It is late at night, cold and damp
The air is filled with tobacco smoke.
My brain is worried and tired.
I pick up the encyclopedia,
I don’t mind the human race.
I’ve got pretty used to them
In these past twenty-five years.
I don’t mind if they sit next
I pass your home in a slow vermilion dawn,
The blinds are drawn, and the windows are open.
The soft breeze from the lake
Remember that breakfast one November —
Cold black grapes smelling faintly
Of the cork they were packed in,
Hard rolls with hot, white flesh,
The summer of nineteen eighteen
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall
They are murdering all the young men.
For half a century now, every day,
Somebody has given my
Baby daughter a box of
Old poker chips to play with.
Today she hands me one while
In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
The mountain road ends here,
Broken away in the chasm where
The bridge washed out years ago.
The first scarlet larkspur glitters
Under your illkempt yellow roses,
Delia, today you are younger
Than your son. Two and a half decades –
The family monument sagged askew,
The stars of the Great Bear drift apart
The Horse and the Rider together northeastward
Alpha and Omega asunder
There are sparkles of rain on the bright
Hair over your forehead;
Your eyes are wet and your lips
Wet and cold, your cheek rigid with cold.
It is spring once more in the Coast Range
Warm, perfumed, under the Easter moon.
The flowers are back in their places.
A thing unknown for years,
Rain falls heavily in June,
On the ripe cherries, and on
The half cut hay.
It is the dark of the moon.
Late at night, the end of summer,
The autumn constellations
Glow in the arid heaven.
Uniformly over the whole countryside
The warm air flows imperceptibly seaward;
The autumn haze drifts in deep bands
Over the pale water;
For a month now, wandering over the Sierras,
A poem had been gathering in my mind,
Details of significance and rhythm,
Under the orchards, under
The tree strung vines, little blue
Figures are making hay, high
On the steep hillsides above
You were a girl of satin and gauze
Now you are my mountain and waterfall companion.
Long ago I read those lines of Po Chu I
an American poet, translator and critical essayist. He is regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance, and paved the groundwork for the movement. Although he did not consider himself to be a Beat poet, and disliked the association, he was one of the major influences on the Beat generation, and was once dubbed "Father of the Beats" by Time. He was among the first poets in the United States to explore traditional Japanese poetic forms such as haiku. Rexroth had two daughters, Mary (who later changed her name to Mariana) and Katharine, by his third wife, Marthe Larsen. Early Years Rexroth was born Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth in South Bend, Indiana, the son of Charles Rexroth, a pharmaceuticals salesman, and Delia Reed. His childhood was troubled by his father's alcoholism and his mother's chronic illness. Rexroth was homeschooled by his mother, and by age four he was reading widely in the Classics. His mother died in 1916 and his father in 1918, after which he went to live with his aunt in Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago. He spent his teenage years as an art student and soda jerk, along with other odd jobs. In 1923—1924 he was imprisoned during a raid on a Near North Side bar that he frequented, allegedly for being partial owner of a brothel. He lived in a decrepit jail cell under the care of four black cellmates until his legal guardian could bail him out. While in Chicago, he frequented the homes and meeting places of political radicals, quickly identifying with the concerns of an agitated proletarian class and reciting poetry from a soapbox to excited crowds on street corners downtown. Travels An aborted attempt at a trip around the world with a friend piqued his interest in the American Southwest, and he began a tour through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, moving up and down the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. He moved back east to Greenwich Village and attended The New School for a while before dropping out to live as a postulant in Holy Cross Monastery (West Park, New York). The lifestyle of meditation, silence and artistic creation suited him marvelously, and he later recalled it as the happiest time of his life. However, he felt strongly that he did not have a vocation there, and left with a solidified admiration for the communal rites and values of monasticism. At age nineteen, he hitchhiked across the country, taking odd jobs and working a stint as a Forest Service trail crew hand, cook, and packer in the Pacific Northwest, at the Marblemount Ranger Station. Later he was able to board a steamship in Hoboken, exploring Mexico and South America before spending a week in Paris to meet many notable avant-garde figures, notably Tristan Tzara and the Surrealists. He considered staying on in Paris, but an American friend urged him not to become just another expatriate and he returned home. After meeting his first wife, he moved to San Francisco; he would live in California the rest of his life. Love, Marriage, Sacrament Rexroth viewed love for another person as a sacramental act that could connect one with a transcendent, universal awareness. In his introduction to his poem The Phoenix and the Tortoise, Rexroth articulated his understanding of love and marriage: "The process as I see it goes something like this: from abandon to erotic mysticism, from erotic mysticism to the ethical mysticism of sacramental marriage, thence to the realization of the ethical mysticism of universal responsibility." In other words, love was a key to truly realizing one's existence, something that could be cemented and validated in the long run by wedded union. Rexroth married Andrée Dutcher in 1927, a commercial artist from Chicago. He claimed to have fallen in love with her at first sight when he saw her in the doorway of the apartment building he was renting. He encouraged Dutcher to pursue non-commercial painting, and she gave him feedback on his writing. The two shared many interests and what Rexroth described as a perfect relationship. Their marriage deteriorated, however, and the couple was divorced near Rexroth's 35th birthday. Andrée died of complications from epilepsy shortly after, in 1940. Her death triggered great sadness in Rexroth, who wrote a number of elegiac poems in her honor. Within a year of Andrée's death, Rexroth married the nurse and poet Marie Kass. They opened up their home to weekly literary discussions, anti-war protesters, and Japanese-American convalescents avoiding internment. The two separated in 1948. In 1949, Rexroth traveled to Europe with Marthe Larsen. The two were married in Aix-en-Provence despite Rexroth still being legally married to Marie. When the couple returned to the USA, Marthe was pregnant. They had had two daughters, Mary and Katherine, by 1955, when Rexroth's divorce from Marie finally came through. In 1956, Marthe fell in love with the poet, Robert Creeley, and she later left Kenneth despite his desperate pleas for her to stay. Rexroth later removed all instances of her name from his poetry. After living in San Francisco for 41 years, Rexroth moved to Santa Barbara in 1968. He taught two courses at UCSB. After a few years, he married Carol Tinker, his longtime assistant. They remained married until Rexroth's death in 1982. Poetic Influences Much of Rexroth's work can be classified as "erotic" or "love poetry," given his deep fascination with transcendent love. According to Hammil and Kleiner, "nowhere is Rexroth's verse more fully realized than in his erotic poetry". His poetry is marked by a sensitivity to Asian forms as well as an appreciation of Ancient Greek lyric poetry, particularly that of Sappho. Rexroth's poetic voice is similar to that of Tu Fu (whom he translated), expressing indignation with the inequities of the world from an existential vantage. During the 1970s Rexroth, along with the scholar Ling Chung, translated the notable Sung Dynasty poet Li Ch'ing-chao and an anthology of Chinese women poets, titled The Orchid Boat. With The Love Poems of Marichiko, Rexroth claimed to have translated the poetry of a contemporary, "young Japanese woman poet," but it was later disclosed that he was the author, and he gained critical recognition for having conveyed so authentically the feelings of someone of another gender and culture. Linda Hamalian, his biographer, suggests that, "translating the work of women poets from China and Japan reveals a transformation of both heart and mind". Rexroth's poetry, essays and journalism reflect his interests in jazz, politics, culture, and ecology. The Beat Generation With Rexroth acting as master of ceremonies, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen read at the famous poetry-reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955. Rexroth later served as a defense witness at Ginsberg's obscenity trial concerning the event. Rexroth had previously sent Ginsberg (new in the Bay Area) to meet Snyder, and was thus responsible for their friendship. Lawrence Ferlinghetti named Rexroth as one of his own mentors. Rexroth was eventually critical of the Beat movement. Years after the Six Gallery reading, TIME magazine referred to him as "Father of the Beats." To this he replied, "an entomologist is not a bug." Rexroth appears in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums as the character Reinhold Cacoethes. Critical Work Rexroth wrote a large body of literary and cultural criticism, much of which has been compiled in anthologies. His incisive views of topics ranging from D. H. Lawrence to gnosticism testify to his familiarity with the world and extensive self-education. In 1973, Rexroth wrote the Encyclopædia Britannica article on "literature". Despite the value of his critical prose, he dismissed these works as being financially motivated. In the introduction to Bird in the Bush: Obvious Essays, he wrote that "practicing writers and artists notoriously have very little use for critics. I am a practicing writer and artist. ... Poets are very ill advised to write prose for anything but money. The only possible exceptions are anger and logrolling for one’s friends." A notable exception would appear to be his long association with KPFA, the Berkeley listener-supported, non-commercial FM station. Prior to its going on the air in 1949, its founder Louis Hill outlined his plans to a gathering of San Francisco artists and writers who met in Rexroth's apartment. For years Rexroth presented "Books", a spasmodic half-hour weekly program of reviews which he ad libbed into a tape recorder at home. Much of his prose writing, including his Autobiography, began as KPFA broadcasts. Teaching Rexroth was a lecturer at the University of California, Santa Barbara from 1968 to 1973. He became famous among students—and infamous with the administration—for his witty and inflammatory remarks on trends of anti-intellectualism and laziness on campus. His classes were quite popular amongst his students, and they usually began with him expounding good-naturedly on whatever subject took his fancy at the time, Rexroth taking the mantle of favored Uncle to a collection of appreciative "nieces and nephews". Students were encouraged to write their own poetry and then recite it. One incident during his class was fairly explosive, however. A male student started to recite his own work, a jumbled, jokey misogynistic piece exulting in violence towards women. Rexroth stopped the reading, mid-stream, angrily eviscerated the student to the astonishment of others in the class, and banished the offender from ever setting foot in his class again. Such was Rexroth's respect and dedication to the idea of transcendental love between a man and a woman. Politics As a young man in Chicago, Rexroth was heavily involved with the anarchist movement (and was active in the IWW), attending and participating in politically charged readings and lectures. He was a regular at meetings of the Washington Park Bug Club, a loose assemblage of various intellectuals and revolutionaries. Such relationships allowed him to recite poems by other writers as well as gain experience with the political climate and revolutionary currents of the day. Lawrence Ferlinghetti recalled that Rexroth self-identified as a philosophical anarchist, regularly associated with other anarchists in North Beach, and sold Italian anarchist newspapers at the City Lights Bookstore. His ideas later fermented into a concept of what he termed the "social lie:" that societies are governed by tactics of deception in order to maintain a hierarchy of exploitation and servitude. He saw this as pervasive in all elements of culture, including popular literature, education, and social norms. Rexroth, a pacifist, was a conscientious objector during World War II and was actively involved with helping Japanese-American internees. Last Years Rexroth died in Santa Barbara in 1982. He had spent his final years translating Japanese and Chinese women poets, as well as promoting the work of female poets in America and overseas. He is buried on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Cemetery Association overlooking the sea, and while all the other graves face inland, his alone faces the Pacific. His epitaph reads, "As the full moon rises / The swan sings in sleep / On the lake of the mind." According to association records, he is interred near the corner of Island and Bluff boulevards, in Block C of the Sunset section, Plot 18.)
Gic To Har
It is late at night, cold and damp
The air is filled with tobacco smoke.
My brain is worried and tired.
I pick up the encyclopedia,
The volume GIC to HAR,
It seems I have read everything in it,
So many other nights like this.
I sit staring empty-headed at the article Grosbeak,
Listening to the long rattle and pound
Of freight cars and switch engines in the distance.
Suddenly I remember
Coming home from swimming
In Ten Mile Creek,
Over the long moraine in the early summer evening,
My hair wet, smelling of waterweeds and mud.
I remember a sycamore in front of a ruined farmhouse,
And instantly and clearly the revelation
Of a song of incredible purity and joy,
My first rose-breasted grosbeak,
Facing the low sun, his body
Suffused with light.
I was motionless and cold in the hot evening
Until he flew away, and I went on knowing
In my twelfth year one of the great things
Of my life had happened.
Thirty factories empty their refuse in the creek.
On the parched lawns are starlings, alien and aggressive.
And I am on the other side of the continent
Ten years in an unfriendly city.
When the newspapers have got nothing else to talk about, they cut loose on the young. The young are always news. If they are up to something, that's news. If they aren't, that's news too.