Rexroth, Kenneth

   Popularly known as “the godfather of the Beats,” Kenneth Rexroth criticized them as wisely as he inspired and promoted them. Born a generation before allen ginsberg, gary snyder, michael mcclure, philip lamantia, and philip whalen, all of whom he enthusiastically introduced in San Francisco as the M. C. of the famous Six Gallery poetry reading of October 7, 1955, Rexroth was already achieving international fame as a leader of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. He was a philosophical, mystical, intensely erotic poet of love and rebellion, a translator from Asian and European languages, a cubist painter, and an influential cultural critic. He had also published poetic dramas on classical subjects, had advocated anarchism as an alternative to both capitalism and communism, and had been active in the Industrial Workers of the World.
   Though the exact influence of Rexroth’s “thou shalt not kill: a memorial for dylan thomas” (written 1953–54, published 1955) on Ginsberg’s “howl” (1956) is debatable, the older poet’s comprehensive outraged lament for visionary poets who were destroyed by the culture of death intensified underground rebellion against the cold-war nuclear arms race. Recorded with jazz accompaniment, it remains the most powerful reminder of his many innovative performances with music. Remaining closest to Snyder, with whom he profoundly shared the values of Buddhism and environmentalism, Rexroth cheered Beat poets for their boldly individualistic creativity, but he ridiculed the commercialized stereotypes of beatniks and, later, hippies.
   Born on December 22, 1905, in South Bend, Indiana, Rexroth grew up in Chicago. After his parents, cosmopolitan bohemians who encouraged his genius, died when he was a child, he precociously developed as a poet, a painter, and a revolutionary orator during the Chicago literary renaissance and lived in poverty. Expelled from public high school, he visited some classes at the University of Chicago, began to learn and translate Chinese and Japanese, but never matriculated or received a degree. In An Autobiographical Novel (1966) he tells of his adventurous development in Chicago and elsewhere until 1927 when he hitchhiked with his bride Andre Dutcher, an anarchist painter, to San Francisco where he lived until, disgusted by the prevailing drug culture, he moved to Santa Barbara in 1968. There he resided, except for frequent poetry tours to Europe and Asia, until his death 14 years later at the peak of his international fame. Meanwhile, he had been married three more times and had two daughters.
   Readers have converged on Rexroth’s work from several directions. Those primarily interested in the art of poetry discover in his a remarkable range of forms and techniques: haiku, tanka, ballads, love lyrics, elegies, free verse, hilarious satires, bawdy limericks, song lyrics, travel poems, epistolary poems, cubist poems, philosophical epics, Buddhist meditations, even a bestiary, on and on. Besides The Complete Poems (2003), his tetralogy of tragic verse plays was published as Beyond the Mountains (1951).
   Moreover, many readers who are interested in poetry from non-English cultures have delighted in Rexroth’s manifold and popular translations from Japanese, Chinese, French, Spanish, Latin, and Greek. Though his translations have not yet been collected in a single volume, many of his books from individual languages are still in print. Even readers who do not ordinarily read poetry have become fans of Rexroth’s brilliant cultural criticism, which originally were published in many periodicals and then were collected in a dozen books such as Bird in the Bush (1959) and Assays (1961), which accurately predicted 1960’s countercultural movements from underground rumblings. Classics Revisited (1968) and Communalism: Its Origins to the Twentieth Century (1974) profoundly link certain traditional values with contemporary countercultural values: love, beauty, prophetic vision, justice, aesthetic creativity, and cooperative utopianism, among others. His long article on literature in the 1974 Encyclopedia Britannica and his books of literary criticism established him as an erudite literary scholar and influential critic outside the academy, challenging its cant, canons, fads, and dogmas. A selection of Rexroth’s most widely read essays is World Outside the Window (1987). Rexroth’s exploration and expression of Japanese culture deepened during his poetry tours of Asian nations between 1967 and 1982, accompanied by the poet Carol Tinker after their marriage in 1974. His major creations from this experience of Asia were a long Zen poem called The Heart’s Garden, the Garden’s Heart and a sequence of erotic, tantric poems that he published as his translations from a Japanese woman, though he had actually created them as well as the persona in The Love Songs of Marichiko (1978).
   Readers of much of Rexroth’s work have been intrigued by his synthesis of diverse values from Asian and Western traditions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, expressing them in a variety of poetic forms and avant-garde innovations. He was a poet of love and justice, philosophical rationality and mystical realization, individuality that voluntarily cooperates with others for the common good, and nonviolent rebellion against oppression. The achievements and limitations of Beat writers can be more deeply understood in the context of his worldview. Books and papers by and about Rexroth are in libraries at UCLA, SUNY–Buffalo, the University of Chicago (The Morgan Gibson Collection in the Regenstein Library), and Kanda University of International Studies (where 13,000 volumes of his personal library are in a special collection, with some information online).
■ Gibson, Morgan. Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East-West Wisdom. Hamden, Conn.: The Shoe String Press, 1985. The Expanded Internet Edition (2000) with Rexroth’s Letters to Gibson (1957–79) is at Karl Young’s Light & Dust site. Available online. URL:, Kennethgrist/ld/rexroth/gibson.htm.
■ Gutierrez, Donald. “The Holiness of the Real”: the Short Verse of Kenneth Rexroth. Madison and Teaneck, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1996.
■ Hamalian, Linda. A Life of Kenneth Rexroth. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991.
■ Knabb, Ken. The Relevance of Rexroth and Rexroth Archives. The best source on and about Rexroth’s work is available online at the Bureau of Public Secret. URL: Of special interest is the survey of worldwide celebrations of the 2005 centenary of Rexroth’s birth, organized by John Solt and others.
   Morgan Gibson

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Rexroth, Kenneth — born Dec. 22, 1905, South Bend, Ind., U.S. died June 6, 1982, Santa Barbara, Calif. U.S. painter, essayist, poet, and translator. The largely self educated Rexroth spent much of his youth traveling in the West, organizing and speaking for unions …   Universalium

  • Rexroth, Kenneth — (22 dic. 1905, South Bend, Ind., EE.UU.–6 jun. 1982, Santa Barbara, Cal.). Pintor, ensayista, poeta y traductor estadounidense. Rexroth, autodidacta de formación pasó gran parte de su juventud viajando por el oeste de los EE.UU., y trabajando… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Rexroth,Kenneth — Rex·roth (rĕksʹrôth ), Kenneth. 1905 1982. American writer and translator known especially for his poetry, collected in volumes such as The Phoenix and the Tortoise (1944) and In Defense of Earth (1956). * * * …   Universalium

  • Rexroth, Kenneth —    см. Рексрот, Кеннет …   Писатели США. Краткие творческие биографии

  • Kenneth Rexroth — (December 221905 ndash; June 61982) was an American poet, translator and critical essayist. He was among the first poets in the United States to explore traditional Japanese poetic forms such as haiku. He is regarded as a chief figure in the San… …   Wikipedia

  • Kenneth — /ken ith/, n. a male given name: from an Irish word meaning handsome. * * * (as used in expressions) Arrow Kenneth Joseph Burns Kenneth Lauren Clark of Saltwood Kenneth Mackenzie Clark Baron Galbraith John Kenneth Grahame Kenneth Hines Earl… …   Universalium

  • Kenneth — (as used in expressions) Arrow, Kenneth J(oseph) Burns, Ken(neth Lauren) Clark, Kenneth (Mackenzie), barón Galbraith, John Kenneth Grahame, Kenneth George Kenneth Griffey, Jr. Hines, Earl (Kenneth) Reginald Kenneth Dwight Kaunda, Kenneth (David)… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Kenneth Rexroth — Activités poète, traducteur Naissance 22 décembre 1905 Décès 6 juin 1982 (à 76 ans) Mouvement Renaissance de San Francisco Genres …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Kenneth Rexroth — (22 de diciembre de 1905 6 de junio de 1982) fue un escritor, poeta y artista estadounidense. Es considerado uno de los padres de la Contracultura norteamericana. Rexroth tuvo dos hijas, Mary (quien más tarde cambió su nombre a Mariana) y… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Kenneth Rexroth — (* 22. Dezember 1905 in South Bend, Indiana; † 6. Juni 1982 in Santa Barbara, Kalifornien) war ein US amerikanischer Dichter, Essayist und Literaturkritiker. Er gilt als ein „Vater“ der Beat Generation. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Biografie …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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