November 27, 2012

Paul Blackburn

Paul Blackburn (USA)

Born on November 24, 1926 in St. Albans, Vermont, Paul Blackburn’s mother, Frances Frost, was a poet, novelist and author of children’s books) who separated from Blackburn’s father, William Gordon Blackburn, when the child was three. For the next several years, Blackburn was raised by his maternal grandparents on a farm near St. Albans until he was 14, when his mother took him to live with her in Greenwich Village. He began writing poetry in his early teens.

     In 1945 Blackburn entered New York University, but soon after joined the army, just as World War II was ending, and spent most his service as a laboratory assistant in Colorado.

      In 1947 Blackburn returned to New York University, transferring to the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1949 and graduating there in 1950.

     During these college years Blackburn came under the influence of Ezra Pound, with whom began a correspondence, ultimately hitchhiking to Washington, D.C. several times in order to visit Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where the older poet was imprisoned. Through Pound, Blackburn became friends with Robert Creeley, Cid Corman, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer and Jonathan Williams, thus allying himself with many poets involved with Black Mountain College. Through Creeley, Blackburn came to work on Black Mountain Review, which resulted with some critics, in particular Donald Allen, including him as a member of the Black Mountain Group. In fact, Blackburn was opposed to the division of poets into schools, disliking his alignment with that group. In fact, Blackburn might as well have been described as a poet of the New York School, so connected are his works with that city.

      Through Pound’s influence, Blackburn became interested in Provençal poetry, studying the languages of Provence while at Wisconsin. In 1953 he published, on Divers Press, a volume of Provençal poetry and, later, translated the medieval epic Poema del Miro Cid, as well as poetry by Federico García Lorca, Octavio Paz, and Pablo Picasso. He also translated short tales by Argentinian author Julio Cortázar, serving for a while as his literary agent.

     His own first collection of poetry, The Dissolving Fabric, was published in 1955, followed by Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit in 1960, The Nets (1961), and Sing-Song published in Caterpillar magazine in 1966. Grove Press published his The Cities in 1967.

     Throughout this period Blackburn also encouraged younger poets, organizing readings for poets involved with The Deep Image, the Beats, The New York School, and Black Mountain Poets. His readings are often seen as the progenitor to the famed St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

     He worked throughout much of the 1960s at short-lived editorial positions and through translating, becoming poetry editor for a short period at The Nation. He also headed a show on WBAI radio in which he interviewed numerous poets and presented readings. Later in that decade he began teaching at various writer’s conferences and short-term venues. Winning the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 permitted him to travel to Europe and work more determinedly on his poetry and translations, supporting himself through readings and teaching stints upon his return until his death of esophageal cancer in September 1971.

      Blackburn’s Collected Poems, edited by Edith Jarolim, were published by Persea Books in 1985.


The Dissolving Fabric (Palma de Mallorca: Divers Press, 1955); Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (New York: Totem, 1960); The Nets (New York: Trobar, 1961); Sing-Song (in Caterpillar, no. 4, December 1966); Sixteen Sloppy Haiku & a Lyric for Robert Reardon (Cleveland: 400 Rabbit Press, 1966); The Reardon Poems (Madison, Wisconsin: Perishable Press, 1967); The Cities (New York: Grove Press, 1967); In . On . Or About the Premises (London/New York: Cape Goliard/Grossman, 1968); Two New Poems (Madison, Wisconsin: Perishable Press, 1969); Gin: Four Journal Pieces (Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin: Perishable Press, 1970); Three Dreams and an Old Poem (Buffalo: University Press at Buffalo, 1970); The Assassination of President McKinley (Mt. Horeb, Wis.: Perishable Press, 1970). The Assassination of President McKinley (Mt. Horeb, Wis.: Perishable Press, 1970). The Assassination of President McKinley (Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin: Perishable Press, 1970); Early Selected Y Mas (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1972); The Journals (ed. by Robert Kelly) (Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow, 1975); Halfway Down the Coast (Northampton, Massachusetts: Mulch Press, 1975); Against the Silences (London/New York: Permanent Press, 1980); The Selection of Heaven (Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin: Perishable Press, 1980); The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn (ed. by Edith Jarolim) (New York: Persea Books, 1985)

To read a longer biography, click below:

For a selection of Blackburn’s poems and translations, click below:

For a selection of Paul Blackburn reading his poems, link below:


James Beach said...

Paul read beautifully... his rendition of Lou Ferlinghetti's "Coney Island of the Mind" is a classic...

James Beach said...

Paul's beautiful rendition of "Coney Island of the Mind" is a classic....