Commentaries - May 2008

from the gut, not its queasy contents

Paul Blackburn, at right, attempts to lift a boulder.

Poet Robert Sward (in California) sent us a question during Tuesday morning's live interactive webcast featuring Jerome Rothenberg (see below). Robert asked us to ask Jerry about Paul Blackburn. Here's part of Robert's blog entry on Jerry's response:

Invited to email question(s) for Jerry Rothenberg April 29 webcast, I think of my old friend Paul Blackburn, poet and translator who died in 1971 at age 44. Given Rothenberg's work with Ethnopoetics, I recall Blackburn introducing, opening up a whole new world of poetry... reading aloud for me his translations from Spanish of the medieval epic Poema del Mio Cid, of the poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca, Octavio Paz and the short stories of Julio Cortazar. Paul at the time (mid-1960s) was Cortazar's literary agent in the U.S.

Question: "Paul Blackburn was a dear and valued friend. I knew him in New York in the 1960s and it was Paul who introduced me and other writers to Julio Cortazar, Garcia Lorca, Octavio Paz... and Provençal poetry. To what extent did Paul Blackburn influence you and your work with Ethnopoetics?"

Rothenberg's moving response is now online--one can tap into the Writers House archives for his reply--but two points in particular stand out: 1) that Paul Blackburn, born the same year as Robert Creeley, "is the equal of Creeley as a poet," 2) and that Paul is something of a "lost poet," one who died young and did not put himself forward as Creeley had done, commenting and serving as spokesman for the Black Mountain School, for example. Paul chose not to align himself, or to allow others to align him with, the Black Mountain School or any other school.

Here is Sward's blog entry in full.

The sensibility shared by Blackburn and Rothenberg can be seen easily in this statement about poetics (in verse) by Blackburn:

I do not claim that a greater frequency of rhyme than is now made use of
in American poetry will, in time, set things right.

Only that if a man could sing the poems his poets write

- and could understand them - and if

the poets would sing something from their guts, rather than
the queasy contents of same,
then that man would stand a better
chance, of being a whole man, than
him who stands or sits and says but 'Yes' all day.