyons and with graduate students in the new department of sociology at the University of California-Los Angeles. Enrolls in the department's graduate program in 1947. While studying Sociology, he works as an instructor at the University of California-Santa Barbara where he is hired as a last-minute replacement for an instructor who had been dismissed after organizing students into a burglary ring. He and friend, Wendell Bell, work with Professor Esref Shevky on social area analysis of Los Angeles. In 1952, he and Bell earn the first Sociology Ph.D.s awarded by UCLA.

1953-1955: Takes position at Occidental College in Santa Barbara where he is Assistant Professor of Sociology and director of the Laboratory for Urban Culture. Publishes a short book, Social Organization, which will be reprinted ten times. His doctoral dissertation, a landmark study of minority leadership in labor unions, is published in 1959 as "Last Man In: Racial Access to Union Power."

1956-57: Moves to St. Louis, where he has taken a position as Chief Sociologist for the Metropolitan St. Louis Survey, a government policy research project with links to Washington University and St. Louis University.

1957-1969: Takes position at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, as professor of Sociology and Political Science and director of the Center for Metropolitan Studies. Publishes books and articles which establish him as a preeminent urban theorist and continue to be reissued (see bibliography). Receives the first-ever Faculty Honor Award for distinguished teaching from the Northwestern student government. Speaks and consults extensively across the United States and Canada. Marriage to Dorothy ends in 1969. Publishes "The Logic of Social Inquiry" a statement on social science including its relation to art, ethics and social action. Wins the Arizona Quarterly Award for the best poem of 1961. Another poem, "Patterns of Conquest," is a Borestone Mountain Awards selection, appearing in the volume "Best Poems of 1963". Also in 1963 publishes a second volume of poetry, "Via Urbana and Other Poems."

1969-1975: Marries former student Ann Lennarson Greer, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lake Forest College. They live in Evanston and in Lake Forest, Illinois. In 1972, Ann takes a position as Assistant Professor of Urban Affairs and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Scott shocks colleagues when, in support of his wife's career, he also takes a position at UWM where he becomes Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Affairs. Spends a year in Washington D.C. as Senior Advisor for Social Social in the Health Resources Administration.

1976-1996: At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, founds and is first director of an interdisciplinary doctoral program in Urban Social Institutions. Serves as President of the Midwest Sociological Society. Collaborates with Ann in research on urban health politics, community mental health centers, and various health policy topics. Scott Edward Lennarson Greer is born in Milwaukee on November 2, 1976. The family travels widely and establishes a second home in London, a city Scott has loved since first reading about it in the Sweetwater Public Library. Publishes reflective essays on urban society, and the nurture of talent in children. Son Scott later recognizes the philosophy of his upbringing in his father"s essay on the childhood of architect Louis Sullivan ("Introduction to the Transaction edition of H.D. Duncan's Culture and Democracy," Transaction Publishers, 1989).

1996: Dies at home with his family on January 25.

Selected Bibliography

"The Landscape Has Voices." Waco, TX: Motive Press, 1946.
"Social Organization". New York: Random House, 1955.
__________Spanish edition. Buenos Aires: Editorial Paidos, 1955.
"Last Man In: Racial Access to Union Power." New York: The Free Press, 1959.
"Exploring the Metropolitan Community." With J.C. Bollens. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1961.
"The Emerging City: Myth and Reality". New York: The Free Press, 1962.
_________Japanese edition. Kajima Institute Publishers, 1970.
_________Transaction edition, new introduction. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1998.
"Governing the Metropolis". New York: John Wiley, 1962.
_________Greenwood edition. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983.
"Metropolitics: The Study of Political Culture". New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1963.
"Via Urbana and Other Poems." Denver: Alan Swallow Publisher, 1963.
"Urban Renewal and American Cities: The Dilemma of Democratic Intervention". New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1965.
"Kinship and Voluntary Organization in Post-Thermonuclear Attack Society: Some Exploratory Studies." With R.W. Winch. For the Department of Defense. McLean, VA: Human Sciences Research, 1965.
"The New Urbanization." Edited with others. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1968.
"The Logic of Social Inquiry". Chicago: Aldine, 1969.
________Transaction edition, new introduction. New Brunswick. Transaction Publishers, 1989.
"The Concept of Community". With David W. Minar. Chicago: Aldine, 1969.
"The Urbane View: Life and Politics in Metropolitan America. "New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
"Neighborhood and Ghetto: The Local Area in Large-Scale Society." Edited with Ann Lennarson Greer. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
"Understanding Sociology." With Ann Greer. Dubuque: W.C. Brown, 1974.
"The Structure of Society" (with P. Hammond & others) Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1975.
"Professional Self-Regulation in the Public Interest." Editor. DHEW Publication (HRA) 77-621, Washington D. C.: 1976.
"Accountability in Urban Society: Public Agencies Under Fire." Edited with others. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1979.
"Ethnics, Machines and the Future of the American City". Editor. Rochester, VT: Schenkman Books, 1982.
"Cities and Sickness: Health Care in Urban America." Edited with Ann Greer. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications,1983.


by Susan Bright

Any introduction to Scott Greer must brave great leaps across American intellectual tradition because of the astounding intellect that propelled him with insight, rage and compassion through a profoundly violent century.

I have selected poetry spanning 55 years -- work of a young poet from West Texas, a pacifist in World War II, a young social theoretician who said "I should like to consider myself an anarchist -- but I can't figure out how to work at it." (Letter of John Gould Fletcher,11/14/49)

There is a story that Greer, living as a working poet/editor in the 1940s, hitched to Los Angeles, listened through an open window to a lecture at the University of California at Los Angeles and enrolled as a graduate student in Sociology, a new field taking root in universities.

This poet -- about whom John Gould Fletcher, in a 1944 letter to James Franklin Lewis, said "I believe he has in him more possibilities than any poet I know" -- is most widely ready today as an urban sociologist. (Selected Bibliography, pg. 355)

Greer traveled, lectured and maintained homes in Milwaukee and London. Along with his wife, sociologist Ann Lennarson Greer, he designed free and unconventional educational programs for son, Scott Edward Lennarson Greer, whose intellectual gifts are much like his father's.

Greer was cautious about claiming this intellectual power, "I do not care to be designated a genius -- not anybody's conception of genius. There may be a time when genius comes upon me (I know what Blake meant when he said, 'I didn't write them, God did,') but there are certainly other times when genius is not upon me. But humanity is always there. It is myself, and it is greater than genius". (Letter to Jusdon Crews, 4/5/44)

Greer grew up during the Depression in Sweetwater, Texas. His mother was born in the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. "We have no knowledge of our family beyond: on my father's side, my great-grandfather who worked another man's Tennessee farm all day and cleared him a five-hundred- acre plantation by moonlight; a grandfather who was a landowner and cabinetmaker, horseshoer, dipsomaniac, stricken with a brain lesion; and my father, who came on west to Texas to live through the big Depression, with much effort. On my mother's side -- a Choctaw strain strong in my maternal grandmother; maternal grandfather a tin-horn illiterate gambler, dipso, died of cancer -- had the reputation of being the smartest man about book-larnin' in Oklahoma, considering he couldn't read." (Letter to John Gould Fletcher, 9/2/43)

In the early 1940s at Baylor University, he worked first in a factory and then in the mental ward of the Veteran's Hospital to pay for his own tuition and that of younger sister, Joy. At the same time, he edited (often remarking in letters how frantic and exhausting a schedule he kept) a literary journal entitled Crescendo -- A Laboratory for Young America, which counted among its contributors Judson Crews, Henry Miller, and Octavio Paz. And while, as Greer stated in the mission statement of the publication, Crescendo was not voice of a "School," it did take a blatant anti-war stand and set forth a vision of literature as the voice and soul of a culture -- its teacher, conscience and mentor.

Greer used "crescendo" (great booming gongs. . . dense jungle rhythms. . . weird archangelic piping, grunting and hissing. . . ) as a central metaphor in the poem "Black Cypress" (1944) which described the raucous, loud and destructive settling of the West: the rough procession followed, growing in noises, crescendoed to thunder, trees crumbling to cabins, the land sweeping clean to the great fields and brown rolling slopes of this Texas. It's a poem full of images of civilization -- cities, culture, then war -- juxtaposed against the silent grace of the Indians and of the "greening" of the earth. The black cypress and water are witnesses to all that has gone before. The poem is very nearly a symbolic outline of the poet's lifework.

To understand the work and the person, it is necessary to realize that the art and the science Scott Greer created were the product of fluid thinking, multidimensional analysis informed by voraciously acquired knowledge, passionate exploration of multiple levels of experience, cross-access to both sides of the brain, originality at any level -- a remarkable intellect. A flood of ideas, art, analysis poured out of him. He thought and wrote quickly in all directions, changed his mind and his life dramatically, and essentially survived this storm of inner life in the person of a charming, brainy poet/professor, a Texas exile in the irrevocable Midwest. ("On Leaving West Texas", p. 73) "The Christian Science Monitor" once dubbed him "the Tabasco-tongued sociologist from Northwestern University." (3/10/70)

Greer's "Crescendo -- A Laboratory for Young Americ"a was modeled after a group of writers who had come to be designated the "Young America" movement in the second decade of the century -- Waldo Frank, Van Wyck Brooks, Lewis Mumford, Randolph Bourne. Greer was deeply impressed by the writings of Bourne, a pacifist who in 1918 argued that America was a young country whose eclectic ethnic culture ought to present the world with an alternative to European barbarism.

The war has brought an immense and terrifying inflation to the political sphere, so that for most people non-governmentalized activity has ceased almost to have significance . . . . Nowhere any clear sense of whither we were drifting or how our ideas and slogans squared with the facts. On the contrary an insensate scramble for action, a positive delight in throwing off the responsibility of thought . . . . The discovery of the sinister forces still at work in what we had thought was a slowly emancipating era has been left wholly unattended to in this country. (Randolph Bourne, "A Letter to van Wyck Brooks: March 27, 1918." In "Civil Liberties and the Arts: Selections from Twice a Year 1938-48," edited by William Wasserstrom. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press: 3-7.)

Often Greer seems to be trying to understand war in animistic terms, beast-eating-beast, or as doctrine manifesting itself as bestiality, "the bite of the fierce indomitable Protestant jaw in the flanks of protesting food" ("Jamaican Sheaf"). Other times he envisions it as a horrific infernal machine. Finally he seems to come to the conclusion that he is "an unequivocal objector to the use of force as a technique in human relations" (Letter to Judson Crews, 10/11/48) which, although it leaves the problem of the root of war unanswered, provides a point from which to act.

In Greer's poetry and in his academic life he blended aesthetic intelligence with logic in search of a useful intellectual approach, one capable of reform. In Crescendo he was inviting a deep consideration of the forces in world culture and in the human soul that allow brutality.

Greer was eighteen years old, a poet, hard at work, 1941, Waco, Texas -- "I am fighting on a million fronts: The university, the professors, what they teach, the students, the mores -- and grades, and tuition; finances, the pressures; the job, the beastly attendants, the utterly helpless patients, the atmosphere out of "Celine," writing, the magazine, and so on, so on. Excuse the self pity; but it will give you some idea. But anyway --the world is so beautiful in the morning you could cry for the beauty of it. And the hospital -- the only beautiful human thing in Waco is the hospital plant -- and there we have those who cannot appreciate it. I stood today in the luxuriant green, the grey dawn, and watched the sun come up; and thought of the men whose entire lives, every day, every hour, are the white walls, the men in white, the white night, the fluorescent lights, the white sheets -- and the heavy deathly smell of urine and calamine lotion, filth and stale cigarette smoke. And outside -- the city, smoky and beautiful as a Mexican opal in the dawn -- dawn pluming up from behind the river smoke." (Letter to Judson Crews, 1941) In the next five years he wrote prolifically and was constantly struggling to make a living. He reported in a letter to John Gould Fletcher that Dorothy Norman had accepted a group of his poems for a journal called "Twice a Year." Many years later he happened into a secondhand book store, (it is said that he was unable to pass a bookstore without stopping to browse) found a retrospective edition of Twice a Year published in 1964, and gave it to his son saying, "Keep this. It is important."

Dedicated to the work of Alfred Stieglitz, and rooted in the same intellectual tradition as Greer's Crescendo, "Twice a Year" existed from 1938 (the beginning of W.W. II) to 1948 (the year the House Committee on Un-American Activities was formed). Its aim was to publish those writers, native and foreign, contemporary and classic, whose art might serve as a means of social transformation. (Wasserstrom, 1964).

The issue in which Greer's poems appeared was a double issue -- Spring/Summer & Fall/Winter of 1945. It opened with a snow-covered forest photographed by Ansel Adams, followed by a Signal Corps photograph of Polish prisoners murdered in a concentration camp in Germany a few hours before the arrival of the Fourth Armored and 89th Infantry Division. Then followed an official Army report: "Buchenwald Atrocities." Then documents: Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points," the "Covenant of the League of Nations," "The Atlantic Charter," Declarations by the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture, "The Moscow Conference," "The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Agreement," two speeches by Franklin D. Roosevelt, more than a dozen treaty conference transcripts, the "Charter of the United Nations," a chapter about racial discrimination in America, a chapter about Employment, poetry by Muriel Rukeyser, Lewis Mumford and Scott Greer (among others), fiction by Hart Crane, excerpts from the Diary of John Quincy Adams, and a chapter entitled "Civil Liberties and the Supreme Court."

"Twice a Year" was profound collision of culture and art -- and a turning point for Greer. It set out an aesthetic/cultural/political matrix that demanded a lifetime of work, teaching, reading, living.

A note at the front of the issue dramatizes the point --" Due to unavoidable delays in printing because of wartime conditions, this issue of "Twice a Year" was delayed in coming off the presses. The use of the Atomic Bomb, the entry of Russia into the war against Japan, the Potsdam Conference, and the end of the war with Japan have occurred since this issue went to press. Full documentation, for the record, will be included in the next issue."

Out of the shocking reality of his youth grew the man. In the poem "Research Project," which is dedicated to William Stafford and is, in part, an "apology" for turning his attention away from art and to social science, Greer wrote:

"His research is concerned with thermonuclear war;
His poems with what we have been, could be, are."

The poems in "Cities of the Soul" are arranged into sections that reflect stages of his intellectual and artistic journey. The sections of our selected works reflect this journey. The arrangement is essentially chronological, but not confined to time sequence. Each section contains an intellectual quatrain and the poetry it generated, introduced by excerpts from his letters, quotations or anecdotes, and is concluded by brief selections from his sociological writings.

These have been included in the spirit of "Twice a Year," and Greer's own "Crescendo." They by no means represent, or try to, the breadth of Greer's sociological work. They are presented as gates to welcome readers to approach the major issues of our time from both aesthetic and social science perspectives. We have included a selected bibliography of Greer's published work for those who want to read further.

Finally, a note about the editorial design of "Cities of the Soul." When I first saw a small selection of poems by Scott Greer, he was ill and, in fact, died six months after Ann Greer, Scott L. Greer and I began work on the book. The scope of the book expanded as we three pored through boxes of typescript, incredible poems which we thought were unpublished. Ann began to collect his letters. In one letter Fletcher spoke of "Ode to Huitzlopochtli" as "the work of a strange and disturbing genius." (Letter to James Franklin Lewis, 4/26/44) We read letters collected from libraries all over the country, finding there seeds of poems, theoretical explorations and explanations of the dramatic changes in the poet's life and art.

Ann Greer embarked on an extensive search through small press library archives for published poems. Eventually we had as many as three different versions of many of the poems. Which to use? I went back to the originals, weighed different versions, and selected the most profound or eloquent published version. Occasionally I reverted to an unpublished version if that was the most fluidly rhythmic take. I often had a choice of titles as well.

Greer was in the habit of capitalizing the first word of every line (more often than not), although early versions of many poems employed upper and lowercase typography. Because of the vast intellectual architecture of much of the work -- Greer's long, rhythmically complex verse sentences often stretch through multiple stanzas -- I choose to punctuate the entire manuscript using standard upper and lower case to help syntax flow clearly. First line capitals, we all concluded, stopped the flow of words mid-concept and resulted in visual and rhythmic distraction. Similarly, I wove the love poems into a cycle and called it "To Ann," which was the original title of nearly every piece. Greer approved this arrangement of the love poems (with new titles) and was pleased with the intellectual divisions of the book. His family, my research editors, approved the changes in typography..

I have chosen to footnote the place(s) individual poems were published in order to share with readers the variety and the vigor of Greer's literary publishing. Before the small press revival of the 1960s and throughout this movement from which Plain View Press has found direction, there has been an unrelenting stream of dedicated editors, artists and writers whose voice has been the best hope of humanity. In addition to the wide impact of Greer's sociological work, his poetry was in the mainstream of alternative literary publishing for four decades.

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