The Relevance of Rexroth



Copyright Information
Notes to Chapter 1
Notes to Chapter 2
Notes to Chapter 3



Copyright Information

The Relevance of Rexroth
as a whole is not copyrighted. However, all the quotations in it from Kenneth Rexroth’s works are copyrighted. Quotations from his prose writings are reproduced by permission of Bradford Morrow, Literary Executor for the Kenneth Rexroth Trust (21 East 10th St. #3E, New York, NY 10003). Quotations from his poems are reproduced by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation (80 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10011) and Copper Canyon Press (P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368).



[Information added since the original 1990 edition is in square brackets.]


A — Assays (New Directions, 1961)

AN — An Autobiographical Novel (Doubleday, 1966) [The expanded edition (New Directions, 1991) retains the same pagination.]

AS — The Alternative Society: Essays from the Other World (Herder & Herder, 1970)

BB — Bird in the Bush: Obvious Essays (New Directions, 1959)

C — Communalism: From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century (Seabury, 1974)

CLP — Collected Longer Poems (New Directions, 1968)

[CP Complete Poems, edited by Sam Hamill and Bradford Morrow (Copper Canyon, 2003)]

CRClassics Revisited, with Afterword by Bradford Morrow (New Directions, 1986)

CSP — Collected Shorter Poems (New Directions, 1966)

ER — The Elastic Retort: Essays in Literature and Ideas (Seabury, 1973)

MCR — More Classics Revisited, edited by Bradford Morrow (New Directions, 1989)

MS — The Morning Star (New Directions, 1979) [Later incorporated in Flower Wreath Hill: Later Poems (New Directions, 1991).]

SE — World Outside the Window: Selected Essays, edited by Bradford Morrow (New Directions, 1987)

SFE — San Francisco Examiner columns

SFM — San Francisco Magazine columns

SP — Selected Poems, edited by Bradford Morrow (New Directions, 1984)

WEE — With Eye and Ear (Herder & Herder, 1970)


Notes to Chapter 1

1. Rexroth often used this question (referring to his three main poetic themes) as an icebreaker when he was giving a reading of his poetry. The response quoted here was his favorite. [Many of the Rexroth poems mentioned or quoted here are now online at this website.]

2. AN 169.

3. AN 366.

4. ‘‘Poetry and Society,” The Coast, Spring 1937, p. 35. On cubist poetry see the introduction to Rexroth’s translations of Pierre Reverdy’s Selected Poems (New Directions, 1969), reprinted in SE 252­258.

5. ‘‘Smokey the Bear Bodhisattva,” WEE 212.

6. ‘‘The Signature of All Things,” CSP 177/SP 42-43 [CP 275].

7. ‘‘Floating,” CSP 144/SP 29-30 [CP 210].

8. ‘‘Thou Shalt Not Kill,” CSP 268-269/SP 95-96 [CP 566-567].

9. ‘‘Observations in a Cornish Teashop,” CSP 331 [CP 619].

10. ‘‘Andrée Rexroth,” CSP 154/SP 34 [CP 220].

11. ‘‘Homer in Basic,” CSP 317 [CP 603]. [If you haven’t ever read Homer, or if it’s been a while since you have, please treat yourself to the superb Robert Fitzgerald translations.]

12. “August 22, 1939,” CSP 97-98/SP 5-6 [CP 159-161]. (The date is the anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution in 1927.)

13. Introduction to CLP.

14. AN 152.

15. SFE, 17 July 1960. Rexroth’s views on modern American poetry are summed up in his book American Poetry in the Twentieth Century (Herder & Herder, 1971). [See also his essay The New American Poetry.]

16. “Jazz Poetry,” SE 71.

17. “William Blake” in “Poets, Old and New,” A 208. (L’Action Française was a fascist journal greatly admired by Eliot.)

18. “Mark Twain,” A 97.

19. “Would You Hit a Woman with a Child, or Who Was that Lady I Seen You with Last Night?” BB 88-89.

20. “Some Thoughts on Jazz as Music, as Revolt, as Mystique,” BB 25-26. See also “What’s Wrong with the Clubs” (A 75-81/SE 191-196).

21. SFE, 6 March 1960.

22. “Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations,” CR 80.

23. “The Authentic Joy of Philip Whalen,” WEE 211.

24. “The Younger Generation and Its Letters,” New Republic, 15 February 1954.

25. “The Lost Vision of Isaac Bashevis Singer,” WEE 192.

26. “Tacitus, Histories,” CR 76.

27. “Franz Kafka, The Trial,” MCR 141/WEE 21-22.

28. “Poets, Old and New,” A 235.

29. “Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe,” MCR 57/ER 60.

30. “Modern Chinese Literature,” Chicago Review xvii:1 (1964), p. 169. [The original says “the millions of the emperor,” but that is probably a typo for “minions.”]

31. “The Social Lie”: interview in Lawrence Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians (Messner, 1959), pp. 295-296.

32. Introduction to Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1961), pp. v-vi; reprinted in MCR 124-125/WEE 160-161.

33. “Greek Tragedy in Translation,” WEE 143.

34. BB viii.

35. “The Reality of Henry Miller,” BB 156-157. Compare the later, more critical essay “Henry Miller: The Iconoclast as Everyman’s Friend” (WEE 188-191).

36. The unreferenced quotations in these last few paragraphs of this chapter are from the respective essays in CR and MCR/ER, except for that on Thucydides, which is from the essay on Euripides’s Hippolytus (MCR 11/ER 15).

37. “Greek Tragedy in Translation,” WEE 143-144.


Notes to Chapter 2

1. Quoted in R.H. Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics (Hokuseido, 1942), pp. 79-80.

2. “The Chinese Classic Novel in Translation: The Art of Magnanimity,” BB 215. [In case you’re interested, what are generally considered the five greatest Chinese novels are now each available in both abridged and complete translations: The Dream of the Red Chamber (a.k.a. The Story of the Stone), a wonderful novel of manners with Taoist undertones; Outlaws of the Marsh (The Water Margin or All Men Are Brothers), a larger-than-life series of picaresque adventures; Monkey (The Journey to the West), a satirical Buddhist fantasy; Three Kingdoms (The Romance of the Three Kingdoms), a historical novel full of military strategy and political intrigue; and the erotic Chin P’ing Mei (The Golden Lotus or The Plum in the Golden Vase).]

3. Ibid., BB 216

4. SFE, 10 July 1960.

5. “Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End,” MCR 139-140/ER 127.

6. “Dostoievsky, The Brothers Karamazov,” CR 184.

7. “The Dragon and the Unicorn,” CLP 185-186/SP 64 [CR 421]. See CR and MCR/ER for essays on Walton, White and Woolman.

8. “Julius Caesar, The War in Gaul,” CR 67.

9. “The Chinese Classic Novel in Translation,” BB 216-217.

10. “The Hasidism of Martin Buber,” BB 139/SE 99.

11. “Unacknowledged Legislators and Art pour Art,” BB 18.

12. SFE, 20 November 1960.

13. Rexroth’s four plays are collected in Beyond the Mountains (New Directions, 1951).

14. Introduction to The Signature of All Things (New Directions, 1950).

15. “The Dragon and the Unicorn,” CLP 157 [CP 390].

16. AN 338.

17. SFE, 13 September 1965.

18. “Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching,” MCR 7/ER 10.

19. “Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler,” CR 143-144.

20. “The Lights in the Sky Are Stars,” CSP 238 [CP 535-536].

21. “The Signature of All Things,” CSP 178-179/SP 44 [CP 276-277].

22. “The Phoenix and the Tortoise,” CLP 90-91/SP 23-25 [CP 268-270].

23. “On Flower Wreath Hill,” MS 45 [751].

24. Ibid., MS 41 [CP 747].

25. AN 338. Rexroth’s most extensive discussion of Buddhism is in his Introduction to The Buddhist Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (Ross-Erikson, 1977), reprinted in SE 303-319.

26. Introduction to CLP.

27. AN 119.

28. “My Head Gets Tooken Apart,” BB 71-72.

29. “The Holy Kabbalah,” A 43.

30. “Gnosticism,” A 141-142/SE 141-142.

31. “The Bollingen Series,” WEE 203.

32. “The Holy Kabbalah,” A 42-43.

33. SFE, 25 December 1960.

34. AN 335, 252.

35. “The Hasidism of Martin Buber,” BB 109/SE 79.

36. Ibid., BB 136-137/SE 97-98.

37. “Lamennais,” ER 186-187.

38. Introduction to The Phoenix and the Tortoise (New Directions, 1944).

39. Introduction to Lawrence’s Selected Poems (New Directions, 1947; Viking, 1959), pp. 11, 14, 23; reprinted in BB 189, 192, 203/SE 16, 18, 25. Compare the later, more critical essay “D.H. Lawrence: The Other Face of the Coin” (WEE 34-39).

40. “Inversely, as the Square of Their Distances Apart,” CSP 148/SP 32 [CP 215].

41. “This Night Only” (to Satie’s Gymnopédie #1), CSP 338 [CP 626].

42. “The Dragon and the Unicorn,” CLP 268 [CP 509-510].

43. Ibid., CLP 178 [CP 413].

44. “The Hasidism of Martin Buber,” BB 106/SE 77.

45. Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, translated by Ronald Gregor Smith (Macmillan, 1965), p. 14.

46. Martin Buber, I and Thou, translated by Walter Kaufmann (Scribner’s, 1970), p. 112. The other two quotations are from the earlier translation by Ronald Gregor Smith (Scribner’s, 1958), pp. 18, 11.

47. “The Hasidism of Martin Buber,” BB 130-131/SE 93-94.

48. Ibid., BB 139-140/SE 99-100.

49. Ibid., BB 112/SE 81.

50. Ibid., BB 141-142/SE 101.

51. Ibid., BB 110-111/SE 80.

52. SFE, 30 August 1964.

53. Raymond Blakney, Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation (Harper, 1941), p. 14.

54. “The World of the Shining Prince,” ER 143.

55. “The Dragon and the Unicorn,” CLP 233 [CP 471] (adapted from Eugene Debs).


Notes to Chapter 3

1. Situationist International Anthology, edited and translated from the French by Ken Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981), p. 63 [revised ed. p. 84] [Instructions for an Insurrection].

2. SFE, 29 December 1966.

3. AN 128.

4. “The Institutionalization of Revolt, the Domestication of Dissent,” SE 201.

5. “Kenneth Patchen, Naturalist of the Public Nightmare,” BB 96-97.

6. “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” CSP 272/SP 99 [CP 570].

7. “The Dragon and the Unicorn,” CLP 235-236 [CP 474].

8. AN 355-356.

9. “The Dragon and the Unicorn,” CLP 207 [CP 444].

10. “The Social Lie”: interview in Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians, pp. 293-294.

11. Introduction to The New British Poets (New Directions, 1949), p. xxvi.

12. Excerpts from a Life, edited by Ekbert Faas (Conjunctions, 1981), pp. 57-58. This small book, published in a limited edition, contains episodes from Rexroth’s continuation of his autobiography into the thirties and forties. [It has since been incorporated into the expanded edition of An Autobiographical Novel (New Directions, 1991), where a slightly different version of the cited passage can be found on p. 518.]

13. “Disengagement: The Art of the Beat Generation,” AS 2/SE 42.

14. “The Students Take Over,” A 110-111, 102, 104/SE 123, 115-118.

15. BB vii.

16. “His Corner of the World,” New York Times Book Review, 27 October 1957.

17. SFE, 21 July 1963.

18. SFM, December 1970.

19. SFM, July 1968. On the May revolt, which situationist theories and tactics contributed toward provoking, see Situationist International Anthology, pp. 225-256, 343-352 [revised ed. pp. 288-325, 435-457] [Beginning of an Era and May 1968 Documents].

20. “Back to the Sources of Literature,” AS 164.

21. SFE, 9 January 1966.

22. C 30.

23. C xv, xvii-xviii.

24. C xi-xii.

25. C xii.

26. “Facing Extinction,” AS 185-186.

27. SFM, July 1969.

28. “Back to the Sources of Literature,” AS 153.

29. Ibid., AS 160.

30. “The Poetry of the Far East in a General Education,” in Approaches to the Oriental Classics, edited by William de Bary (Columbia University Press, 1959), p. 197.

31. Interview in The San Francisco Poets, edited by David Meltzer (Ballantine, 1971), pp. 42-44; reprinted as Golden Gate: Interviews with Five San Francisco Poets (Wingbow, 1976), pp. 52-54. This is vintage Rexroth: perhaps his best interview, certainly his funniest. [See the expanded reedition of the book: San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets (City Lights, 2001).]

32. “Poets, Old and New,” A 208-209.

33. “Back to the Sources of Literature,” AS 165.

34. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Paris, 1967; translation: Black and Red, 1977), thesis #4.

35. P. Canjuers & Guy Debord, Preliminaries Toward Defining a Unitary Revolutionary Program, in Situationist International Anthology, pp. 307-308 [revised ed. p. 390].

36. “For Eli Jacobson,” CSP 244-245/SP 89-91 [CP 541-543].


All Rexroth’s poetry and plays and most of his translations are available from New Directions, along with the Autobiographical Novel, the Selected Essays and the two Classics Revisited volumes. Most of the other prose books are out of print. [For more detailed and up-to-date information, see the Rexroth Archive page.]

Fantasy Records issued two LPs of Rexroth’s jazz poetry, Poetry Readings in the Cellar (with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1959) and Poetry and Jazz at the Blackhawk (1960). [Poetry Readings in the Cellar has now been reissued as a CD, available here, and four poems from the Blackhawk record are now online here.] A Sword in a Cloud of Light, a cassette of a 1977 reading with jazz and koto-shakuhachi accompaniment, is available from Watershed Tapes (P.O. Box 50145, Washington, DC 20004).

The most comprehensive study of Rexroth is Morgan Gibson’s Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East-West Wisdom (Archon, 1986), which incorporates but substantially reworks material from his earlier book, Kenneth Rexroth (Twayne, 1972). Despite his title Gibson says relatively little about Rexroth’s political radicality and social criticism; but his discussion of the poetry and plays, with particular emphasis on their Oriental aspects, is reliable and often insightful. His bibliography lists a large number of other writings about Rexroth. [Gibson’s Revolutionary Rexroth is now out of print, but a revised and expanded version is now online (including a collection of his correspondence with Rexroth). The most detailed study of Rexroth’s poetry is Donald Gutierrez’s The Holiness of the Real: The Short Verse of Kenneth Rexroth (Associated University Presses, 1996).]

James Hartzell and Richard Zumwinkle’s Kenneth Rexroth: A Checklist of His Published Writings (UCLA Library, 1967) is essential for those interested enough to search the larger libraries for Rexroth’s hundreds of uncollected articles. (Nearly all of them can be found in the library of the University of California at Berkeley.) A much larger bibliography is in progress, but will not be completed for several years. [This project seems to have been abandoned.]

Linda Hamalian has completed a biography of Rexroth and is preparing an expanded edition of his autobiography, which will incorporate Excerpts from a Life and other material on his later years. Rexroth’s correspondence with James Laughlin is soon to be published by Norton. [All three of these books appeared in 1991. Unfortunately Hamalian’s biography, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (Norton, 1991), turned out to be extremely hostile and uncomprehending. More recently, a Chicago Review special Rexroth issue (Autumn 2006) includes nearly 100 pages of Rexroth’s letter to various American and British poets along with several essays about Rexroth.]

In addition to the out-of-print books — which should certainly all be reissued — completed manuscripts exist for two books that have never been published at all: The Poetry of Pre-Literate Peoples (an anthology) and Camping in the Western Mountains (a guidebook from the thirties). [The latter is now online at this site.] There also remains an enormous amount of uncollected Rexroth material — columns, articles, reviews, introductions, interviews, letters, radio tapes, paintings — much of which would be worth bringing out in book form. I have compiled a 200-page anthology of the Examiner and San Francisco columns, but have not yet found a suitable publisher.


End matter of Ken Knabb’s The Relevance of Rexroth (1990). Reprinted in Public Secrets.

[Contents of this book]
[Chapter 1: Life and Literature]
[Chapter 2: Magnanimity and Mysticism]
[Chapter 3: Society and Revolution]