Justices poems are recognized for their supreme technical skill, impersonality of diction, accuracy of observation, and complexity of thought and sentiment. They offer a remarkable combination of exacting neo-classicism, which he learned during his one-year study with the iconoclastic critic Yvor winters at Stanford, and discreet postromantic lyricism, gained through years of study and teaching at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Above all, Justices poems reveal an intense preoccupation with American landscape and people, which makes his work similar to that of Edwin Arlington robinson and Edgar Lee masters. At his best, Justice can be as discerning and profound as Robert frost.
Justice was born and raised in Miami, Florida, although he spent a large part of his childhood visiting his grandparents in Georgia. He holds university degrees from Miami, North Carolina, and Iowa, where he received a Ph.D. in writing (at that time, the teaching faculty at Iowa included Robert lowell, John berryman, and Karl shapiro, among others). For the next 25 years, Justice himself taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, with occasional appointments at other universities. In 1982 he moved back to Florida to teach as the poet-in-residence at the University of Florida, Gainsville. He retired in 1992 and moved back to Iowa City. Justice has been the recipient of numerous grants, awards, and fellowships. His Selected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980. He also won the Bollingen Prize (1991) and the Lannan Foundation Award (1996). Some of his earlier individual volumes include The Summer Anniversaries (1960), Night Light (1967), Departures (1973), and The Sunset Maker (1987), which also contains stories and a memoir. Subsequent editions of selected and new poems were published in 1991 and 1995. Justice has also published two books of essays: Platonic Scripts (1984) and Oblivion: On Writers & Writing (1999).
Justice's poems are most often recognized for their formal precision, fidelity to experience, and reliance on common speech rhythms. A typical Justice poem is verbally sparse yet imaginatively rich, its language elegant and decorous yet straightforward, if not, at times, brutal in its implications. Justice often displays his extraordinary mastery of traditional poetic forms—the canzone, the pantoum, the sonnet, the sestina, or the villanelle. His poems are as crafted as they are candid, often featuring thematic lucidity and tonal austerity in an attempt to offset their sophisticated structure. Justice's exactitude is not only formal, but also verbal. A sentence, a phrase, or even a single word sometimes introduces a startling nuance to a poem; in one of his most famous poems, "Men at Forty" (1967), the men in question listen to the crickets in the woods behind their "mortgaged" houses. "Elsewheres" (1967) begins with the lines: "Already it is midsummer / In the Sweden of our lives."
In an Ohio Review interview, Justice admits he has always followed T. S. eliot's dictum from "Tradition and the Individual Talent" that poetry is not an expression of personality but an escape from personality (see ars poéticas). He regularly leaves himself out of his poems, speaking in imagined or borrowed voice, and, at times, humbly borrowing ideas from other poets, such as Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Eugène Guillevic, and César Vallejo. Yet there is something uncommonly personal in these simultaneously restrained and confident compositions; Justice's speaking voice is characterized by wryness and wit, propensity for meditation, though not abstract philosophizing, and reliance on well-aimed observation reminiscent of William Carlos Williams. Justices poems reflect modern loneliness, nostalgia, isolation, loss, and despair. (Some critics have compared his work to the paintings of Edward Hopper.) As a poet, Justice chooses to portray reality and reality only, no matter how troubling or uncomfortable it may be. Like the subject of his villanelle "In Memory of the Unknown Poet, Robert Boardman Vaughn" (1987), Justice perceives "the boredom, the horror, and the glory of the world" with an unchanging and undiscriminating stare, fulfilling the role that Eliot prescribed to all modern poets.
It is not completely surprising, then, that Justice should explore the extremities of human experience, especially with the concept of insanity, in some of his most famous poems, such as "on a Painting by Patient B of the Independence State Hospital for the Insane" (1952) and "Counting the Mad" (1960). Justice is also one of the most realistic poets in the language, demonstrating a deep interest in specific landscapes and people that are part of these landscapes. In "Variations on a Text by Vallejo" (1973), Justice imagines his Miami gravediggers speaking amongst themselves in Spanish. In "Children Walking Home from School through a Good Neighborhood" (1987), he describes the children as figures held in a glass ball, "one of those in which, when shaken, snowstorms occur; / But this one is not yet shaken." Thus only a circumspect social commentary blends with a genuine portrayal of individual places and people.
Thanks to the poet's imaginative perspective, too, American cities, suburbs, and small towns—these most ordinary of places—instantly acquire a most mysterious aura. Many of these poems are set in the past, going back to the poet's childhood during the Great Depression and adolescence during World War II. Many of them show distinctly southern accents, but they do not idealize the South as much as they offer an intriguing mixture of nostalgia and irony, consistent with the poet's belief that one can feel a certain nostalgia for what one never knew or had.
Gioia, Dana, and William Logan, eds. Certain Solitudes. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997.
-., eds. "Donald Justice Special Feature." Verse 8 & 9
(winter/spring 1992): 3-72. Justice, Donald. "Interview," by Wayne Dodd and Stanley Plumly. Ohio Review 16.3 (1975): 41-63.
KADDISH ALLEN GINSBERG (1957) If
HOWL was the poem that made beat poet Allen ginsberg internationally famous and infamous all at once, Kaddish, his long, brutal, and painfully beautiful elegy for his mother, Naomi, made him respected by critics and fellow poets alike. Kaddish revealed that Ginsberg was a poet destined to alter significantly the face of midcentury American poetry Indeed, so influential was the poem for its groundbreaking experiments in style, as well as its graphic portrayal of Ginsbergs troubled childhood with a mentally ill mother, that its composition in late 1957 marks the beginning of the confessional movement in American poetry, later made famous by such writers as Anne sexton, John berryman, and Sylvia plath. Many critics cite kaddish as the inspiration for Robert lowells Life Studies (1959), a celebrated work in which Lowell dramatically moved away from carefully crafted poems to mine his own personal traumas in highly experimental forms.
By the time Ginsbergs second collection, Kaddish and Other Poems, was published by city Lights Books in 1961, the author was one of the major voices of a national social movement derided by literary critics, government officials, and the media. Even so, such attention on the Beat movement—as vitriolic as that attention often was—made Ginsberg perhaps the most famous living American poet, a position he would continue to hold until his death in 1997. Thus Kaddish was welcomed with considerable interest. Its title poem would eventually be recognized as one of the greatest elegies written in English in the 20th century by the very literary establishment that first rejected Ginsberg's poetry as anti-intellectual and amateurish. As he had in previous works, beginning with his breakthrough composing sessions for Howl and Other Poems, Ginsberg drew from his own personal experiences, particularly those most painful to confront and admit. During the conformist 1950s, when alternative behavior was seen as a threat by American society, Ginsberg wrote in Kaddish about his mother's struggle with mental illness. Ginsberg explored in the poem the ways American society itself fueled his mother's paranoia, destroyed her personality and health with its "medical treatments," and created a society where difference was punished. Ginsberg criticized his comfortable 1950s nation for the pain it had caused him and his family. In style, too, Kaddish broke many hard-and-fast poetic "truths." The poem leaps breathlessly between prose and Whitmanesque long-lined verse and between reportage, politics, and metaphysics. It was an attempt to encompass the chaos of midcentury American experience that Ginsberg saw embodied in his mother's tragic life. For him, such experience required new forms, new language, and new metaphors.
perhaps the most urgent reason for Kaddish, however, was that Ginsberg himself feared for his own sanity as he confronted personal demons. What did it mean that he was homosexual? Society in the 1950s argued that such sexual "deviance" was to be treated psychologically. What was one to make of his poetic sensibility? As he notes in the closing sections of the poem, Naomi saw life metaphorically, as an artist might. In other words, Ginsberg explores the very real possibility that he too is losing his mind. The opening line of Howl had famously told us that "the best minds of [Ginsberg's] generation [had been] destroyed by madness." Kaddish would be Ginsberg's test of his own sanity in a world where those he loved and admired were broken by social pressure or sedated by electric shock treatments.
In Kaddish we find a broad-ranging elegy on both Ginsberg's mother, who immigrated to New York's Lower East Side from Russia as a child, and a fallen America. As the poem develops, it is clear that the author blames much of his mother's mental illness on the repressions she and others like her (politically left, Jewish, and female) faced during the years following World War II. Throughout the poem, tracing the author's youth with an increasingly ill mother, her eventual commitment in a mental institution, and the months immediately following her death, Ginsberg describes his growth from fearing his mother to seeing her as the inspiration for his own poetic sensibilities.
Structurally the poem alternates between Ginsberg's familiar long lines and sections of prose. It seems at times, appropriately, a work in progress. Rather than presenting a formal, coherent portrait of his mother, the poem presents a world, a history, in fragments. It also reveals a narrative voice desperate to find sense through memory and language. One perhaps sees in the speaker, and in Naomi herself, the displaced sensibility of the modern artist earlier given shape by T. S. ELIOT in "THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK." With Kaddish, though, we encounter a "Prufrock" damaged so deeply that there may be no hope of return to any form of normal life. Paradoxically, the speaker of Kad-dish eventually embraces the very qualities and voice that make a social outcast.
Perhaps the author's greatest poetic achievement, Ginsberg's Kaddish embodies the shattered American psyche at midcentury. It is graphic and tender, angry and inquisitive: It is a hymn to a country at war with its own conscience.
Bartlett, Lee, ed. The Beats: Essays in Criticism. Jefferson,
Foster, Edward. Understanding the Beats. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992. Stephenson, Gregory. The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation. New York: Morrow, 1979.
KAUFMAN, BOB (1925-1986) Bob Kaufman was a street poet—a peoples poet. He was one of the founding architects and living examples of the beat generation as a literary, historical and existential phenomenon, although he has come to be overshadowed by his white, formally educated contemporaries Allen GINSBERG, Jack kerouac, and Gary snyder. Kaufman cofounded the significant Beat journal Beatitudes. Partly out of choice, partly out of disillusioned resignation and the ravages of street life, he turned his back on the seductions of fame and respectability, implicitly declaring solidarity with the world's anonymous poor. A much-admired extemporizer, he blended his own rapid-fire aphorisms and wisecracks with the considerable store of modernist poetry he had memorized (see modernism). His poetry reworks and de familiarizes that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Federico Garcia Lorca, Tennessee Williams, Hart crane, Langston hughes, and others. In its adventurous imagery, sonorous qualities, and biting wit, Kaufman's poetry shares much with other New World black surrealists Aimé Cesaire, Ted Joans, and Will Alexander, as well as with the jazz-inspired poetry and fiction of Amiri baraka and Nathaniel mackey.
One of 13 children, Robert Garnell Kaufman was born in New Orleans on April 18, 1925, into a middle-class, African-American Catholic family, to a schoolteacher mother and a Pullman Porter father. At 18, Kaufman joined the merchant marines, becoming a prominent organizer in the National Maritime Union primarily based in New York City. When the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) merged in the 1950s, he was purged from the union, a casualty of the McCarthy era. Kaufman left New York City, emerging in San Francisco as a familiar figure on the bohemian literary and street scenes, and reinventing himself as a Beat street poet with a colorful if fictitious legacy—a hybrid Orthodox Jewish and "voodoo" upbringing. He embodied playful but purposeful dissent in his lifestyle and poetry. His poem "Bagel Shop Jazz" (1965) was nominated for the Guiness Prize for Poetry in 1963, the same year as T. S. eliot, and in 1979 he received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.
Kaufman's first book, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965), was compiled, edited, and sent off to New Directions publishers by his wife, Eileen Kaufman. Many poems from this period describe the Beat community in all its pathos, humor, posturing, and genuine utopian yearnings. "Bagel Shop Jazz," for instance, describes the wary alliance between "mulberry eyed girls in black stockings," "turtleneck angel guys / Caesar-jawed, with synagogue eyes," and "Coffee-faced Ivy Leaguers"—that is, women, Jewish or Italian Americans, and African Americans—who comprise the fragile community of "shadow people . . . nightfall creatures." Other poems chronicle the ongoing social hassles of being African American; still others are modeled on jazz compositional principles or invoke jazz themes, and many are lyrics that express an intense desire to live beyond one's self or an acute dissociation, epitomized by the title "Would You Wear My Eyes?" Golden Sardine (1967) continues many of these themes and experiments with new versions of the long poem, notably the satiric "Caryl Chessman Interviews the PTA from His Swank Gas Chamber." After a difficult three years back in New York City (1960-63), Kaufman returned to San Francisco and abruptly withdrew from public life. The late 1970s witnessed a brief second period of productivity, culminating in the publication of the fragmented and visionary The Ancient Rain: Poems 1956-1978 (1981). Posthumously Cranial Guitar: Selected Poems by Bob Kaufman (1996) was also published.
Christian, Barbara. "Whatever Happened to Bob Kaufman?"
Black World 21:12 (September1972): 20-29. Damon, Maria. "'Unmeaning Jargon'/ Uncanonized Beatitude: Bob Kaufman, Poet." The Dark End of the Street: Margins in American Vanguard Poetry. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1993, pp. 32-76. Edwards, Brent, Farah J. Griffin, and Maria Damon, eds. Callaloo 25:1 (winter 2002). [Special issue, Recent Takes on Jazz Poetics, special section on Bob Kaufman.]
Lindberg, Kathryne. "Bob Kaufman, Sir Real, and His Rather Surreal Self-Presentation." Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics 11 (Fall 1993): 167-182.
KEES, WELDON (1914-1955?) Since his disappearance in 1955, Weldon Kees, through the efforts of Donald justice, among others, has gathered a small but extremely devoted readership; Dana gioia calls it a "cult" (xv). He could easily be named the supreme poet of noir (as his poem "The City as Hero"  might seem to suggest), a poet whose subject matter tends toward the somber, although that label would understate the depth and breadth of an electrifying body of poetry. His signature poems center on a mysterious figure, someone named Robinson. The poem "Robinson" (1947), for instance, shows the hallmarks of Keess work: an effortless formalism, a close attention to details of character and object, a nihilism that seems unmatched among the poets contemporaries. Robinsons existence is wholly contingent upon his will to exist ("Robinson alone provides the image Robinsonian"). Robinson's house does not exist when he leaves it, yet the phone rings continually: "it could be Robinson / Calling. It never rings when he is here."
Born in Beatrice, Nebraska, Kees attended several universities, finally graduating from the University of Nebraska. He married a melancholic alcoholic. Kees became an almost maniacally multifaceted artist. He wrote poems, short stories, and essays in art criticism (a novel, Fall Quarter , was published posthumously), and he composed and performed jazz piano. He was a painter and a photographer, as well as a collaborator in film and book projects in the social sciences. He accomplished all this while crossing the country, every few years, from coast to coast, in search of his place within his generation.
Many have noted Kees's gifts as a social satirist, but few critics have discussed Kees's poetry of protest. At a time when support for World War II seems, at least in cultural memory, virtually unchallenged, Kees's poetry stands as a grim reminder that even the "good" war involved torture, slaughter, and madness. His eerie sonnet "For My Daughter" (1943), for instance, seems at first to praise a newborn but quickly prophesies her
"death in certain war" or a related fate as "the cruel / Bride of a syphilitic or a fool." This unrelenting sonnet is so disturbing that the reader feels a horrified relief at the last line: "I have no daughter. I desire none." As Justice puts it, Kees inscribes "the calm in the face of certain doom" (ix). Thus, while clearly influenced by W H. auden, Kees's poems achieve a pitch of despair and fatality that even Auden's grimmest poems of war cannot approach.
In the months before his car was found abandoned near the Golden Gate Bridge in 1955, Kees had spoken to his friends about both suicide and escape (to Europe or Mexico under an alias). But he seems, after all, to have left this world, left it the way his poems leave his readers—unanswered, unconsoled.
Elledge, Jim, ed. Weldon Kees: A Critical Introduction.
Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. Gioia, Dana. "The Cult of Weldon Kees." In The Bibliography of Weldon Kees, edited by Daniel Gillane and Robert N. Niemi. Jackson, Miss.: Parrish House, 1997, pp. xv-xxxiii. Justice, Donald. Preface to The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, edited by Donald Justice. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975, pp. vii-xi.
KELLY, ROBERT (1935- ) First associated with the deep image and American surrealist poets (see surrealism), including Jerome rothenberg and Gilbert Sorrentino, in the early 1960s, Kelly gradually developed his own "poetics of personal mythology" (to borrow Diane wakoski's phrase)—creating his own set of symbolic meanings—in more than 50 books of poetry and fiction between 1960 and 2000. In a 1985 interview, Kelly talked about his early development in these terms: "Some focused through the black mountain or the [John] ashbery [see new york school] and so on. I wanted to stay clear of that. I was continually revivifying myself, I thought with the primitive, with the barbaric, with that which comes from outside the culture and every now and then brings life to it again" ("Nothing" 100). His extensive body of work speaks to how he has revivified himself over and over again.
Kelly graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the City College of New York and began to teach at Bard College in 1961.
He has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1977), the Los Angeles Times Prize for poetry (1980), and membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1986), among other honors. Long interested in the potential of small literary magazines to advance poetic practice, Kelly was founding editor in the late 1950s and early 1960s of Chelsea Review, Trobar, and Matter, and has since been intimately associated with such groundbreaking poetry journals as Caterpillar, Los, Sulfur, and Conjunctions.
The deeply personal character of Kelly's poetry, combined with its continual allusion to literary, mythological, and musical sources, makes it a daunting challenge. At the same time, many poems can be disturbing in their intimacy. This apparent contradiction is reconciled after one absorbs the overriding sensibility in his poems—that of a subjectivity estranged from a world that can only be partially grasped through language. The reader must enter into the author's subjectivity to understand the poems, yet language is both the entrance and the obstacle.
In directly referring to this theme, Kelly's poem "Windows" (1995) is framed as a warning, beginning, "Beware the simplicity of windows," and then elaborating on the elusiveness of reality as apprehended through language. Language does not bring us any closer to realities outside of us, though it may seem to. Instead it reinforces our separation while helping us accept it. A few lines later Kelly writes, "Language keeps you in your place." Kelly approaches the world through mythological personae, or through an unstable "I," in order to satisfy his insatiable need (even sexual greed) for what can be found, luscious and real, in the world. He writes of "taking refuge" ("Windows" ) in the world as it presents itself to him, in order to open himself up, in a Buddhist sense, to the world as it really is.
Kelly, Robert. "Nothing but Doors: An Interview with Robert Kelly," by Denis Barone Credences: A Journal of Twentieth Century Poetry and Poetics 3.3 (fall 1985): 100-122.
-. "Robert Kelly: An Interview on Trobar," by David
Ossman. Triquarterly 43 (1978): 398-404.
-. "A Rose to Look At: An Interview with Robert Kelly,"
by Larry McCaffery. In Some Other Fluency: Interviews with
Innovative American Authors, edited by McCaffery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996, pp. 170-195.
KENNEDY, X. J. (1929- ) Though he is sometimes reviled by critics for being superficial, a writer of "light" verse whose form and treatment of subjects are not complex, the majority of X. J. Kennedys poems are not superficial but are, instead, "serious" with regard to social commentary. The uncertainty of categorizing Kennedys poetry may be a result of his use of humor in his social criticism—for some, humor has no place in serious poetry. Perhaps the idea of Kennedy's superficiality is extended further by his adherence to verse forms; his poems are often end-rhymed and follow strict meter. Kennedy may be considered an informal member of the new formalism movement. Indeed what he said in 1961 acts as the movement's unofficial motto: "why should a man learn how to write a decent villanelle . . . when . . . he can strew lines on a page any cockeyed way . . . and be hailed with the new American poetry? Poems ought to be harder to write than this" (243).
Kennedy was born Joseph Charles Kennedy in Dover, New Jersey. His first collection of poetry, Nude Descending a Staircase, was published in 1961 and won the Lamont Award. Since then he has garnered many other prizes and fellowships. Formerly a university professor, he has also edited anthologies and written more than a dozen children's books.
Kennedy may be best described as a chronicler and critic of everyday American culture. His wide-ranging observations display an aptitude for recognizing the significant in the ordinary and, often, the destructive as well. He uses meter and verse in an attempt to formalize themes, such as suicide and loneliness, perplexing subjects not easily contained by structure. In his poems one not only gets a sense of seeing something once hidden, as the form illuminates the content, but also one witnesses the control of the uncontrollable and begins to comprehend the incomprehensible.
The frequently anthologized "In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day" (1961) conveys the themes of disappointment and disillusionment, the recognition of both the American dream gone awry and the ravages of time, through the humorous self-portrait of a woman who attempts, with bravado, to assuage the pain of a rough life by bragging about her experiences, dispensing wisdom all the while. The form here acts to solidify the poem's final adage, the rhyme actually making it memorable as adage, as Kennedy describes the consequence of one's attempt to subjugate time: "And [you'll] be left by the roadside for all your good deeds / Two toadstools for tits and a face full of weeds."
As an editor of many textbooks and anthologies used in schools across the country, Kennedy has been a great influence on readers of American poetry. As a poet, his work perpetuates debate on the difference between "serious" and "light" verse.
Collins, Michael J. "The Poetry of X. J. Kennedy." World Literature Today 61 (winter 1987): 55-58. Goldstein, Thomas. "X. J. Kennedy." In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 5, American Poets since World War II, edited by Donald J. Greiner. Detroit: Gale, 1980, pp. 394-397. Gwynn, R. S. "Swans in Ice." Sewanee Review 95 (fall 1985): lxxviii-xxix.
Kennedy, X. J. "Comment: The New American Poetry." Poetry 98.4 (July 1961): 242-244.
KENYON, JANE (1947-1995) The pastoral emphasis and New England setting of Jane Kenyon's poetry has invited comparisons to Robert frost and Emily Dickinson. The uncluttered spareness of her work and her interrelated themes of faith, guilt, empathy, and pessimism also place her among that collection of people known as New England poets. Kenyon's own love of John Keats—and his haunted experiences of pain and beauty—also informs her work.
Kenyon was raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she attended the University of Michigan, earning her B.A. in 1970 and her M.A. in 1972. There she met her future husband, the poet and editor Donald hall. In 1975 Hall and Kenyon left Michigan to settle in Hall's ancestral home in New Hampshire. Their quiet life together in this rural setting figures prominently in her work. She died of leukemia, at the height of her powers, at age of 47. Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and a PEN Voelcker Award.
Kenyon's aesthetic creed is most easily summed up in her favorite quote of Ezra pound's: "The natural object is always the adequate symbol." Her fastidious adherence to this principle usually results in poems of understated elegance, such as her conclusion to "Camp Evergreen" (1986): "Now it is high summer: the solstice: / longed-for, possessed, luxurious, and sad." But her effort to pare away can sometimes hobble the poetry, resulting in a failure of invention and the substitution of mere reportage for cohesively linked images. Kenyon herself acknowledged this fault of at least one of her poems, "Three Songs at the End of Summer" (1993), though it appears elsewhere, particularly in her earlier work. As her poetic voice matures, what was occasionally ponderous becomes stately.
Understatement, or even silence, in Kenyon's work can, paradoxically, achieve complex and rewarding moments of empathy. Like many of her pastoral poems, "Frost Flowers" (1987) begins with a speaker who, after having taught a class earlier, is now outside in the dusk observing squirrels and flowers. Without preparation, the following devastating lines arrive: "My sarcasm wounded a student today. / Afterward I heard him running down the stairs." A similar moment occurs in her long poem "Having it Out with Melancholy" (1993), where she movingly records her struggles with recurring depression. The third section of the poem reports a friend's advice: The speaker could escape from depression if she "really believed in God." The speaker's refusal to explain away, contextualize, or otherwise redeem these moments makes them intensely poignant.
There is a narrow consistency to Kenyon's work: walks with the dog, narratives of chastened spirituality, descriptions of nature, and the myriad faces of grief constitute the bulk of her thematic concerns. But while there are more varied and virtuosic poets, few have won the kind of devoted readership that Kenyon enjoys.
Garrison, Deborah. "Simply Lasting." New Yorker (September 9, 1998): 91. Hall, Donald. "With Jane and Without: An Interview with Donald Hall," by Jeffrey S. Cramer. Massachusetts Review 39.4 (1999): 493-510.
Mattison, Alice. "'Let It Grow in the Dark Like a Mushroom': Writing with Jane Kenyon." Michigan Quarterly Review 39.1 (2000): 120-137.
KEROUAC, JACK (1922-1969) Jack Kerouac is one of the most mythical figures in American literature, his name and the name of his novel On the Road (1957) having the power of invocation even for people who have never read a word he wrote; the names conjure freedom. By comparison, his poetry is obscure, but it is both powerful as poetry and significant as a direct influence on his fellow poets. Kerouac, with Allen GINSBERG, Gregory corso, and William S. Burroughs, was at the hub of the mid-20th-century shift in American literary consciousness known as the beat generation. When his first poems later published in Mexico city blues (1959), arrived from Mexico in 1955, his friends who were involved in what became known as the san francisco renaissance, Gary snyder, Philip whalen, Philip Lamantia, and Michael mcclure, in particular, were moved and inspired. Kerouac, "author-catalyst" of the writerly cataclysm that shook America (Ginsberg vi), had a traceable impact on the writing of many others, such as Robert creeley, Amiri baraka, Lawrence ferlinghetti, Lew Welch, and Anne wald-man. Bob Dylan pointed to Kerouac's verse as "the first poetry that spoke his [Dylan's] own language" (Ginsberg ii). Ginsberg proclaimed Kerouac "a major, perhaps seminal, poet . . . and mayhap thru his imprint on Dylan and myself among others, a poetic influence over the entire planet" (vi).
Jean-Louis de Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the youngest of three children in a French-Canadian family. His cultural origins are important, because of the role religion and language played in his life and his work; his first language was French, and his first and last religion was Roman Catholicism, interrupted by an earnest exploration of Buddhism. The collective force of mother tongue, mother church, and his own mother, Gabrielle, made him maternally fixated. He moved away from his language, his church, and his mother, physically and philosophically, but he always returned closer. Kerouac married three times, arguably had sex with as many men as he did women, and shamefully rejected his only child. Burdened all his life by the weight of his trinity of mother figures and by the early childhood loss of his brother Gerard, Kerouac died an ultraconservative, debilitated alcoholic, living once again with his mother.
"Ti Jean," or "Petit Jean," as he was called within his family, knew early that he wanted to be a writer, but he was also an athlete of promise and went to Columbia in 1940 on a football scholarship; he dropped out after a dispute with his coach. It was not until early 1944 that he met Ginsberg and Burroughs; two years after that, he met Neal Cassady, who became Keroauc's muse and the model for On the Road's Dean Moriarty. Already shaped by writers such as Walt Whitman, Hart crane, and Thomas Wolfe, Kerouac was further affected as a writer by his New York friends, by their ideas, their actions, and their speech, as they were by his. Burroughs explained that "Kerouac was a writer. That is, he wrote" (53); rather than just talk about writing or call himself a writer, he did it, even at the risk of being gored by the life about which he wrote. The fact that he was in a frequent state of sorrow surfaces repeatedly in his poems. He would "suffer / even for bugs" ("Running Through—Chinese Poem Song" ), lament "Oh sad Bodhidharma you were right / Everything we loved disappeared" ("Long Island Chinese Poem Rain" ), admit "I'm just a human being with a lot of / shit on my heart" ("Goofball Blues" ), and wonder why "The story of man . . . Should hurt me so" ("Bowery Blues" ). He recorded what went on around him, wrote experimentally, incorporated jazz improvisation into his prose and poetry; Creeley warns that there can be no real understanding of Kerouac's work "if there is not the recognition that this remarkable person is living here, is actual in all that is written" (xiii).
Kerouac is in the work, in all his beauty and in all his despair. He appears in his poems as religious seeker, as sexual debauchee, as little boy, as happy friend, as musical composer, as penitent sinner, as unrepentant sinner. He wrote about everything and believed he had "better be a poet / or lay down dead" ("San Francisco Blues—42nd Chorus" ). He created a concept of spontaneous composition, which, as Ginsberg explains it, was "the notion of writing and not looking back, not revising, but exhausting the mind by an outpouring of all the relevant associations" (qtd. in Miles 193). Kerouac's stated desire at the very start of his journey as a writer was to make "at least one deathless line" (qtd. in Miles 37). He collaborated with Burroughs on a never-published novel, produced more than 20 other prose works, of which more than a dozen were published during his lifetime, and wrote five books of poetry, of which only one appeared in print before his death. Kerouac's icono-graphic power in the American consciousness is unsurpassed and secure. His life, as a stream-of-con-sciousness spontaneous composition alive in his art, is his "one deathless line."
Burroughs, William S. "Kerouac." High Times (March 1979): 53.
Clark, Tom. Jack Kerouac: A Biography. New York: Marlowe
& Company, 1984. Creeley, Robert. Introduction to Book of Blues, by Jack Kerouac. New York: Penguin, 1995. Ginsberg, Allen. Introduction to Pomes All Sizes, by Jack
Kerouac. San Francisco: City Lights, 1992. Miles, Barry. Jack Kerouac, King of the Beats: A Portrait. London: Virgin, 1998.
A. Mary Murphy
KINNELL, GALWAY (1927- ) Galway Kin-
nell is best known for poems that deal with death and the physical dissolution of creatures living in this world. He began as a relatively formal poet (see prosody and free verse), but he quickly changed his style to one influenced by William Carlos WILLIAMS, which uses a more simple, direct diction as well as a looser line and freer structure. His major theme, death, suggests his romantic tendencies; he views death from a personal perspective and as a return to a primitive, prehuman state of consciousness. His influences include American poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, as well as Irishman William Butler Yeats and Czech Rainer Maria Rilke. Along with Ted Hughes and James dickey, Kinnell is a great writer of animal poems and is often considered one of the deep image poets along with Robert bly, W S. merwin, Louis simpson, Mark strand, and James wright.
Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1948 and received an M.A. in English from the University of Rochester in 1949. An automobile accident claimed the life of his brother, Derry, in 1957. Later he would attempt to come to terms with this loss in such poems as "Freedom, New Hampshire" (1960). A career as an itinerant poet-in-residence marks Kinnell's teaching résumé, which includes positions at a number of schools, including New York University. His first volume of collected poems, The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World (1974) was awarded the Shelley Prize by the Poetry Society of America. Later his Selected Poetry (1983) received the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Kinnell also penned a novel Black Light (1965) and has garnered acclaim for his translations of French verse.
What a Kingdom It Was (1960), Kinnell's first book of poems, introduces his concern with death and his sense of death as dissolution of one kind of identity into another, most notably in "Freedom, New Hampshire." While narrating memories from a summer spent with his brother on a farm, Kinnell employs the discovery of a cow's skull as an image of his discovery of death. The poem's conclusion, which includes a dedication to Derry, turns toward the grass that grows over a man's grave. "It is true," Kinnell allows, "That only the flesh dies." The grave and its grass, he argues, can heal what a man suffered, "but he remains dead, / And the few who loved him know this until they die." Though everyone's flesh dies, the poem suggests, there is something that lives on, transformed. The idea of transformation through an experience of death recurs in one of Kinnell's best-known poems, "The Bear" (1968). Richard J. Calhoun argues that this poem exemplifies one of the poet's strengths, a "facility in his descriptions to be both literal and at the same time symbolic and mythic" (66). Kinnell narrates an archetypal bear hunt in which the hunter leaves a sharpened bone in the bear's food; after the bear eats, it slowly kills him from within. The hunter follows until the bear is dead; then the hunter hacks open the carcass, crawls inside, and sleeps. He dreams about the death of the bear, gaining insight into the ways of nature as he considers elements of a bear's life, such as the mother bear licking clean her newborn cubs. The hunter will, he tells the reader, spend his days "wondering" about "that sick infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry by which I lived." The speaker/hunter here has undergone an initiation into death. Awaking from that sleep, he finds that, as Lee Zimmerman maintains, "poetry is redemption, although it is a terrible one" (126).
Kinnell continued his poetic search for a transformative power of experience in The Book of Nightmares (1971), a series of 10 poems, each in seven parts, which was influenced by Rilke's visionary Duino Elegies (1923). David Perkins writes that these poems suggest "a possibility in experience . . . that somewhat relieves suffering or gives it a meaning" (577). The poems continue to use nature—for instance, the Moon, a hen, and a black bear—and they are more personal, as we see Kinnell speaking in the role of dutiful father. His reflection on his children and their youth lead him to see "poetic creation as a means of resolving the nightmares of dreams for children and the nightmare of death for adults" (Calhoun 80). In "Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight" (1971), he places his daughter in her crib after a nightmare, and as she finds sleep again, he anticipates her waking as a kind of rebirth and new awareness, when they will walk out into the world among "the ten thousand things, / each scratched with such knowledge, the wages / of dying is love."
Later Kinnell writes of the loneliness of memories in When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone (1990). In "Memories of My Father," he thinks of returning to his father's house and hearing someone—his father or some stranger—singing. The act of singing, Kinnell believes, can give form to one's feelings. Articulating in this way imparts structure to feelings and experience, as his songs in The Book of Nightmares may bring some peace to him, the father thinking of the inevitable death himself and his children. Experience and memory gain permanence. In The Book of Nightmares, the grown daughter should treasure the mouth that reminds her "here, / here is the world."
Calhoun, Richard J. Galway Kinnell. New York: Twayne, 1992. Perkins, David. A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press 1987.
Zimmerman, Lee. Intricate and Simple Things: The Poetry of Galway Kinnell. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
KIZER, CAROLYN (1925- ) A gifted translator, critic, and poet, Carolyn Kizer has "earned a secure niche in American letters," according to Elizabeth B. House, through her "celebrat[ion of] the joys of art, friendship, family, and good works" (164). Kizer is considered a member of the Northwest school of poets, along with David wagoner and Richard HUGO, because of their tutelage by Theodore roethke at the University of Washington. Kizer stands among other powerful American women poets, including Adrienne rich, Anne sexton, Sylvia plath, and Denise levertov, who were trained by men but ultimately transcended their early training to write powerfully about their experience as women. Known equally for the tightly crafted, formal voice of her work and for her role as an international ambassador for poetry and poets, Kizer established her reputation for meticulous craft in her first work, The Ungrateful Garden, in 1961, subsequently publishing a relatively small body of highly polished and critically acclaimed work.
Kizer was born in Spokane, Washington, the only child of two highly intellectual, politically active parents. Her father was a lawyer, and her mother had earned a Ph.D. in biology from Stanford and studied art and philosophy at Harvard. Kizer bloomed under the procession of distinguished philosophers, literary figures, architects, and planners visiting her parents' home and under the doting attention of her mother, who gave up her career to care for her. Though Kizer had a deep intellectual bond with her father, it is her mother's unceasing encouragement of her creative efforts that she credits with nurturing her writing career; her 1984 volume, Yin, contains a prose work, "A Muse," that examines their relationship. As a student at Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1940s, she published a poem in the New Yorker. The poem, she later said, was not very good, but it nourished her emerging sense of herself as a writer. Kizer did graduate work at Columbia University and the University of Washington, Seattle, studying under Theodore Roethke there in 1946-47. Married to Charles Bullitt in 1948, Kizer had three children in three years and divorced Bullitt three years later. She married John Woodbridge in 1975. She has held teaching positions at the University of North Carolina, Washington University, Barnard, Columbia, Ohio University, Iowa, and Princeton University. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Yin in 1985.
Kizer's dual role as both a poet and an ambassador for poetry is evident in her earliest serious work. During her studies at Columbia in 1945-46, she held a Chinese Cultural Fellowship in comparative literature and she later founded and edited Poetry Northwest, 1959-65. She served as a U.S. State Department specialist in Pakistan during 1964 and 1965 and directed literary programs for the National Endowment for the Arts from 1966 to 1970. While holding these offices, Kizer also published several works of poetry, including a book of translations. Her first two volumes, The Ungrateful Garden (1961) and Knock upon Silence (1965), are viewed, especially through the lens of her later work, as intent on avoiding overt sentimentality, particularly through the use of formal structures, intricate rhyme schemes and verse patterns, distancing language, and grotesque imagery. Often cited as evidence of this tendency is the poem, "The Intruder" (1961), in which a woman rescues a bat from a cat but drops it after finding lice on the bat's wings: "Turning on the tap, / She washed and washed the pity from her hands." "The Great Blue Heron" (1961) is a reflection on nature's indifference, one of her favorite early themes. Kizer was also concerned with the role of government in people's lives, expressing in such poems as "The Suburbans" (1961) and "The Death of the Public Servant" (1961) a preoccupation with institutions' tendencies to inhibit individuality.
Knock upon Silence (1965) contains what is possibly Kizer's best-known work, "Pro Femina," a long piece written in hexameters that examines women's roles, focusing particularly on the struggles of women artists who, unlike men, have "politely debated" freedom of will, have "howled" for it, and "Howl still, pacing the centuries." The poem, which is continued in several later volumes, examines the expectations of women in the past, including "old maids," "self-pitiers," and "sad sonneteers," and is a testament to women's emerging freedom and to the quality of women's art. Kizer's third work, Midnight Was My Cry (1971), contains reprints from her first two books and new poems that focus less on nature and more on the political-social circumstances of the late 1960s. Favorably received, the book's new poems dealt with sit-ins, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the war in Vietnam.
Kizer did not publish poetry again until 1984, when two volumes, both dealing with women's experience, appeared. Yin contains "Fanny," a fictional diary of Fanny Osbourne Stevenson, the wife of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, which was later added as a continuation of "Pro Femina," because of its focus on women's creativity. Fanny's role as nursemaid to Robert's talent is offset only by her one creative outlet, her beautiful gardens. The second volume, Mermaids in the Basement: Poems for Women (1984), focuses specifically on many of the roles women are forced, and choose, to assume. The volume contains reprints of many of Kizer's older poems dealing with women, including "Pro Femina." A book for men followed shortly after, in 1986. In this work, entitled The Nearness of You, Kizer reprinted previously published material and works dedicated to writers and men in her life. All three of these later works are viewed as less formal than her earlier volumes, more personal, and more demonstrative of a mature writer.
Kizer, Carolyn. Proses: on Poems and Poets. Port Townsend,
Wash.: Copper Canyon, Press, 1993. House, Elizabeth B. "Carolyn Kizer." In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 169, American Poets since World War II, Fifth Series, edited by Joseph Conte. Detroit: Gale, 1996, pp. 157-164. Rigsbee, David, ed. An Answering Music: On the Poetry of Carolyn Kizer. Boston: Ford-Brown, 1990.
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