Dorn, Ed

(1929–1999)
   Ed Dorn had the great fortune of being mentored by both charles olson (his intellectual father who wrote A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn, a tutorial reading list for Dorn to study the West) and kenneth rexroth. Many of his poems are politically charged, and like his friend ed sanders who helped inspire Dorn to become a cultural revolutionary, he did not shy away from making poetry and political responsibility synonymous. His empathy with the plight of Native Americans is well documented (one of Dorn’s grandfathers was half Indian and half French Quebecois), and his translations of Latin American poets are noteworthy. Dorn was one of the few students to actually graduate from Black Mountain College, receiving a B.A. in 1954 (robert creeley was the outside reader of his final exam).
   Born in Villa Grove, Illinois, on April 2, 1929, to a woman who was abandoned by a neal cassady– like railroad brakeman, Dorn spent time at the University of Illinois, Urbana and Eastern Illinois University, where art professor Ray Obermayr suggested that he look into Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Initially interested in becoming a painter and wanting to avoid the Korean War, Dorn enrolled at Black Mountain College (where he became interested in Wilhelm Reich, a figure of interest also to William S. Burroughs) before Olson became the rector. After a hiatus of a few years, Dorn returned to Black Mountain College and became determined to graduate. Olson encouraged Dorn to pursue a career as a poet. Dorn came under the influence of Rexroth when he moved to San Francisco in 1956. He met jack kerouac and allen ginsberg (both Dorn and Ginsberg worked as baggage handlers in the same Greyhound Bus Terminal immortalized in Ginsberg’s “In the Baggage Room at Greyhound” in Howl and otHer poems). Dorn later became close with LeRoi Jones (amiri baraka), who thought Dorn was one of the most intelligent men he ever met and one of the few white men who understood him. (Baraka broke his close ties with Dorn after he read Dorn’s poem “An Address for the First Woman to Face Death in Havana—Olga Herrara Marco,” about a woman who was accused of being an enemy of Cuba and whom Castro initially sentenced to death. Baraka called the poem “counter-revolutionary,” though the two would continue to correspond.)
   Dorn left his wife Helene for his student Jennifer Dunbar, the sister-in-law of Marianne Faithfull. In 1968 they witnessed firsthand the student revolts in Paris. While a prolific writer of poetry and prose, Dorn taught at Idaho State University, Pocatello; University of Essex, Colchester; University of Kansas, Lawrence; University of California, Riverside; University of California, San Diego; and the University of Colorado, Boulder. His masterpiece, GunslinGer, was published in complete form in 1975. It is one of the great American epic poems of the 20th century.
   Dorn died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Denver, Colorado, on December 10, 1999.
 Bibliography
■ Clark, Tom. Edward Dorn: A World of Difference. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic, 2002.
■ McPheron, William. Edward Dorn. Western Writers Series. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1988.
   Kurt Hemmer

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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