Paul Blackburn

Yankee go home (PoemTalk #59)

Paul Blackburn, '7th Game: 1960 Series'

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Paul Blackburn performed his poem “7th Game : 1960 Series,” which had been written in 1960, on or near the first day of the 1971 baseball season, during a reading he gave at SUNY Cortland. The poem was later republished in Blackburn’s Collected Poems (here is a PDF copy). The New York Yankees (Blackburn’s team) were heavy favorites in their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and vastly outscored the underdogs in the seven games. But the Pirates won on a home run by a light-hitting second baseman in the final at-bat of the final game (what we now call a “walk off”). As Blackburn introduces the poem, the Cortland audience laughs; listeners to the audio-only recording now might be confused by this, but we think you can safely guess that Blackburn had just put on his Yankee cap.

Yankee go home (PoemTalk #59)

Paul Blackburn, "7th Game: 1960 Series"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Paul Blackburn performed his poem “7th Game : 1960 Series,” which had been written in 1960, on or near the first day of the 1971 baseball season, during a reading he gave at SUNY Cortland. The poem was later republished in Blackburn’s Collected Poems (here is a PDF copy). The New York Yankees (Blackburn’s team) were heavy favorites in their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and vastly outscored the underdogs in the seven games. But the Pirates won on a home run by a light-hitting second baseman in the final at-bat of the final game (what we now call a “walk off”). As Blackburn introduces the poem, the Cortland audience laughs; listeners to the audio-only recording now might be confused by this, but we think you can safely guess that Blackburn had just put on his Yankee cap.

Creeley on Blackburn

From Jacket #12 (July 2000)

Editors’ note: Preface to Against the Silences, by Paul Blackburn, published by  The Permanent Press, London and New York, 1981.  Reprinted with permission from The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989. — Jacket2

I’D LIKE TO SPEAK personally of this extraordinary poet, and take that license insofar as these poems are personal, often bitterly so. I wonder if any of us have escaped the painful, self-pitying and meager defenses of person so many of them invoke. What we had hoped might be, even in inept manner worked to accomplish, has come to nothing — and whose fault is that, we ask. Certainly not mine? Having known both of these dear people, and myself, I have to feel that there will never be a human answer, never one human enough.

When Paul Blackburn died in the fall of 1971, all of his company, young and old, felt a sickening, an impact of blank, gray loss. I don’t know what we hoped for, because the cancer which killed him was already irreversibly evident — and he knew it far more literally than we. But his life had finally come to a heartfelt peace, a wife and son so dear to him, that his death seemed so bitterly ironic.

Recalling now, it seems we must have first written to one another in the late forties, at the suggestion of Ezra Pound, then in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. We shared the same hopes for poetry, the same angers at what we considered its slack misuses. Paul was without question a far more accomplished craftsman than I and one day, hopefully, the evidence of his careful readings of the poems I sent him then will be common information.

Martha King on reading Paul Blackburn

From Jacket #12 (July 2000)

Painting of Joan and Paul Blackburn by Basil King (left); Martha King (right).

Note: This article by Martha King was based on a presentation she gave at a panel on Paul Blackburn, at the Poetry Project in New York, in 1991 [?]. Other panelists included Armand Schwerner, Edith Jarolim, Robert Creeley, and David Abel. (The references are to Edie Jarolim’s edition of Blackburn’s Collected Poems.)

When I told Basil [King] I’d been asked to talk on Paul at this panel he asked me what I wanted to say — we were walking down the street in our Brooklyn neighborhood — my answer popped out: ‘that strange hollow voiced singer of the city.’ On the theory that first thought might just be best, I’ll start there.

So why was my first thought “hollow.” It means empty in the middle. Like the woodwinds. Their sound comes from that. It’s a very old thing to think of a poet as a reed. Missing at the core. And therefore what is taken in will be released reverberating, as song.

But Blackburn’s been savagely critiqued for this quality. By people who have freely crossed the lines between reading the text and psychoanalyzing the writer. I mean even to the unbelievably grotesque suggestion — by Clayton Eshleman in his essay “The Gull Wall” — that Paul wouldn’t have died of cancer if he’d been able to overcome his negative feelings about women.

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