Kenneth Rexroth correspondence on social issues, the Vietnam War, "Noretorp-Noretsyh," and oher matters

Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East West Wisdom
by Morgan Gibson

. . .

Chapter 8 (Part One)

Discovering the Anarchist Poet

Four poems in Selden Rodman's A New Anthology of Modern Poetry (New York: Modern Library, 1946) alerted me to the revolutionary genius of Kenneth Rexroth when I was discovering modern literature on my own at the University of Chicago just after World War II. In the work of no other poet had I found radiant perceptions of nature infused with advanced scientific, philosophical, mythological, and literary ideas. Planning to specialize in physics and mathematics, but upset by the nihilism of the Atomic Bomb, I was astonished that a poet could think passionately and ethically in poetry. I do not mean that Rexroth made ideas "poetic," but that he philosophized in the act of composing poems. "Now, On This Day of the First Hundred Flowers" celebrates cycles of birds and flowers, fog and lovers that transcend fate in imagination. "Here I Sit, Reading the Stoic" brings classical satire up to date, with tragic acceptance of the decay of civilization. "Remember That Breakfast One Morning" sensuously resurrects the Lost Generation at a time when the lives of millions were being ruined during World War II. And the melodiously mythic "Adonis in Summer" gathered me into the evolutionary chain of creation through a vision of Adonis, castrated among lotus-eaters.

The Lotophagi with their silly hands
Haunt me in sleep, plucking at my sleeve;
Their gibbering laughter and blank eyes
Hide on the edge of the mind's vision
In dusty subways and crowded streets.
Late in August, asleep, Adonis
Appeared to me, clutched in his hand, the plow
That broke the dream of Persephone.

Without the inspiration of these and other poems by Rexroth, which reveal deeper truths than science, I would not have left mathematics to become a poet, and many others would have had much less meaningful lives. I came across these four poems again in the visionary book in which they had first appeared, The Phoenix and the Tortoise (1944), and in The Collected Shorter Poems (1966), retitled respectively "We Come Back" (163), "Gas or Novocain" (151), "Between Two Wars" (150), and "Adonis in Summer" (160). The last poem, a passage from The Homestead Called Damascus, was also reprinted in The Collected Longer Poems (1968, 11-12)

No one mentioned Rexroth in writing workshops and classes at the University of Iowa, where I went for graduate work in 1950, for his work conformed neither to the conservative norms of the New Criticism nor to the McCarthyite atmosphere of the Korean War, when any rebellion was subversive. A conscientious objector, I wondered whether he had died with revolutionary hopes of the 1930's.

Soon after October 13, 1955, I heard about the famous Six Gallery reading in San Francisco, in which Allen Ginsberg, who had organized it, premiered "Howl. "Gary Snyder, Philip Whelan, Michael McClure, and Philip Lamantia also read powerfully visionary poems; and Kenneth Rexroth as M. C. introduced to America the "generation of revolt." The audience included Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Peter Orlovsky, and other celebrities of what the media would soon both promote and ridicule as the "Beat Generation," a term that Kerouac had invented. The next year Ferlinghetti published "Howl" as #4 of the City Lights Pocket Poets Series, the first volume of which had been Rexroth's Thirty Spanish Poems of Love and Exile. The censorship trial of "Howl" brought the new, highly personal, prophetic, erotic, rebellious, anarchistic, pacifistic poetry--my kind of poetry at last--to international attention. Like many other young poets disenchanted with the establishment, I consumed all the new poetry that I could-- not just Beat poetry but many kinds unimagined in academic workshops--from City Lights books, Robert Creeley's Black Mountain Review (North Carolina), Paul Carroll's Big Table (Chicago), Robert Bly's The 50s (Minnesota), cid corman's Origin (Kyoto), and from New York Barney Rosset's Evergreen Review and Grove Press books (which in 1960 issued Donald Allen's substantial anthology, The New American Poetry). In 1957 recordings of Ginsberg, Rexroth, Ferlinghetti, Patchen, and others, with jazz accompaniment, convinced me of the radical public force of poetry performances that were attacking the destructive American system and revealing the growth of alternative outlooks and creative communities.

During the 1950's, Rexroth's countercultural essays in Evergreen Review and elsewhere (eventually collected in Bird in the Bush, 1959) interpreted the San Francisco Renaissance in radical terms that conjoined the art of poetry with personal liberation, political protest, visionary ecstasy, erotic freedom, philosophical illumination, and cultural transformation. He praised the original rebellion of the Beats and their best poems but soon condemned their commercialization. I read all of his books as they streamed forth and heard his prophetic voice for the first time from the recording of "Thou Shalt Not Kill: A Memorial for Dylan Thomas" (San Francisco: Fantasy Record #7002, 1957), his raucous voice accomapnied by a funky jazz band. This eloquent polemic against the world-wide culture of death stunned and stirred me as I played it for groups of students, poets, and auto workers in Detroit, where I was then teaching at Wayne State University and writing for an interracial, revolutionary newspaper called News and Letters. He rallied me, comrade to comrade, when I worked up nerve in 1957 to send him a substantial literary and political letter with my poems. He read them on his weekly program at KPFA in San Francisco and wrote me the first of many letters and cards affirming the kind of humanistic revolution that many of us believed possible throughout the 1960's.

His enthusiasm and modesty surprised me. I had expected nothing at all, or at most a sarcastic rebuff in the tone of his essays on the Beats. I had hesitated to write this enemy of academe, of workshops, and "midwest metaphysicals," but his prose polemics and visionary poetry were heartening. His first reply to me had been lost in the mail--one of the many dirty tricks that he blamed on the government; but his second letter arrived intact sometime in 1957. Undated, written in his famous flat, the center of poetry and revolutionary thought in San Francisco, it was the first of sixty-one letters and cards that he sent me during the next twenty-two years, between many visits and phonecalls:

        250 Scott St SF
Dear Morgan Gibson - Something has gone wrong. I wrote you at length about your poems, the book about the Negro, News & Letters, and general observations. Too bad. I don't feel up to a long letter at this precise moment but I can say again that I was very impressed & deeply moved - that you should have known about me & liked what I write enough to send me the things - and by the poems, book & papers themselves. I doubt if, in all my years in the labor movement I have ever read a paper I agreed with more. This is precisely my point of view & always has been. The novel or autobiography is the only convincing study of a proletarian Negro I have ever read - it sounds like it was written by a worker - not a novelist. The poems are not the work of a professional poet - but again - of a worker in constant contact with life and are very moving. I am very flattered that you sent the bundle to me. Incidentally I devoted a 15 minute book review program to the whole thing & passed the News & Letters on to the Pocket Bookshop where Ferlinghetti in time has given them all away to people he thought might be interested.
Faithfully         K Rexroth

"Something has gone wrong" was so often repeated by Rexroth that it came to sum up his view of human affairs, that the noblest hopes and aims of humanity had been tragically perverted and betrayed by men out of tune with nature--a view arising from his struggles in the Industrial Workers of the World and the John Reed Clubs, as well as from his meticulous study of history. The poems that I had sent him were not those from the Iowa Workshop but some of my work published in News & Letters, the Marxist- Humanist newspaper directed by Raya Dunayevskaya. Having been Leon Trotsky's secretary in Mexico, she had later condemned the USSR as a state capitalist tyranny, counting on the self-organization and spontaneous rising of oppressed people worldwide, instead of on a vanguard party. In acclaiming News & Letters, Rexroth did not mean that he was a Trotskyist--neither was Dunayevskaya at this time--but that he agreed with one of Marx's fundamental ideas, derived from Hegel, that people had become alienated from nature, from work, from the products of work, and from themselves, especially through the capitalistic exploitation of labor. Rexroth also agreed with Dunayevskaya in going beyond Trotsky's condemnation of the USSR for betraying the revolution, and in her original thesis that the USSR had come to adapt a state-capitalist economy, not fundamentally different from western economies, though even more repressive. However, calling himself an anarchist instead of a Marxist, favoring communities of free-association over coercive collectivities, Rexroth argued that a betrayal of humanistic revolution had been inherent in Lenin's leadership of the Russian Revolution. The "book about the Negro" was Indignant Heart (New York: New Books, 1952), the autobiography of Matthew Ward, a Detroit auto worker up from the south and editor of News & Letters. Ferlinghetti's Pocket Bookshop was of course City Lights.

After moving to the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee I carefully garnered support, as the first poet on the faculty, to invite him to teach there. His reply of 25 October 1963 indicated a serious interest in teaching and a wish to revisit the midwest. Growing up in the Midwest, he had visited Milwaukee many times during his youth.

Dear Morgan Gibson:
      Yes, indeed, I would be very interested both in the position as writer-as-residence for 1964-65 and in participating in the Summer Fine Arts Festival.
      I think it should be possible for us to come to agreement fairly easily on the formal duties of such a position. My own feeling is that there should be enough work to prevent the kind of stultification which results from being handed a sinecure and being told to create. I for one enjoy a moderate amount of teaching and am reputed an infectious pedagogue.
      At the present time I am working as a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. I am not an employee but what is called in the newspaper business a contract writer. For this reason it would probably be wise to start working toward a decision before I have to make another year's commitment. I also teach a course in art history and appreciation at the San Francisco Art Institute but nothing has to be done in that matter until late spring. I would certainly prefer to take a leave of absence in both of these positions rather than abandon them entirely and this will take some arrangement both here and in New York with the newspaper job. My work is of such a nature that I could fly to Milwaukee for a visit if you think that is desirable.
      I was born in the middle west and grew up in Chicago but the pattern of my life has been such that I never expected to have the opportunity to return there for any length of time. Your invitation is more than welcome. It is welcomed with enthusiastic anticipation. I don't think I would be happy spending a year in the scenes of my childhood, a small Indiana town or the Chicago South Side, not as they have become today. Milwaukee is the ideal solution for something I've always wanted.
      Thank you very much and believe me I am most pleased and flattered to be considered.
       Faithfully, Kenneth Rexroth

On 28 May 1964, in a letter beginning "Dear Fellow Worker Gibson," he suggested how he liked to live, described his flat in San Francisco, and recalled old haunts in Chicago:

To give you an idea of my standard of living -- I live in a great, big Victorian flat in the moderately hincty section of the Black Belt, a sort of combination of the Near North Side and South Park... What I would prefer is a big room and kitchenette in an old house in Bohemia... It would be nice if it was big, like an ex-drawing room or so-called double drawing room so it could be used for seminars and such...     Faithfully, Kenneth Rexroth

Negotiations resulted in Rexroth's coming to Milwaukee for the summer, 1964, Fine Arts Festival, but not for the whole year. I had assumed from his belligerent essays and protest poems that he would be ferociously polemical at all times; but when we first met, on campus, he was staring at clouds over the library as if he had lost his senses, and I could not get him to speak as we toured the university. He was a tall, powerful man who looked down upon ordinary mortals like a tragic actor, sighing as if life had broken his heart. As his sad but sharp eyes peered intently at everything, he moved with great care, as if decades of mountain-climbing had warned him against slipping into crevasses. He vaguely muttered about insects and plants; then suddenly stopping near the ivied walls of Downer College across the street from my office, as tears filled his eyes he told me in a soft, trembling voice, as trustingly as if he had known me for years, how he had climbed that wall to spend the night with a girlfriend forty years before, during visits to Milwaukee from his home in Chicago.

Generally, he was quiet in the mornings, as if sleep had passed into meditation. As we walked through wooded parks that summer near the mansion overlooking Lake Michigan where he was staying, he would whistle bird songs and compare each flower with those in California and Europe, meticulously describing forms and colors. He got into conversations slowly, cautiously, then let 'er rip, the best talker I ever knew, outlandishly joking, bantering, arguing, recalling voluminous details about poets, revolutionists, forests, oceans, and lovers, playing back his life so I could see it unroll before my eyes just as it did later while reading An Autobiographical Novel, which he was planning then. His voice closely echoed his writings, but with dramatic extremes impossible in print, ranging from roars to whispers, sometimes rumbling like a mountain land-slide, sometimes soft as a forest breeze, unlike the urban voices of Eliot, Stevens, and Pound.

As we hiked around Milwaukee, he showed me hangouts of his youth, which he had visited while living in Chicago off and on from 1916 until 1927: German restaurants, the Pabst Theater, and the Turner Hall where he had debated socialists and communists before World War I and during the Red Scare after it--the years of "revolutionary hope" that he recounted in "For Eli Jacobson" and "The Bad Old Days," when he vowed to help save the world after seeing the ruined faces of children and workers near the Stockyards (CSP, 244-45 and 258-59). Recounting those dialectics, he seldom stopped discussing politics, literature, religion, history, or philosophy till long after midnight, bursting into songs from the Industrial Workers of the World and Spanish Anarchists. Here was a whole human being in which body, feeling, thought, and imagination creatively harmonized, the kind of person that universities are supposed to produce, but almost never do.

When I introduced him to my colleagues, I expected collisions, but the man who had condemned academics as "vaticides" (killers of vision) in "Thou Shalt Not Kill" conversed politely with them, impressing them with his encyclopedic knowledge, which most of them had been glimpsing in his many popular essays, if not from his poems and translations. He nearly always listened with patient attention to whatever was said, no matter how silly, and replied with measured words unless, occasionally outraged, he exploded, most often at pompous authorities in academe, government, and literature. But he urged me to criticize his ideas and poetry: "Go on," he would say, "tell me I'm full of shit!"

This enemy of academic conservatism, without any degrees, was perfectly at home in the classroom, introducing with immense erudition poets ancient and modern as if he had known each one face to face and dramatically reading aloud poetry of six centuries from the Auden/Pearson anthology, with tears in his eyes. Classroom teaching flowed in and out of his daily conversation with friends. After a poem, his voice would trail off as he stared at sunshine on a windowpane or leaves of a tree, lost in reverie.

Rexroth's relation to academe was as ambivalent during his lifetime as it is now, after his death. Despite his attacks on the narrow-mindedness of many academics, he was not above teaching at various universities, where he rigorously interpreted poetry in the spirit of communicating ideas that matter. He confided to me that he had even once considered going for a Ph. D., though he had dropped out of high school.. He admired true scholarship, which he practiced more conscientiously than many professors, and he became close friends with certain scholars in Japan, Europe, and the United States. His scholarship always nourished his poetry and his radical philosophical commitments.

He favored intellectual people over provincial radicals and Beats who had read no poetry before Howl. Asked at a poetry reading in Milwaukee if Allen Ginsberg were not the greatest seeker in the world, Rexroth replied, "Well, he sure ain't no finder." When a dignified lady asked his opinion of the arts in Milwaukee, he muttered, "Cultural wasteland. Not enough rich Jews." The audience gasped at this blunt praise of Jewish philanthropy. And when another lady asked reverently whether he had known Spender, he groaned, "Never ride in a VW bug with Stephen Spender. His breath will kill you." Attacking the commercialization of literature, he proclaimed that poetry is "the avocation of a gentleman," adding paradoxically that he wrote it "to fuck women and bring down the capitalist system." Also paradoxically, he had promoted feminism since his youth. Distrusting most men, he favored the company of women, whom he normally treated with old-world gallantry which is now condemned by feminists but which then attracted many liberated women.

After leaving Milwaukee, Rexroth fed ideas to me for Arts in Society, the journal published by the University of Wisconsin, for which I was poetry editor. On 15 February 1965 he wrote:

Dear Morgan:
      Would you like an essay on Literary Cubism and Pierre Reverdy and a selection of Reverdy's poems? This is my next book.
      Please write to Ruth Witt Diamant and Mark Linenthal for the Poetry Center. I think Ruth is in Japan. For years the Poetry Center was in fact the poetry readings and seminars at my house. When this activity became unmanageable, Robert Duncan, Madeleine Gleason and I set up the Poetry Center and got Ruth Witt Diamant to sponsor its readings at S. F. State College which was then downtown. Later we got a considerable amount of money from the Rockefeller Foundation and it became a semi-autonomous activity of the college. Today the school has completely absorbed it. Its days as the spearhead of the vanguard are long since gone and the intractables hereabouts refer to it as the anti-poetry center. Since local academia is pretty hip, anti-academia is really something, but I suppose they're right. I don't think you should do anything about the Poetry Center without letting Duncan, Ferlinghetti and Brother Antoninus speak their pieces in criticism of it.
      It's good you've got a new book coming up and thank you for the two poems... Faithfully, Kenneth Rexroth
P. S. I am asking my secretary Carol Tinker to send you some poems of hers. I think she's pretty good.

His essay on Reverdy, an important attempt to revive the "Revolution of the Word," first appeared elsewhere and became the introduction to Pierre Reverdy Selected Poems (1969). Instead of focusing on the Poetry Center I edited for Arts in Society a selection of poetry from San Francisco generally. My new book of poems was Mayors of Marble (Milwaukee: Great Lakes Books, 1966). The first collection of Carol Tinker's poems was in Four Young Women: Poems, edited by Rexroth (1973). She married Rexroth in 1974.

America's War in Vietnam

As opposition to America's war in Vietnam spread in massive demonstrations from coast to coast, Rexroth became increasingly distressed about the killing and the repression of dissent. During a poetry reading at the University of Illinois, where I drove him in 1967, he was so indignant at a professor who had pooh-poohed his condemnation of America's role in the war that he aimed a forefinger at him and shouted like Jeremiah, in the voice of "Thou Shalt Not Kill," "You are in the eye of the hurricane and you don't even know it!" As the master of ceremonies nervously tried to cut short the program, Rexroth stormed off the stage and refused to attend a reception.

He wrote on 7 January 1968: "Life goes on with us. People arrested at the Oakland sit-in the second time are being given an extraordinarily rough time. This is going on everywhere on direct telephone orders from LBJ [President Lyndon B. Johnson] - as I suppose you know." I did not know until he informed me.

I included Rexroth's poetry and essays in classes on anarchism and avant-garde literature offered by the Free University in Milwaukee sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society, as well as in my regular seminars. When he visited the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee again on 19 March 1968, I was surprised that in his public reading he did not present protest poetry. Instead, he featured The Heart's Garden, The Garden's Heart, the long poem about satori in Kyoto that initiated his Japanese phase and intensified my interest in Buddhism, which eventually brought me to Japan. Still an activist, I had trouble understanding that while sympathizing with opposition to the war, he had given up on its effectiveness, cultivating instead the Buddha's compassionate wisdom of resignation.

As always, he read my poems and offered help, writing on 7 May 1968 about the counterculture:

I think that both "Pilgrim Bones" and Mayors are very good & somebody should publish them. But they are in a style that most people who run the presses are just catching up with... I'd be glad to write something for the jacket or cover. Enclosed is the first half of a piece for a magazine that folded before it got into print. I can do as much again on the "counterculture." You can print it in that magazine at Madison if you want to and it still exists. Or anywhere else? Faithfully Kenneth LOVE TO ALL!

"Pilgrim Bones" was one of my poems, and Mayors of Marble my second book (Milwaukee: Great Lakes Books, 1966). I published his "Alienation" essay in Arts in Society. On 28 June 1968, his repudiation of an "interview" in a Madison little magazine indicates that he distrusted hippies as much as the establishment, although he generally supported countercultural values such as peace, love, and freedom:

Dear Morgan -
      That is quite a misrepresentation of me... It's all a little wrong everywhere - but then I never so much as mentioned Yvor Winters, Ruth Stone or Arts in Society. Several paragraphs are simply invented outright. It's saddening the amount of malevolence loose in the world, and not least among Love Children. [The interviewer] would be quite shocked if in the court of heaven he found himself convicted of exactly the same sin as the assassins of King and the Kennedys. What can you do?

He went on to exclaim about Kenneth Rexroth, the book that I had begun to write:

Really? A book about me? Honest? Gee!
I think the most civilized country is Finland & next, Sweden. Australia Mary [his older daughter] says is a 25 hour Elvis Presley movie.
      Need anything re/me? UCLA library has all my papers and has just published a bibliography.

I had asked his advice about leaving our warring country. The bibliography, by James Hartzell and Richard Zumwinkle, was published in 1967 as Kenneth Rexroth/a Checklist of His Published Writings, with a foreword by Lawrence Clark Powell. On 21 July 1968, he sent me, for my book, information about his family and ridiculed Nixon, Humphrey, Reagan, and other politicians. The photo that he mentions was later used in Revolutionary Rexroth

Did you take the pix? They're great! I could use 1/2 the head in front of the bank sign as a publicity photo. It's the best of me in ages... Looks like we'll all go to Santa Barbara for a school year. Why don't you come to SF & take over our house? Flat, rather. I like Montreal better than Vancouver in many ways. Mostly because it is French & has lots of cafes & good food & the life of a capital. Vancouver is sure pretty.
If it's Tweedledick and Tweedlehump this Fall [Nixon vs. Humphrey for president], people are going to flood out of the country. In California it will certainly be Max Rafferty [for governor]. No nation on earth has 3 top politicians like Rafferty, Reagan, Murphy. And do you realize that Wallace will get twice the percentage of vote of the W. German "Neo Nazis" who are far less reactionary? There isn't any part II of Alienation. Someday I'll do a companion piece on the "counterculture." Love to all Kenneth

The next day, he sent me the following open letter which I distributed to the Madison literati:

Dear Morgan Gibson:
      You can use the following in any way you see fit:
      That is quite a misrepresentation of my talk in "Quixote" [III, 4, Spring, 1968, pp. 85-86]. It is all a little wrong everywhere and conveys something totally different from my own tone and attitudes. Far more important, I never so much as mentioned Yvor Winters whom I greatly respect, Ruth Stone who I scarcely know but who I like and who had accompanied us to the lecture, or Arts in Society to which I contribute and of which you are I believe an editor. Several other paragraphs are simply invented outright. It is saddening to think of such irresponsible malevolence loose in the world and I certainly believe any steps should be taken to circumvent it and to repair the seemingly quite unmotivated injuries done to people I like.
      Faithfully, Kenneth Rexroth

When I queried him about teaching at San Francisco State University, he wrote on 3 August 1968, "Actually State has become so disorderly that all sorts of people are leaving or canceling." Perhaps because he was not writing specifically anti-war poetry at this time, he added, "The Anti-Vietnam forces won't print me. I've gone down the memory hole." He was joking because The Collected Longer Poems and Classics Revisited came out that year, The Collected Shorter Poems and An Autobiographical Novel had been selling well for two years, and most of his other books remained in print and were popular. When asked why his poems during the 1960's had been generally contemplative, without explicitly condemning racial discrimination, pollution, war, nuclear armaments, and other injustices, he replied that he had already made his statement in earlier poems such as "Thou Shalt Not Kill." His poetry was more prophetic and philosophical than protesting literalists could comprehend.

Rexroth became so disgusted with life in San Francisco, as drugs and violence became more threatening, that after living there for forty-one years he moved to Santa Barbara to teach at the University of California branch there. He made his permanent home in the suburb of Montecito till his death. On 20 Oct 68 he wrote:

Dear Morgan -
      This is the place for you. We don't want to leave. Been swimming in the ocean every day so far. Montecito is like California 50 years ago. UCSB is 12 miles away by freeway - the other side of town, surround[ed] by slurb full of professors. Isla Vista, the student village on the same sandbar as the university is a horror - a real ghetto - not like Harlem, more like Warsaw 1943. But it's all far away and I have two classes - Mon & Wed 10 to 12 Wed only 1 to 3--$15,600. (uneducated students! and how!) Mary, in the Creative College - is taking only graduate & upper division courses. Poetry seminar - "bullshit" she says, Medieval Literature, Renaissance Drama, Latin, Plato. Carol is potting. Jan is taking all sorts of things - nature hikes & abnormal psychology - the latter as a young girl's Baedeker I guess.
      Has Laughlin sent you proofs or advance copy of Collected Longer Poems? He said he would but he's been in Europe. You should talk to that girl at UW Madison - Cyrena N. Pondrom. Her interview goes on & on. Just got another letter & a blank tape. Also a really touching long paper by Gordon K Grigsby Ohio State U. (the one in Columbus. Dept of Eng. 26 pages - very nice.) Did you ever see Dorothy Van Ghent's thesis from Mills on me & Gertrude Stein & Laura Riding? Very "revolutionary of the word." I will send you something right away for Arts & Society.
      Get the records now coming out of readings & singing in the Theatre Odeon during the May Days.   Love to all     Kenneth

The Collected Longer Poems and The Collected Shorter Poems gathered together virtually all of Rexroth's poetry to date, excepting the plays and translations. From 1968 on his poetry would be fundamentally oriented around Japanese Buddhism, though he remained a Christian. Professor Pondrom's interview (in Contemporary Literature journal, 1969, and The Contemporary Writer, 1972. Professor Grigsby's "The Presence of Reality: the Poetry of Kenneth Rexroth" appeared in Antioch Review in1971, and Van Ghent's 1935 M. A. thesis at Mills College in 1935 was the best theoretical theoretical treatment of his cubist/objectivist poetry before Rachelle K. Lerner's dissertation in 1992. The Theatre Odean was a center in the May, 1968, student revolt in Paris that helped revive, momentarily, Rexroth's hope for worldwide liberation. (See relevant grafitti on Ken Knabb's Bureau of Public Secrets homepage.) Rexroth sent me "On His Thirty Third Birthday," his translation of a poem by Sheng Kung Fan, which I published in "The Arts of Activism," my special issue of Arts in Society in 1969. This contemplative poem by an ancient Chinese showed Rexroth's way of responding to the world crisis at that time.

Correcting notes for my first book on him in 1969, he wrote about Kerouac's The Dharma Bums (in which the anarchist poet Rheinhold Cacoethes is obviously modeled on Rexroth), "I never read the book." Why? He had despised its author since they had met at the reading of Ginsberg's "Howl" that had inaugurated the Beat Generation in 1955, and often ridiculed Kerouac's ignorance of oriental languages, pretentions of Buddhist wisdom, and drunken fits. Rexroth went on to comment on his own workshop at the University of California--Santa Barbara: "Class in 'Poetry & Song' went great. Produced several folky rocky numbers, four jazzy-torchy, 4 'art songs' with flute, bass, cello, viola, piano, a bit on the Vaughan Williams Bartok side - but atonal - or polyphonal. Giving a concert at end."


On the same page he answered my question as to why "Noretorp-Noretsyh," a tragic elegy for the Hungarian Revolt of 1956, had not been included in The Collected Shorter Poems after being published in the famous issue of Evergreen Review on "The San Francisco Scene" in 1957. He replied: "Noretorp-Noretsyh -- Hysterion-Proteron are oversight - just got omitted by accident." They have not been included in any of his books, but his reading of the former poem is recorded on "San Francisco Poets," Evergreen disk #1 (n. d.). In this poem he imagines Makno, Kropotkin, Gorky, Mayakovsky, and other dead heroes of revolution rising again, united in a unified voice of protest against the Russian repression of Hungary, victims in another revolution betrayed by so-called "revolutionaries." At the end, he cries out to his cycling lover, her skirt flaring in the wind like a butterfly of his erotic imagination which saves her, momentarily, from the evil of the world. One of the most powerful expressions of Rexroth's tragic sense of history and affirmation of love, this poem deserves close attention. Reading it, we can see why he doubted that the worldwide revolts of the 1960's could be successful, and why his later poetry focused on transcendent mysteries of love rather than on historical struggles for freedom. "Noretorp-Noretsyh," Rexroth's greatest anarchist poem epitomizing his tragic sense of revoluitionary history, appeared in Exquisite Corpse with an excellent essay by Donald Gutierrez, though regrettably not in any of Rexroth's books.

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