Wiki-adventure: Some American Poets


Thomas Merton Kenneth Rexroth

Thomas Merton and Kenneth Rexroth.

Morgan Gibson Charles Olson
Morgan Gibson and Charles Olson.

While reading 39 Microlectures by Goulish, I came across the name of Thomas Merton. I didn’t know anything about him, so I looked him up in Wikipedia. He was a famous theologian who died accidently in 1968 by electrocution on a poorly grounded fan in Bangkok. He was a monk, and also aninfluential thinker on poetry and spirituality.  I hope to borrow one of his books from a coworker who had heard of him and had a book.  I look forward to reading his works.  According to some, he had contemplated leaving his order and staying with Cid Corman in Kyoto and writing poetry.

Cid Corman was an influential American poet. He edited the magazine Origin and also translated Japanese poetry into English, although he could not speak Japanese. He lived with his Japanese wife in Kyoto and ran for a while CC’s Café, although I’m not sure if it still exists.

While googling it to try and find if it was still extant, I found a mention of it in letters that Kenneth Rexroth had written to Morgan Gibson, who was then a young student in the US planning to visit Japan. Rexroth wrote to Gibson warning him not to go to CC’s Coffee Shop because of the gaijin and gaijin lovers who hung out there. Instead, he suggested Gibson make Japanese friends (see my essay on the JET program). Rexroth has been called the “father of the Beat generation,” a description to which he replied, “an entomologist is not a bug.” Apparently he was later critical of the Beats. He wrote mostly love or erotic poetry. He was known for The Love Poems of Marichiko, which he claimed to be the translation of the poetry of a long-dead Japanese poet. It was later disclosed that he was the author, but instead of attacks Wikipedia says “he gained critical recognition for having conveyed so authentically the feelings of someone of another gender, culture, and time-period.”

Gibson, who is now an old man, also recently gave an interview with Metropolis, the Japanese free paper. Gibson still resides in Japan, and his poetry can be found here at his website, or here on the University of Chicago.

Charles Olson, was another poet associated with this group of poets. He is most famous for his work MaximusWikipedia says of Olson,

“Charles Olson was a giant, literally as well as figuratively. He is believed to have been about 6 foot 6-7 inches, and large for his height. He therefore tended to physically dominate any room he entered, which often made him uncomfortable.

Olson wrote copious personal letters, and was very helpful and encouraging to many young writers. He was fascinated with Mayan writing. Shortly before his death, he examined the possibility that Chinese and Indo-European languages derived from a common source.

He enjoyed hand-fishing for halibut in a small boat off Gloucester.”

It would be impossible to mention these poets without mentioning the Black Mountain College, which nurtured so many of America’s avant-garde artists in the mid-20th century including besides some of these poets, notable alumni include Fielding Dawson, Michael Rumaker, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne, Susan Weil, John Chamberlain, Ray Johnson, Kenneth Noland, Oli Sivhonen, Joel Oppenheimer, Jonathan Williams, Ruth Asawa, Robert De Niro, Sr., Cy Twombly, Basil King, and Kenneth Snelson. The college ran summer institutes from 1944 till its closing in 1956.

We’ll leave it there. 


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