The Charles Olson Research Collection

Correspondents of Note

- Donald M. Allen
- Cid Corman
- Robert Creeley
- Edward Dahlberg
- Fielding Dawson
- Diane DiPrima
- Ed Dorn
- Robert Duncan
- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
- Vincent Ferrini
- Allen Ginsberg
- Leroi Jones
- Denise Levertov
- Jay Leyda
- Ronald Mason
- Joel Oppenheimer
- Ezra Pound
- Jeremy Prynne
- Tom Raworth
- Michael Rumaker
- Ed Sanders
- John Wieners


Donald M. Allen

Cid Corman

Cid (Sidney) Corman is adamant about some things. One is that he is the most prolific writer in human history. And one would have to think long and hard to find a writer of equal output. More than one hundred titles now exist--poetry, prose, and translations--and dozens of other manuscripts sit in his house in Kyoto, Japan, books for which he explains he has neither the time, means, nor interest in looking for a publisher. Corman's prolificness is the result of writing literally every day--even ill--for fifty years now. Whereas Corman's output borders on the legendary, he is perhaps better known for his launching and editorship of Origin, a magazine instrumental in nurturing a community of writers in the Ezra Pound/William Carlos Williams line whose high commitment to poetry did not necessarily translate into high visibility. Charles Olson, William Bronk, Louis Zukofsky, and Robert Creeley are but some of the key figures who benefited from the forum that Origin provided. For fifty years Cid Corman has figured as an important model of constancy, integrity, and gritty decorum, an attractive alternative to the often self-serving excesses and fads that punctuate twentieth-century American poetry. (DLB 193)


Robert Creeley

For the second half of this century, Robert Creeley's work as an innovative poet has occupied a singular place in postwar American letters. The contributions of Creeley, with Charles Olson, were instrumental, through Projective Verse, to the definition of emerging senses of poetic form in the 1950s. The Black Mountain Review (1954-1957), which Creeley edited, was a landmark literary journal of the period. Creeley's work, along with that of other poets connected with Black Mountain College, has also been a benchmark against which subsequent poetry has been measured. Perhaps most important, Creeley's career has placed him as immediately active in the record of the contemporary American "new poetries." Though known primarily as a poet, Creeley's poetry is intricately tied to other genres of writing, prose the most important among them. He has also made substantial contributions in essays, letters, editing, autobiography, collaborations with artists, the interview, and various forms of miscellaneous writing. The fact of literary engagement is crucial to Creeley's work; his sense of writing as a multifaceted engagement may well stand as a definition of the contemporary literary endeavor.

Known for the dictum, "form is never more than an extension of content," Creeley has largely been connected with Black Mountain College and with Projective Verse. The latter, developed primarily in the early 1950s, was not meant as a defining style for any poet but as a means of breaking from poets associated with the New Criticism and their insistence on form as extrinsic to the poem, dominant at the time. Creeley also had considerable interchange with other poetic alternatives, including the Beat poets. Further, he coedited the anthologies the New American Story (1965) and The New Writing in the U.S.A. (1967), which presented the work of divergent groups of writers. To date, Creeley has been mentor to or advocate of many American poetry movements including the Beats, Objectivists (retrospectively), the San Francisco Renaissance, poets of the New College of California and the Naropa Institute, writers associated with a multitude of small presses, and most recently, Language poets. Creeley's involvement with this last school includes his inclusion in This 1 (1971), credited by Ron Silliman as being a harbinger of language-oriented poetry. In addition, two of Robert Grenier's five critical texts in the issue were about Creeley; one of these included the assertion, as related by Silliman in his introduction to In the American Tree (1986), that "Projective Verse is Pieces On," an acknowledgment of the importance of Projective Verse and Creeley's collection of poems Pieces (1968) to emerging poetries. Creeley's literary involvement and lasting contribution, more than with any single poetic idiom however, has been with the possibilities of new writing--and he has been a tireless campaigner for efforts exploring these engagements. (DLB 169)


Edward Dahlberg

A poet, an aphorist, a novelist, a mythographer, an astute and caustic critic, a literary cult figure, an astounding autobiographer, Edward Dahlberg has proven himself a writer on diverse subjects in protean forms. His daring originality and personality mark his treatment of the mythic and personal, the political and spiritual sides of the American experience. Dahlberg brought his own approach to the modernist goal of recreating a historical tradition through his works. His chief formal innovations are directed toward a recasting of the genres of poetry, fiction, and autobiography to include elements of one another. An expatriate writer of the 1920s, a proletarian novelist of the 1930s, a prophetic spokesman for a fundamental humanism in the 1940s, he worked anthropological, autobiographical, and classical roots in later years, making a radical shift from naturalist to classicist, from Marxist to humanist. Dahlberg is a rare American poet of mythography as well as lyric personal verse. His extraordinary prose style is at times of erudite obscurism, and at others the personal and poetic.

All his life a maverick from the commercial and academic marketplace, Dahlberg became a literary figure in the 1960s as a spokesman for a collective yet individual humanism. As he explained in 1966, "I propose to go along as I always have done, sowing dragon's teeth when necessary, and seeding affections in the souls of my unknown readers if I can." Alternately called a Midwestern Ishmael, a lamenting Whitman, and a curmudgeon of American literature, Dahlberg explained himself with graphic and characteristic humor, "As for myself, I'm a medievalist, a horse and buggy American, a barbarian, anything, that can bring me back to the communal song of labor, sky, star, field, love." While his fierce defiance of the patterns of success often brought failure upon himself and in his writing, it earned him the much-deserved title of American original. In Edward Dahlberg the writing is the man, and there is much in the experience of that life to make his work tragically, comically, even beautifully unique. (DLB 48).


Fielding Dawson

American writer Fielding Dawson penned dozens of short stories over the course of a long career, but his works are largely unknown outside a small literary community. A contributor in Dictionary of Literary Biography commented: "No other American writer regularly produces the kind of compelling prose that Dawson does, but few other contemporary American writers are more ignored than he is."

Born in New York City, Dawson grew up in Kirkwood, Missouri. His mother, a poet, gave him a typewriter for his fifteenth birthday, a gift that launched his writing career. He went on to attend North Carolina's Black Mountain College, an esteemed liberal arts school, where he studied poetry with Charles Olson and befriended painter Franz Kline. In many of Dawson's works, the quest for artistic maturity is a common theme. These include An Emotional Memoir of Franz Kline, and Tiger Lilies: An American Childhood. Many of his short stories reveal episodes from a difficult childhood, or recount a teenager's sexual awakening.

Prior to his 1962 marriage to a psychologist, Dawson had become keenly interested in the ideas of psychotherapist Carl Jung. The contributor in Dictionary of Literary Biography termed the story in Thread "Dawson's first intensely Jungian story, showing the various threads of childhood, adolescence, and his early years as an artist. It is one of his most brilliant expressions of the agony and terror of those years." Later in the decade Dawson produced Krazy Kat, The Unveiling, and Other Stories, and his first novel, Open Road.
"Fielding Dawson is a journalist in that word's constantly essential, all-but-forgotten meaning: He is both a seer and a messenger, a bringer of news: not impaled by the present, but sped by the energies which converge in the present--Fielding Dawson with the news," wrote Donald Phelps in Caterpillar.

Phelps noted that Dawson's short stories have a number of distinguishing characteristics. They are written in a heroic mode and in a style similar to that of an artist, for Dawson "enlists the process-rhythms of painting and choreography in the rippling, guileless complexity of his typical prose." When Dawson is at his best, Phelps observed, his stories "have the sharp linear focus, the crystalline acuteness, the expressive grace which only mobility, governed by awareness can bring." According to Phelps, when he fails it is the result of "an over-determined consciousness" which causes him to lose "the larger human reverberations, the reality, for the narrower actuality." Eric Mottram, reviewing in Vort, elucidated Dawson's themes: "A main horror is to feel nothing is happening as time draws a man on in boredom, mechanism and waste. Intimations of mortality urge throughout Dawson's work: it must be now or never that we love, paint, write, taste, drink, field that ball, strike." (CA)


Diane DiPrima

Among women of her generation, Diane DiPrima is the writer who by her life and work most embodies the definable patterns of the Beat Generation. Among other things, it is she who reminds us that the generation spent as much time in urban "pads" as it did "on the road," and that one can travel as far by human relationships as by thumb. It is reported that at one point in her youth she considered becoming a theoretical physicist, but she turned her back on accepted values early and has never since felt the need to revert to them. The immediate background against which she revolted is given in her Memoirs of a Beatnik (1969): "I came from Brooklyn, from a block that just avoided being a slum, where I had played stickball and dodged the Irish altar boys. My parents were first-generation Americans, my grandparents Italian, and our backyard was full of grapevines and tomato plants.... My grandparents could not read or write; my parents, with grim determination, had put themselves through college and became 'professional people.' They were never in debt and bought nothing 'on time.' They were noisy and unpretentious: the cupboard was always full and the liquor cabinet (if there was one) was usually empty except for wine. To like to drink hard liquor was considered a misfortune." She dropped out of college in her sophomore year to pursue a love affair and to find an apartment in Greenwich Village and has continued to choose her own traditions: John Keats, alchemy, medieval Latin authors, Ezra Pound and Charles Olson, Zen. She raised the authenticity of her rebellion into art. (DLB 16)


Ed Dorn

Edward Dorn, one of the poets that emerged from legendary Black Mountain College in the 1950s, was born in Villa Grove, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University before going to Black Mountain in 1951, where he studied with Charles Olson. He has taught at several universities, including Idaho State University at Pocatello, the University of Essex, the University of California at Riverside and at La Jolla, and the University of Colorado. In the meantime, over the course of numerous volumes, he has written with the uncompromising commitment and persistent originality of a truly distinguished poet. With the publication of The Collected Poems: 1956-1974 (1975) and the complete long poem Gunslinger (published as Slinger in 1975), each of which makes more widely available works previously in limited circulation, it is unlikely Edward Dorn will remain primarily the concern of an intimate audience, as he was during the 1970s. Readers increasingly speak of him as one of the outstanding poets of his generation, and his writing warrants that recognition.

Dorn has employed a wide range of poetic elements. He is equally himself whether the mode at hand comes closest to lyric, narrative, meditation, elegy, satire, or parody, and such distinctions rarely apply categorically to a given poem. Likewise, the body of his work touches every conceivable tone: from tender to vituperative, wistful to coldbloodedly exact, mournful and somber to delightfully playful. Most of Dorn's poetry has a reflective character, however, and perhaps an observation he makes in "From Gloucester Out," his tribute to his friend and mentor Olson, explains why:

Pure existence, even in the crowds

I love

will never be possible for me

even with the men I love

This is

the guilt

that kills me

My adulterated presence

Dorn is a thinker, and that fact, which sets him apart from the crowd, pervades his writing.

Although some readers would speak of his poetry as "loosely structured," with that phrase's inevitable pejorative overtones, in doing so they reveal the limits of their taste rather than a shortcoming in Dorn's work. Part of Olson's claim in "Projective Verse" (1950) is that the possibilities in poetry are as various as the individual people writing. Much of Dorn's poetry shows that nothing in that principle of diversity need conflict with the attainment of formal eloquence and that ornate verse can exist apart from traditional meter and rhyme. (DLB 5)


Robert Duncan

Robert Duncan is one of the poets who helped to establish the San Francisco Bay area as one of the major centers for poetry in the United States, and in recent years he has become the presiding voice of that center. Together with Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, he is also known as one of the principal Black Mountain poets, having taught briefly at the experimental Black Mountain College in western North Carolina shortly before its closing, although his roots in poetry go much deeper and broader.

He was born in Oakland, California. His mother died shortly after giving birth, and his father, a day laborer, was unable to keep the child. He was put up for adoption and after six months was adopted by a couple who were "orthodox theosophists" and who chose the baby on the basis of his astrological configuration. He grew up as Robert Edward Symmes (his first poems were published under that name), reverting to his original surname in 1942. He was raised mainly in Bakersfield, California, where his adopted father, an architect by profession (a fact that figures in many of the poems), had an office. His grandmother had been an elder in a Hermetic order similar to William Butler Yeats's Order of the Golden Dawn. The tales told and read him as a child by his parents and the appropriately named Aunt Fay (the theosophists' world was marked by correspondences) were as lasting and important as any of his later influences and are a constant world of reference in the poems. A high school English teacher, Edna Keough, enabled him to bring into the clamorous world about him the one he knew from childhood. He explained later: "She saw poetry not as cultural commodity or an exercise to improve sensibility, but as a vital process of the spirit." By the time he was eighteen, he had already taken the orders, accepted poetry as his commitment for life: "I recognized in poetry my sole and ruling vocation." (DLB 5)


Lawrence Ferlinghetti

As poet, playwright, publisher, and spokesman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti helped to spark the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1950s and the subsequent Beat movement in American poetry. Ferlinghetti was one of a group of writers--later labeled the "Beat Generation"--who felt strongly that art should be accessible to all people, not just a handful of highly educated intellectuals. Ferlinghetti's career has been marked by a constant challenge to the status quo in art. His poetry engages readers, defies popular political movements, and reflects the influence of American idiom and modern jazz. In Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at- Large, Larry Smith notes that the author "writes truly memorable poetry, poems that lodge themselves in the consciousness of the reader and generate awareness and change. And his writing sings, with the sad and comic music of the streets." (CA)


Vincent Ferrini

Vincent Ferrini may be the only American poet to have participated in both the WPA program of the 1930s and the CETA program of the 1970s, the chief federally sponsored efforts to provide meaningful work for the nation's unemployed artists. This is of significance, because the relationships of work to life and life to poetry have been his most persistent themes. Through a long career, he moved from being a proletarian writer--one of the most authentic, if overlooked, examples of the worker-poet in this country--to his own independent visionary status. At each stage he embodied the ages he passed through, at the same time never giving up his earliest commitments. Walter Lowenfels called him "the last surviving Proletarian Poet"--which he certainly is, but he is much more besides.

In 1952 and 1953, Ferrini also edited a little magazine, Four Winds, from Gloucester. It disappointed Olson, who attacked him harshly in Maximus Poems, both for what he felt was misrepresenting Gloucester and for getting himself "lost in an abstraction," mass man. Paradoxically, it was this attack that assured Ferrini a place in literary history and would lead to his discovery by another generation of poets and critics. More immediately, the attack prompted In the Arriving (1954), addressed to Olson, "whose drive, insight & perception are the mark of the/maker, the/Poet/with a voice most original, provocative &/contagious." It is a long poem written projectively over the page, not in defiance or rebuttal of Olson, but seeking to engage him on the level of highest friendship and mutual faith. Loosely symbolic and philosophical, it drifts between states of "prebirth" and "postbirth," between specificity and an abstract "country of discovery." Ferrini gently rebukes Olson, who had swarmed upon him with perhaps unnecessary vehemence, and insists that each individual be respected "in his own/weight/& specific/value" and, above all, that "love does not/judge/it/is/too busy/making/anew." (DLB 48)


Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg's reputation as a major poet is now secure; he has outlived the other major poets of mid-century with whom he is frequently compared, such as Charles Olson, Robert Lowell, and Frank O'Hara, who with Ginsberg make up a core of writers that revolutionized the writing of American verse in the 1950s. Their collective achievement was to make for poetry the final break with European and English standards of versification that sent American poetry in pursuit of its own rhythms and forms, a direction it continues to explore with verve and astonishing variety. Each of these major writers gave to the main currents of verse his own unique voice and intelligence, but it was Ginsberg especially who seems to have awakened America's youth to the powers of poetry to make stirring prophecies and to reinvigorate the spheres of politics and ideology. Perhaps more than any other poet of his time or since, Ginsberg is the bard of disaffected youth in America, the single most potent lyric voice discoursing on national crises in ways that arouse and stimulate the young to take part in the political process. Now in his fifties, he is the venerated bard of resistance; his presence at poetry readings is serene and messianic; his podium is at once a pulpit of Buddhist wisdom and a clearinghouse of reformist priorities. From his earliest writings, he has been the champion of individual freedom, and his lifelong adversary has been social control in its myriad forms and strategies, whether of government or business or in the intangible realms of taste, customs, psychological conditioning, parental guidance, and the like. His poetry is calculated to blast the controlling opposition with spell-binding celebrations of personal freedom and spiritual liberty. As might be expected of a large canon of such work, some of it now begins to fade with its fractious rhetoric and its passing topical importance, but there remains an imperishable core of major testaments to the ideals of self-fulfillment and communal well-being that assure Ginsberg his major status among modern writers. (DLB 16)


Leroi Jones

LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka is one author who inevitably is mentioned whenever people talk about Afro-American literature. But he is also a writer who figures prominently in the development of contemporary American poetry and drama; he is not a figure who can be compartmentalized as an ethnic artist. Rising rather quickly through the literary ranks, Baraka has shown extraordinary talent in the full range of literary genres, and he has received ample praise for his poetry, drama, fiction, criticism, and social essays. He has been a successful and influential editor, a well-respected music critic, a theatre director, a social organizer, and a political leader. In short, his contributions to the community of artists and intellectuals have been major, and in spite of his withdrawal from the mainstream of American arts and letters into the black community and local theatre of Newark, New Jersey, his contributions and influences are still clearly felt and recognized.

At the beginning of his writing career, Jones was clearly identifiable with the Projectivist school of poets, and he acknowledged his influences as being William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Garcia Lorca, Robert Duncan, and Charles Olson. His poetry could be placed within some kind of traditional context, composing in the "open field," or basically vers libre, style of the Projectivists, and depending heavily upon jazz rhythms and a sense of musical improvisation. Ultimately, as most critics noticed, Jones's early poetry was not (in Karl Malkoff's words) "the work of an obviously black writer." In addition to the Projectivists, he was also seen as related to the Beat poets. His themes were more or less universal: the self, despair, chaos, the need for social change, and as he said, whatever "is useful & can be saved out of all the garbage of our lives." In his statement on poetics for Donald Allen's The New American Poetry (1960), he stresses freedom and identity: "MY POETRY is whatever I think I am .... I must be completely free to do just what I want, in the poem." Such freedom includes the abandonment of accentual verse, which is based on the number of syllables and the pattern of accented and unaccented syllables in the line, in favor of quantitative verse, whose basic rhythm is determined by the duration of sound in utterance. (DLB 5)


Denise Levertov

In her prolific, highly regarded, sometimes controversial career, Denise Levertov has created a multidimensional body of poetry that is pervaded by her strong belief in her poetic vocation and by her ideals of personal integrity. Her meticulously crafted work involves a variety of genres--nature lyrics, love poems, poems of political protest, and Christian poetry--that converge and diverge throughout her career. In book after book, she explores such themes as domesticity, romantic love, the erotic, parenting and other family relations, political change, the poet's relation to artistic tradition, and aging--nearly always with reference to contemporary issues central to women. Born in England, Levertov eventually shed the neoromanticism popular in that country during World War II and, moving to the United States in 1948, embraced the experimentation of American poetry in the 1950s. The poetic community that she joined included the Beats, the New York School, the San Francisco Renaissance, and the Black Mountain poets, all of whom were identified by Donald Allen as "New American" poets in his influential anthology The New American Poetry (1960). This highly diverse community had grown from a counterculture movement that challenged the traditional meter and elevated diction of the New Critics in little magazines. It was to become the vanguard of a major strand of postmodern American poetry, whose writings appeared by the 1960s in such magazines as Henry Rago's Poetry. (DLB 165)


Jay Leyda

A film historian, educator, editor, and author, Jay Leyda studied filmmaking with Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein in Moscow before beginning a lifelong career as a film historian and teacher of cinema. During the 1940s he was technical adviser on Russian subjects for Hollywood studios and in the 1960s and 1970s he taught at Yale University and York University in Toronto. In 1973 he joined New York University, where he held the Pinewood Chair of Cinema until his death. Leyda was also author of Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film, Films Beget Films, Dianying--Electric Shadows: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China, An Index to the Creative Work of Alexander Dovzhenko, and An Index to the Creative Work of V.I. Pudovkin. In addition, he translated Eisenstein's theoretical works and wrote or edited books about American literary figures Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson, Russian composers Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky and Sergei Rachmanioff, and early American and Soviet cinema. (CA)


Joel Oppenheimer

Joel Oppenheimer was born in Yonkers, New York, and raised there, in a neighborhood a short walk from the New York City line. He attended Cornell University and the University of Chicago before finding himself at Black Mountain College, where he studied writing with M.C. Richards, Paul Goodman, and especially Charles Olson, while beginning a long association with fellow Black Mountain writers Edward Dorn, Robert Creeley, Jonathan Williams, Michael Rumaker, and Fielding Dawson (later associates included Paul Blackburn, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, Frank O'Hara, and Gilbert Sorrentino). Having actually been a student at Black Mountain from 1950 to 1953, taking courses with Olson and having his work published in the Black Mountain Review edited by Creeley, Oppenheimer is one of those writers most legitimately a part of the group known in recent literary history as the Black Mountain Poets, and he is included as such in Donald Allen's famous anthology, The New American Poetry (1960). His writing is hardly restricted to representing a literary movement, however, and his subsequent reputation as a poet is as much a result of his life and literary activities in New York as it is due to his Black Mountain connections.

Early influences were E. E. Cummings, the first poet whom he read and to whom he still pays tribute by his use of lowercase letters. Also influential--at least for his early poems, those of the 1950s-was Robert Creeley, who shared his sense of the personal. The most pervasive and persistent influence, however, has been William Carlos Williams, to whom he was introduced at Black Mountain (at least the Williams of the Collected Earlier Poems [1951] and Pictures from Breughel [1962] rather than of Paterson, which Oppenheimer felt was "a magnificent and futile failure"). And it was not Charles Olson's own poetry as much as Olson the teacher that significantly affected him, instructing him to discover his own voice and, specifically, to allow the full natural "discursiveness" of that voice to enter the poems. (DLB 5)


Ezra Pound

One of the dominant figures of twentieth-century American literature, Ezra Weston Loomis Pound spent nearly the entirety of his controversial career in exile. Following in the footsteps of Henry James and Whistler, he left America in 1908 to make his literary reputation in London. Leader of the Imagist school and participant in the Vorticist movement, Pound moved to Paris in early 1921, where, for the next three years, he played a prominent role as champion of Joyce and Eliot, editor of little magazines, and mentor to young American expatriates. After leaving Paris in late 1924, Pound settled in Rapallo, Italy, to devote himself to his experimental epic, The Cantos. Written over the course of almost half a century, this unfinished "poem including history" has remained one of the most significant and most influential achievements of American literature in this century. During his long years in Italy, Pound became increasingly absorbed in political and economic theory and, optimistically convinced that Mussolini's policies presented an enlightened alternative to modern monopoly capitalism, Pound became an apologist for what he misguidedly construed as Fascist economics. In 1939 he visited America for the first time in twenty-eight years, but returned to Italy, where from 1941 to 1943 he made radio broadcasts against American involvement in the war, which subsequently led to his indictment for treason. Judged medically unfit to stand trial, Pound was placed in St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he remained incarcerated from 1946 until 1958. Upon his release, Pound returned to Italy, dividing his time between Rapallo, Merano, and Venice, while continuing work on his Cantos .

Pound's career presents an extreme version of the role of expatriation within twentieth-century American letters. Although he initially went abroad as a Jamesian "passionate pilgrim" in search of the holy sites of past cultural achievement, Pound's residence in Europe paradoxically enabled him to discover himself as a contemporary American writer. An early poem addressed "To Whistler, American" might equally typify Pound's own accomplishment in exile: "You had your searches, your uncertainties, / And this is good to know--for us, I mean, / Who bear the brunt of our America / And try to wrench her impulse into art." As in Whistler's case, Paris, the capital of the avant-garde, played a crucial role in shaping Pound's vision of an art which would integrate raw American impulse with the discipline and cosmopolitanism of Continental modernism. Vers libre, Imagism, and Vorticism were all to a certain extent imports from France, and as Malcom Cowley points out, Pound's poetry and criticism between 1912 and 1920 was influential in determining the intellectual baggage a later generation of American expatriates would carry to Paris. But unlike many of these younger compatriots, Pound would stay on in exile to become, in his own phrase, "the last American living the tragedy of Europe." Displacement came to be the permanent condition of his art; it was his Odyssean fate, as Eliot observed, to be "a squatter everywhere, rootless, ever ready to depart." Ironically, this nomadism was perhaps Pound's deepest American trait. (DLB 4)


Jeremy Prynne

When the poetry of Jeremy Prynne began to appear in England during the 1960s, it secured for itself a reputation and influence among independent and avant-garde poets that was not matched by its reception in the established centers of literary decision-making, the London weeklies and academic reviews. To the literary establishment Prynne's poetry seemed willfully hermetic, bound by an aesthetic formalism derived from the obscure reveries of Charles Olson and the American projectivists. On the other hand, for those who were attempting to establish in England, for the first time since the modernists, a coherent and enduring practice of poetry, Prynne's writing was and remains exemplary in its procedures and address. But the publication of Poems in 1982, essentially the collected works, may mark the beginning of a wider recognition of the texts.

In Kitchen Poems, Prynne took up, at the level of the name, the relations between language and the real. Expanding and enriching the significance of this inquiry was the practice and theory of Olson and the projectivists. It is into the gap that opens between the name and what is named, between sign and referent, that deception and trickery penetrate. Names can return us to things, to the world of which they are themselves a part, only insofar as we are prepared to trust to the very trickery that has deceived us and to recognize in the absence, the lack, of language an unveiling, a bringing into presence. In the language of poetry speaks that which speaks nowhere else. Poetry is a calling by name of that by which poetry is spoken. Prynne writes, in "Sketch for a Financial Theory of the Self": "the names,/do you not/see, are just/the tricks we/trust, which/we choose." Tradition, custom, is the richest expression of trust we have, its most profound expression the mysteries of liturgy, ritual, that enact and sustain the deep analogies between language and the real. For us, now in a world in which that trust has been broken, a world of monetary exchange, of the ego centered upon consumption and profit, it is our condition that "what I am is a special case of/what we want....". (DLB 40)


Tom Raworth

Tom Raworth stands out as perhaps the most elusive--and at the same time the most sensitive to contemporary realities--of postwar poets in Britain. English critic Eric Mottram has called him "the best we have," and his reputation in America, particularly among those who also read recent American poetry, is unequaled by any of his fellow countrymen. The poetry and prose of Tom Raworth is marked by a razor-sharp attention to detail and mercurial mental shifts. When he reads his poetry, his delivery is the fastest in the business, but what is remarkable is the range of expression he gets without slowing the pace. His collaborations with artists and printers make his books some of the loveliest, and oddest, to be found.

Raworth's sense of the poem as record of an immediate ongoing present may reflect the poetics of Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and Charles Olson, but Raworth eschews specific influences, wary of situations where literature perpetuates itself out of reading; and to keep free of such disturbance, he seems to have steered his own course round the masters. Of his own process he has said, "My method is the essence of simplicity. I write down fragments of language passing through my mind that interest me enough after thought has played with them for me to imagine I might like to read them. What form that documentation takes doesn't interest me as an intention, but only as the most accurate impression of the journey of interest." In the collection Nicht Wahr, Rosie? (1980), Raworth supplies notes to the poem "El Barco del Abismo," revealing the genesis of each line. What is significant in this unpacking of the materials of the poem is the privacy of the notes. They are details as mysterious in themselves as the lines they apparently occasioned. In a 1972 interview Raworth stated, "I really have no sense of questing for knowledge. At all. My idea is to go the other way, you know. And to be completely empty and then see what sounds.... Boredom, trust and fun are the key words somehow...." Boredom occurs as a limit. Attention shifts radically whenever ideas sounded in the writing point toward an endless exposition of the already known. Trust enables the writer to step into linguistic space and to accept those events which occur singularly there, without recourse to precedent or outside authority. Fun is obviously of the essence throughout. The author's enjoyment of the writing activity comes across as an intense, and sometimes a perverse glee. (DLB 40)


Michael Rumaker

Michael Rumaker was born in South Philadelphia to Michael Joseph and Winifred Marvel Rumaker, the fourth of nine children. He spent his first seven months in the Preston Retreat charity ward, too sickly to be brought home, while his mother helped pay for her keep and his birth by peeling potatoes in the hospital's kitchen. He grew up in National Park, New Jersey, a small backwater town on the Delaware River, and later attended the school of journalism at Rider College in Trenton on a half-scholarship. After hearing artist Ben Shahn speak enthusiastically of Black Mountain College during a lecture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he applied to the college and was granted a work scholarship. In September 1952 he transferred to Black Mountain--washing dishes seven days a week, managing dishwashing crews, and taking care of the kitchen his first year--and studied in the writing classes of Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. While at Black Mountain he produced three stacks of manuscripts, each a foot high, which he kept hidden on a top shelf. He symbolically burned them at the time of his graduation--"a ritualistic burning of apprentice rubbish," he recalls--saving only three or four stories.

His breakthrough was "The Truck," written for Olson's writing class in October 1954: "after two years of confused false starts and superficial scratchings, I wrote my first real short story, although, in what was to become usual for me, I didn't know it till after the fact." He had "reached back," by his own account, into his adolescence in the mid-1940s and a street gang he knew in the northern section of Camden, New Jersey, "to get it." Olson's response was enthusiastic, and he suggested that Rumaker send the story to Robert Creeley for the Black Mountain Review. "After that, I went on to work with abandon and increased energy and wrote a half dozen or so additional stories in rapid succession, working consistently up to the end of the 1954 winter term and into a winter-break spent in New York City." These additional stories included "Exit 3" and "The Pipe," both collected in Gringos and Other Stories (1967).

In September 1955 Rumaker graduated from Black Mountain with an honors degree ( Robert Duncan was his outside examiner)--one of only two or three students to have graduated from the college in its final years. After graduation, he lived in Philadelphia for a year, working in an advertising agency during the day and writing stories at night ("Black Mountain College," he wrote, "had prepared me for nothing but my destiny"). In October 1956, he quit his job at the agency and hitchhiked the three thousand miles to San Francisco, where he worked as a clerk for a steamship company, again writing in his spare time while staying with former Black Mountain friends there, on hand for the energies shortly to be recognized as those of the Beat Generation. He describes these days colorfully in " Robert Duncan in San Francisco," part of his memoir of literary life still in progress. What he found was that "A new vitality was beginning to stir in the light and spaciously open air.... It seemed that everybody was writing and painting and making music. Dress, hair, talk was shaggier, rawer; fresh idioms of speech were possible. To me, the look and talk of those most actively involved was like an extension and coalescence of earlier Black Mountain changearounds, that had cohered and emerged simultaneously in Swannanoa Valley and the Bay Area." He returned to New York in April 1958, suffered a breakdown some six months later, and was hospitalized, first at Bellevue and then at Rockland State just north of New York City, until August 1960. His first contract, then--four stories for Scribners' Short Story 2 anthology--was signed in a mental institution. Since recovery he has continued to live in Rockland County, first in Grand View on the Hudson River and since 1974 in South Nyack. He received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University in 1969 and has taught writing at the New School for Social Research, City College of New York, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Rockland Center for the Arts. (DLB 16)


Ed Sanders

Ed Sanders's career has been as colorful as his writings and as vivid as any of the characters in Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which, when Sanders read it as a freshman in college, made him realize that the social and cultural revolution already underway was his own, and that he, too, was part of the Beat Generation. More important, he became part of the extension of the Beat Generation beyond its origins in post-World War II restlessness into the later politicization and activism of American youth. He helped create the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s and beyond.

Investigative Poetry (1976) is Sanders's most systematic attempt at a poetics so far. It is a stimulating manifesto revised from a lecture delivered at the Naropa Institute's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in July 1975. The theory owes much to Olson's "Projective Verse" essay, which it quotes freely, but embodies practices already well established in The Family and generally reflects Sanders's preoccupation with data, evidence, and the thrill of discovery. The purpose of the manifesto is immediately announced: "that poetry should again assume responsibility for the description of history." Sanders writes of being struck by the scholarly dimensions of Hart Crane's The Bridge, Olson's Maximus Poems, Ginsberg's Howl, and Pound's Cantos, four epics that have prepared the way (for it is an epic scope that Sanders demands). Much, however, of what he was impressed by and in turn advocates is nothing less than traditional scholarly detective work, as genially described by Richard Altick in his classic, The Scholar Adventurers (1950), and daily practiced by hundreds of active literary scholars and historians. But the political implication of such a poetics is immediate. Sanders's primary belief is that investigation--thoroughgoing, tough-minded research, what Olson called "a saturation job"--will ultimately free man from secret power plays and other forms of conspiracies to withhold freedom, as if evil were a form of photophobic microbe that withered once the light of the mind was turned on it. Not intimidated by the immensity of the task, Sanders writes: "For this is the era of the description of the All; the age wherein a Socrates would have told the judges to take a walk down vomit alley, and could have lived as an active vehement leader of the Diogenes Liberation Squadron of Strolling Troubadours and Muckrakers." He cites examples of historical repression against the bard--Blake, Ginsberg, Ovid, Dostoevski, the Chilean poet-singer Victor Jara, Pushkin--and notes, "one has only to recall that Coleridge and Wordsworth one day were lounging by the sea shore, while nearby sat an English police agent on snitch patrol prepared to rush to headquarters to quill a report about the conversation." (DLB 16)


John Wieners

John Wieners's poetry is singular among the Beats for its quiet elegance and understatement. Absent is the flamboyant use of language or furious expression common among his contemporaries who sought a kind of literary parallel to the chaotic artfulness of bebop jazz and the monumental canvases of action painters such as Jackson Pollock. His is a poetry slow and deliberate--hermetic, even--striving always to impose an order of the mind upon an impinging chaos. John Wieners comments: "My themes are heartfelt ones of youth and manly desire. Their subjects are despair, frustration, ideal satisfaction, with Biblical and classical referential echoes. Their forms are declarative, orderly and true, without invention."

John Joseph Wieners, the son of Albert Eugene and Anna Elizabeth Laffan Wieners, was raised in a middle-class Catholic family, just outside Boston. He attended public schools there and graduated from Boston College with an A.B. in English in 1954. Upon graduation he worked at the Lamont Library at Harvard University and was active in local theater groups. A turning point in the poets' life came when the twenty-year-old Wieners was passing by the Charles Street Meeting House "on the night of Hurricane Hazel, Sept. 11, 1954," as he later recalled. Wieners "accidentally" heard Charles Olson reading poetry and stopped in. "They passed out complimentary copies of Black Mountain Review," Wieners remarked," and I ain't been able to forget."

Black Mountain College was an experiment in "open education," presided over by Olson and tucked away in the rural hills of North Carolina. The faculty included Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, painters Joseph Albers and Robert Motherwell, composer John Cage, and choreographer Merce Cunningham. At Olson's urging, Wieners enrolled at Black Mountain in the spring of 1955. Although Wieners had no qualms about subordinating his sensibility to those of his instructors, Robert Duncan recalls that both he and Olson were somewhat awed by the "sheer authenticity" of Wieners's talents and soon regarded him as an equal.

After his final semester at Black Mountain in the summer of 1956, Wieners returned to Boston and published the first issue of Measure, a literary magazine that included poets affiliated with Black Mountain. The day the magazine arrived on the newsstands Wieners was fired from his job at the Lamont Library. Shortly thereafter he drove cross-country and arrived in San Francisco at the height of the Beat poetry renaissance. (DLB 16)




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