re: Jerry Rothenberg webcast – University of Pennsylvania – Writers House Fellows Program
Invited to email question(s) for Jerry Rothenberg April 29 webcast, I think of my old friend Paul Blackburn, poet and translator who died in 1971 at age 44. Given Rothenberg’s work with Ethnopoetics, I recall Blackburn introducing, opening up a whole new world of poetry… reading aloud for me his translations from Spanish of the medieval epic Poema del Mio Cid, of the poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca, Octavio Paz and the short stories of Julio Cortazar. Paul at the time (mid-1960s) was Cortazar’s literary agent in the U.S.
Question: “Paul Blackburn was a dear and valued friend. I knew him in New York in the 1960s and it was Paul who introduced me and other writers to Julio Cortazar, Garcia Lorca, Octavio Paz… and Provençal poetry. To what extent did Paul Blackburn influence you and your work with Ethnopoetics?”
Rothenberg’s moving response is now online–one can tap into the Writers House archives for his reply–but two points in particular stand out: 1) that Paul Blackburn, born the same year as Robert Creeley, “is the equal of Creeley as a poet,” 2) and that Paul is something of a “lost poet,” one who died young and did not put himself forward as Creeley had done, commenting and serving as spokesman for the Black Mountain School, for example. Paul chose not to align himself, or to allow others to align him with, the Black Mountain School or any other school.
Clayton Eshleman writes of Blackburn, “Many, not just a few, but many poets alive today are beholden to him for a basic artistic kindness, for readings, yes, and for advice, but more humanly for a kind of comradeship that very few poets are willing to give.” The readings he organized were the direct progenitors to the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery.
As beneficiary of Paul’s generosity, as someone who spent time with him and read (thanks to Paul) at St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery, I feel this need to pay my respects… make some long overdue acknowledgment…
Wikipedia’s entry on Paul Blackburn notes that he “played an important part in the poetry community, particularly in New York, where he helped fledgling poets develop and provided emotional support and opportunities to read for both unknown and established writers in the various reading series with which he was involved. He organized readings that offered work from the Beats, the New York School, the Deep Image Poets, and the Black Mountain Poets. But he was, let us say, an Independent. A non-aligned poet. Living in New York, organizing readings, etc., he was passionately involved and, like Creeley and others, at the center of the 1960s literary scene. But he was also his own man.
As poetry editor of The Nation he published a wide range of poets and, in the mid-60s, he directed workshops at the Aspen Writers’ Conference.