Aaron Shurin on Donald Allen

from Jacket #25 (February 2004)

Donald Allen (left) and Aaron Shurin

Donald Allen (1912–2004)

About 1982 Don Allen approached me to work with him as an editorial assistant for Grey Fox Press and Four Seasons Foundation. Had I met him before? I can’t remember, but probably so. My work-study job from New College was — get this! — to be Robert Duncan’s assistant (I had already known Robert well), but after two years or so that money ran out, and Don asked me to work for him. I wound up learning how to proof and copyedit, did some layout, some typing, and had the singular job of going through all of his correspondence in preparation of his papers going to San Diego. I was a pig in — well, gold: O’Hara, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Frechtman translating Genet, you know the list. They all passed through my hands before they settled down into the archives.

Don the editor: are there better books of poetry in the twentieth century than The New American Poetry (original version) or O’Hara’s Collected? Not for me. The world may have been smaller than, but even so what Don did was beyond remarkable. He was a champion of many, he had a foundational gay sensibility way before that term could be invented, he knew both the world and the underworld, somehow, and found a way to bridge them, and certainly how to bring the bottom up. I mean, in addition to all the poets we readily think about he was responsible for publishing Genet in the U.S.! As far as I know he really never stopped working: he was unstoppable.

[read more of this essay and more of this memorial feature on Donald Allen]