COMPLETE POEMS OF KENNETH REXROTH

Kenneth Rexroth, Author, Sam Hamill, Editor, Bradford Morrow, Editor . Copper Canyon $40 (764p) ISBN 978-1-55659-171-6

Born in the Midwest but predominantly known as a founding poet of the San Francisco renaissance, Rexroth (1905–1982) wrote from deep within multiple traditions of world literature, Eastern and Western philosophy, and radical politics. Rexroth published many of his 54 books with New Directions, and while a good number are in print, some editions are more than 30 years old. This volume, scrupulously edited by novelist and poet Morrow (Ariel's Crossing) and poet and Copper Canyon publisher Hammill, brings much disparate and previously uncollected material together chronologically, including Rexroth's brilliant long poem "The Dragon and the Unicorn." The difficulty of assigning Rexroth a comfortable place on syllabi contributes to his current invisibility: some of Rexroth's earliest efforts in verse are cubist-influenced (some were included in Zukofsky's "Objectivist" issue of Poetry magazine), but Rexroth made a decision to make his poetry less opaque relatively early in his career, creating a technique that mixed a classical structure with a romantic sensibility. From "Between Myself and Death": "A fervor parches you sometimes,/ And you hunch over it, silent,/ Cruel, and timid; and sometimes/ You are frightened with wantonness,/ And give me your desperation./ Mostly we lurk in our coverts,/ Protecting our spleens, pretending/ That our bandages are our wounds." Though Rexroth published translations from Greek, French, Chinese, and Japanese (including Japanese women writers, extremely rare for the time), this edition is obliged to exclude them. While a tireless promoter of younger poets and neglected contemporaries, Rexroth is largely remembered as the "father of the Beat generation" (a label he repeatedly rejected as when he told Time magazine, "An entomologist is not a bug"), but he was, and remains, a great poet in his own right. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 11/11/2002
Release date: 12/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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