From Publishers Weekly
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 entomo st is not a bug"), but he was, and remains, a great poet in his own right.
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Although his translations of classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, his promotion of the Beat poets, and his literary journalism made him famous, Rexroth (1905-82) was first a fine original poet. As coeditor Hamill notes in the introduction here, Rexroth was a neoclassicist serving the avant-garde, like Ezra Pound before him and James Laughlin, who published him and his enthusiasms at New Directions, with him. His most characteristic poetry consists of short erotic and reflective lyrics that reflect his knowledge--fundamentally self-taught--of classical Western as well as Eastern literature, of Catullus as well as Tu Fu; and of long, philosophical, politically radical (anarchist) narrative travel poems. He experimented a bit with peculiarly modernist literary manners, such as literary cubism, but settled on a seven-syllable line as his distinctive medium for original poetry. Most of the latter 500 pages of this book is in that line, and if you love looking things up and taking reading side-trips, Rexroth is one of the most readable and rewarding twentieth-century American poets. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved