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
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
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",
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
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
1996: Dies at home with his family on January 25.
"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,
"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
"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,
"The Logic of Social Inquiry". Chicago: Aldine, 1969.
________Transaction edition, new introduction. New Brunswick. Transaction
"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.
"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,
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
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
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
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.