Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth
Beat Generation Writer
Rexroth's intersection with the Beat Generation vortex began in 1955. Initially he had nice things to say about Kerouac's "Jazz of the Beat Generation" which was published in New World Writing in April 1955. Philip Lamantia introduced Rexroth to Allen Ginsberg and on October 7, 1955 Rexroth was the master of ceremonies at the historic and legendary Six Gallery reading. Together with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Rexroth heavily influenced the San Francisco renaissance which became swept up in the vortex during the 1950s.
Rexroth was born in the midwest and moved to California when he was 22. For a time, he lived on the same street in Chicago as Al Capone. Early on he was politically active joining organizations like the League for the Struggle of Negro Rights. Less a communist or socialist than an anarchist, Rexroth's struggles against mankind's oppression of mankind were more outer-directed and political then personal. His private life records a series of complicated and complex relationships that were primarily dysfunctional and abusive.
His poetry, not always a reflection of his reality, is infused with a a lyrical quality that remains appealing. A post to the rec.arts.books newsgroup declares: "My rock bottom comfort book when nothing else helps: Kenneth Rexroth's translation: Poems From The Greek Anthology".
Rexroth translated Chinese, Japanese, French, and Greek poets and by many accounts was a powerful intellect with a broad range of knowledge. In a 1955 letter to the poet John Ciardi, Rexroth, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not, wrote that he wrote poetry "to seduce women and overthrow the capitalist system."
As the Beat Generation vortex became an identifiable movement during the second half of the 1950s, Rexroth who was fifteen to twenty years older then the principle Beat Generation members became the paterfamilias of the group. At least he was perceived this way by the popular culture. However, like much in the history of the Beats, Rexroth's relationship to the Beat writers and poets was complicated by personal developments.
Despite Rexroth's initially positive reaction to Kerouac's writing, he quickly revised his critical assessment. He panned On The Road when it was published in 1957 writing that Kerouac's style was "terrifying gibberish that sounds like a tape recording of a gang bang..." In 1958 he wrote to his wife that the Beats were "rotten and dishonest and disloyal." He had unkind comments for Mexico City Blues when it came out in 1959. Disdainfully he wrote that Kerouac's "Buddha is a dime-store incense burner, glowing and glowering sinisteringly in the dark corner of a Beatnik pad and just thrilling the wits out of bad little girls." A loving father of two daughters, Rexroth turned sinister to his so-called literary sons.
What caused the father to become so splenetic? The seed of the problem has less to do with aesthetics than erotics. In 1956 Rexroth had already been living with Marthe Larsen for six years. She was the mother of his two daughters. In April of that year, Marthe met the poet Robert Creeley and the two of them fell in love with each other. Rexroth was enraged. During this period, Creeley was spending a considerable amount of time with Kerouac and Ginsberg. Rexroth accused Kerouac of promoting Creeley's relationship with Marthe. This personal jealousy, most commentators conclude, affected Rexroth's ability to correctly evaluate Kerouac's work.
From our current vantage point, we would have to agree with the view that Rexroth is "not a Beat poet". Nor was he really the "father of the Beats" as he has sometimes been designated. Jack Kerouac, properly holds that title. But, like Kerouac, Rexroth contributed mightily to the literature of non-conformism. The fact that their personal relationship was infused with bad karma, does not diminish their respective contributions.
Rexroth, in the last analysis, should be seen as an eccentric Uncle to the Beats.
Kenneth RexrothYEAR TEAM POS BA AB H HR RBI 1983 Beats of .200 220 44 5 24 1987 Beats of .194 211 41 5 23 1995 Beats of .255 290 74 2 34 1996 Beats of .183 104 19 1 9 4 Seasons .216 825 178 13 90
The Classics According To Kenneth Rexroth
Rexroth at Literary Kicks
I Get Up at Dawn
by Lu Yu (1125-1209)When your teeth decay you cannot Grow new ones. When your hair falls Out you cannot plant it again. I get up at dawn and look At myself in the mirror. My face is wrinkled, my hair Is grey. I am filled with pity For the years that are gone like Spilt water. It can't be helped. I take a cup of wine and Turn to the bookcase once more. Back through the centuries I Visit Shun and Yu the Great And Kue Lung, that famous rowdy. Across three thousand years I Can still see them plainly. What does it matter? My flesh, Like theirs, wears away with time.--Rexroth translation
from One Hundred Poems from the Chinese
1997 Dharma Beats Roster
1997 Kenneth Rexroth Cosmic Player Plate
Published: December 24, 1996
© 1996, 1997 by the Cosmic Baseball Association