December 5, 2008

Ron Padgett

Ron Padgett [USA]

Ron Padgett was born in 1942 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he attended public schools. His father was primarily a bootlegger who also traded cars, his mother primarily a housewife who also helped with the bootlegging. Around the age of 13, young Ron began scribbling his thoughts and poems in spiral notebooks. This practice followed hard on the heels of his having read, for the first time, "serious" literature.

In high school Padgett discovered contemporary literature and started a little magazine called The White Dove Review, along with his friends Dick Gallup and Joe Brainard. In its five issues (1958-1960) the magazine published Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, LeRoi Jones, Ted Berrigan, and others. In 1960 Padgett moved to New York to attend Columbia College, where, over the course of four years in the pursuit of English and Comparative Literature, he was fortunate to study under teachers such as Kenneth Koch, F. W. Dupee, Andrew Chiappe, and Lionel Trilling. After his junior year, Padgett married Patricia Mitchell, whom he had known in Tulsa and who had also immigrated to New York. Other Tulsa émigrés during this period included Brainard, Gallup, and Berrigan.

During his college years, Ron published his work in a number of "underground" literary magazines and gave readings of his poetry in New York City. In 1965-66 Padgett was able to spend a year in Paris on a Fulbright, studying and translating 20th-century French literature. The following year, Ron and Pat's son Wayne was born. The three set up house in a bohemian apartment in New York in what is now called The East Village, where the parents have lived ever since.

Beginning in the mid-1960s the Padgetts visited Kenward Elmslie and Joe Brainard at the former's house in northern Vermont each summer for fifteen years. Later, they constructed their own abode nearby.

In the late 1960s a spate of Padgett's books appeared: Bean Spasms, in collaboration with Berrigan and Brainard, from Kulchur; a translation of Apollinaire's Poet Assassinated, illustrated by Jim Dine, from Holt, Rinehart & Winston; and Great Balls of Fire, poems, also from Holt. Padgett has also translated the works of Blaise Cendrars and has published several works of fiction and other prose.

In January of 1969 Kenneth Koch talked Ron into teaching poetry writing to children, which he did for the next nine years. Padgett also served as Director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project 1978-1980. Then he took the position of Publications Director at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, the nonprofit organization that specializes in teaching imaginative writing to children. There he edited and wrote books on that subject for 20 years.

Over the decades he has done a fair amount of traveling in Western and Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and North America.


In Advance of the Broken Arm: Poems (New York: C Press, 1964); Great Balls of Fire (Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969/reprinted by (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1990); Crazy Compositions (Bolinas, California: Big Sky Books, 1974); Toujours l’amour (New York: Sun, 1976); Triangles in the Afternoon (New York: Sun, 1979); Tulsa Kid (Calais, Vermont: Z Press, 1979); The Big Something (Great Barrington, Massachusetts: The Figures, 1989); New & Selected Poems (Boston: David R. Godine, 1995); Poems I Guess I Wrote (New York: CUZ Editions, 2001); You Never Know: Poems I (Minneapolis: Coffee House, Press, 2001)

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

— There is no synonym for synonym.

In the shtetl,
only the crowing
of two cocks
that sound alike.

I bang into the water pail,
blue in the morning light,
though to tell the truth
I am blue in any light,

a powdery royal blue.
Our village does not fly
through the air — it is
nailed to the ground

and we hold on for dear life —
to each other, to the trees,
the cottage doors, whatever,
and we sing our local ditty:

O the cats and the wellsprings!
O the dogs and the birdbath!
O! O! O!

Reprinted from Jacket, no. 27 (April 2005). Copyright ©2005 by Ron Padgett.

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