Saturday, August 21, 2010


"Once upon a midnight dreary,
while Molly pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded nearly napping,
suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping,
rapping at my chamber door-
'Tis some visitor, I muttered,
'tapping at my chamber door-Only this, and nothing more".

Wrong again. Just when you thought it was safe to hit the absinthe and laudanum once more the cultural raven maven brings you another edition of 'Molly's Poetry Corner'. Our subject this time around is the American anarchist poet Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982). Rexroth actually lived a somewhat pedestrian life as compared to some of the poets featured here before. After being orphaned by the age of 13 he went to live with an aunt in Chicago where he enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago. The only truly outré aspect of his life occurred there when he was arrested at a raid on one of the bars that he frequented in either 1923 or 1924. He was charged with being part owner of a brothel on the bar premises. If true it would show precocious enterprise as he would have been only 18 or 19 at the time. Or maybe that was just his bar tab.

While in Chicago Rexroth became involved with the anarchist movement and was also active in the IWW. This remained with him throughout his life and informed much of his subsequent literary work. In his time in Chicago he gained a reputation as a "soapbox poet". During WW2 he was an conscientious objector, and he worked during the duration to help Japanese Americans avoid internment. Other interests included poetry from a number of different cultures, and in addition to his own work Rexroth was the author of numerous translations of poetry from Greek, French, Chinese and Japanese, concentrating on the work of women authors.

Much of Rexroth's life was spent in California where he associated with the anarchists and was briefly (1968-1973) a lecturer at the University of California in Santa Barbara. While he was popular with the students he was an irritant to the administration. He was a seminal member of the 'Beat Poets', acting as "master of ceremonies" at the 1955 'Six Gallery Reading' where Allen Ginsberg first read 'Howl'. He was later a defence witness for Ginsberg at the obscenity trial that resulted from this event. When Rexroth died in 1982 he was buried in the Santa Barbara Cemetery Association graveyard, his grave being the only one to face outwards to the sea. His epitaph reads, "As the full moon rises/The swan sings in sleep/On the lake of the mind".

You can read more about Rexroth in the link above. Almost all of his works, poetic and otherwise, are available at the Bureau of Public Secrets website. In addition to his literary output he was a prolific writer on many other subjects, political and otherwise. This blog has previously published one of his essays on 'the police' back in 2008. The following poem 'From the Paris Commune To The Kronstadt Rebellion' was originally published in 1936.
Remember now there were others before this;
Now when the unwanted hours rise up,
And the sun rises red in unknown quarters,
And the constellations change places,
And cloudless thunder erases the furrows,
And moonlight stains and the stars grow hot.
Though the air is fetid, conscripted fathers,
With the black bloat of your dead faces;
Though men wander idling out of factories
Where turbine and hand are both freezing;
And the air clears at last above the chimneys;
Though mattresses curtain the windows;
And every hour hears the snarl of explosion;
Yet one shall rise up alone saying:
“I am one out of many, I have heard
Voices high in the air crying out commands;
Seen men’s bodies burst into torches;
Seen faun and maiden die in the night air raids;
Heard the watchwords exchanged in the alleys;
Felt hate speed the blood stream and fear curl the nerves.
I know too the last heavy maggot;
And know the trapped vertigo of impotence.
I have traveled prone and unwilling
In the dense processions through the shaken streets.
Shall we hang thus by taut navel strings
To this corrupt placenta till we’re flyblown;
Till our skulls are cracked by crow and kite
And our members become the business of ants,
Our teeth the collection of magpies?”
They shall rise up heroes, there will be many,
None will prevail against them at last.
They go saying each: “I am one of many”;
Their hands empty save for history.
They die at bridges, bridge gates, and drawbridges.
Remember now there were others before;
The sepulchres are full at ford and bridgehead.
There will be children with flowers there,
And lambs and golden-eyed lions there,
And people remembering in the future.

No comments: