1. Outside the United States the most attention to Rexroth has come from Japan, because of the profound influence of its aesthetic and religious culture on his work; next, France, because of the deep influence of its aesthetic and political culture on his work. See the Bibliography for translations of his work and commentary on it in Japanese, French, and Italian.
2. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair, ed., 14, 699-700, and 700-705.
3. The quotation from Powell appears on the cover of Rexroth's Excerpts from a Life. Fiedler, 10. Carruth, 404. Woodcock, "A Rexroth Retrospective," 23. Allen Ginsberg and Ted Berrigan praised Rexroth in a short, unpublished and undated bio for the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
4. Rexroth is called "Greatfather of American poetry" by Japan's leading woman poet Kazuko Shiraishi (58); "America's greatest living writer" by Brandeis professor Luis Ellicott Yglesias (110); and "a man of love and learning" with a "voice like gravel down a chute" in a poem by John Ciardi (172).
5. Bly goes on to say that "Snyder's early poems really are mixtures of Rexroth's poems and the Chinese poets, just as my Silence in the Snowy Fields is a union of Rexroth and some twentieth century Spanish poets" (Talking All Morning, 23).
6. Snyder's letter was published in Kyoto Review 15 (Fall, 1982): 2. For more on how Snyder was influenced by Rexroth see Bob Steuding, Gary Snyder, 19, 22, 45, 110-15, 119-24, 161, and 167. Laughlin was interviewed by Robert Dana in American Poetry Review (November-December, 1981): 25-26. Rexroth told Brad Morrow that he had recommended to Laughlin publication of Faulkner's Light in August and Sanctuary and Isherwood's Berlin Stories and All the Conspirators. "An Interview with Kenneth Rexroth," 48-67. In Lee Bartlett's Introduction to his edition of Kenneth Rexroth and James Laughlin: Selected Letters (1937-82) he informs us how dependent the two men were on each other: "Rexroth suggested a number of new writers to Laughlin (including Christopher Isherwood, William Everson, Gary Snyder, and Denise Levertov)" (xx), pressuring him in letter after letter to publish new work by these and many other writers who were rebelliously visionary like himself. Some of the more important were David Antin, Charles Bukowski, Malcolm Cowley, Hilda Doolittle (H. D.), Robert Duncan (earlier known as Robert Symmes), Richard Eberhart, Ralph Ellison, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ford Madox Ford, Allen Ginsberg, David Gascoyne, Paul Goodman, Philip Lamantia, D. H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Mina Low, Hugh MacDiarmid, Robert McAlmon, Thomas Merton, Henry Miller, Pablo Neruda, Kenneth Patchen, Herbert Read, Laura Riding, Jerome Rothenberg, Muriel Rukeyser, D. S. Savage, Nathaniel Tarn, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, and Yvor Winters (as poet, not critic).
Rexroth sometimes turned against those he had championed: Allen Ginsberg for commercializing the Beats, Henry Miller because he "thinks he thinks," Yvor Winters for his critical moralism and formalism, for instance. And he relentlessly objected to W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Hart Crane, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Christopher Fry, Robert Graves, Ernest Hemingway, Robinson Jeffers, James Joyce, Archibald McLeish, Mary McCarthy, Ezra Pound (while highly praising Cathay and the Noh translations), John Crowe Ransom, Theodore Roethke, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens (though he had admired his early poems), Delmore Schwartz, Allen Tate, and Tennessee Williams, for idiosyncratic reasons which are always interesting, if not always persuasive. Rexroth's polemics are often delightful, even when his critical judgments are less clear in his letters than in American Poetry in the Twentieth Century and miscellaneous essays. After his sometimes vicious demands periodically exploded Laughlin's saintly patience, Rexroth acknowledged, "I wouldn't have had a career without Laughlin..." (xx). Between battles that nearly ended their friendship, it would always revive, thanks to idyllic skiing expeditions in the mountains. Laughlin reminisced that conversations with Rexroth were "so great, the high points of my life" (17 December 1981, 262) and contributed more than $40,000 for medical bills during Rexroth's final incapacitation.
Even more informative than Bartlett's Introduction are his voluminous notes, my favorite being two pages (138-39) on the controversial New York performance by the Living Theater of Rexroth's tragic tetralogy, Beyond the Mountains --in my opinion his greatest work--in 1951. Rexroth mailed Julian Beck and Judith Malina precise advice on staging, based on his extensive knowledge of Greek and oriental drama. Besides epitomizing Rexroth's philosophical poetry of integral personalism in the face of a dehumanizing world, these eloquent plays reveal the depths of Rexroth's character. It has always seemed to me that Rexroth identified himself, and certainly his world view, with Hermaios Soter, utopian king of the last free Greek city-state, in Afghanistan, who in the third play denounces the barbarism of the Huns and the imperial civilization of the Romans. After Rexroth gave up hope for a humane, libertarian world revolution, he resembled Menander, the last Greek philosopher-king who becomes a Buddhist before the Huns destroy Bactria. These tragic heroes, and other characters worshipping the goddess Artemis, identified in the plays with the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, reflect the tragic fate of Rexroth himself, a utopian driven by desire, love, and impossible ideals in a warring world.
Certain passages in the letters, comparable to Rexroth's finest essays, deserve to be reread for their scholarly illumination of poetry, religion, philosophy, and history: on poetic principles (5 March 1941) 7 and prosody (April 1941) 11-14), Original Sin (April 1941) 15, the rise and fall of humanist culture (Fall 1943) 35-36, non-European literature (10 March 1955) 198-201, and Buddhism (5 October 1955) 212-13 and 215. Correspondence concerning Rexroth's anthology, The New British Poets (78-79, 97-106, 126-28, 150-51), plans for a New Directions Oriental Library (94-97), and a description of Rexroth's anthology of American poets born after 1900 which was never published (24 July 1950) 150-52 are also extremely instructive. And an eloquent letter to Laughlin from Father Alberto Huerta, S. J., Rexroth's confessor, suggests the poet's spiritual depth (16 June 1982) 263-66.
7. Linda Wagner wrote: "A new book, Kenneth Rexroth (TUSAS 208), is also lively and perceptive. Morgan Gibson gives us some sense of where Rexroth's aesthetic places him in the wide continuum of modern poetry, emphasizing that for Rexroth the sense of spoken voice, of poem as spoken communication, is primary. Gibson also deals with Rexroth's 'visionary aesthetics,' his stance that the poem has an active responsibility for all mankind's suffering (and joy), and it is this part of Rexroth's belief that led to his involvement in the San Francisco Renaissance, in its early stages." (340). Edward Wagenknecht wrote of Rexroth, "It is certainly time for him to have his day in court, and Gibson enters very high claims for him." "4 American Writers."
8. Poesie di Kenneth Rexroth 1920-1956, 1982.
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Copyright © 2000 by Morgan Gibson
Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry