January 27, 2022

Robin Blaser (b. USA/Canada) 1925-2009

Robin Blaser (b. USA/Canada) 

Born at Denver, Colorado, Robin Blaser grew up in small desert communities in Idaho where his father and grandmother, Sophia Nichols, worked for the railway. Sophia Nichols appears in many Blaser poems and it was she who helped finance Blaser's college education. 
     From the University of California at Berkeley, Blaser obtained an M.A. and an M.L.S. While there, he formed a companionship in poetry with Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan that would define the literary scene in 1950s San Francisco, as the three led what became known as the "Berkeley Renaissance."               Studying with the legendary Ernst Kantorowicz, Blaser formed a deep regard for Dante's Divine Comedy, reflected in the all-encompassing ideogram of his life's poetic work: the poet wandering in Dante's holy forest. 
     At the same time, his participation in Duncan's weekly soirees led to a lasting connection with writers such as Stephane Mallarmé and James Joyce. 

     Blaser was a librarian at both Harvard's Widener Library and San Francisco State College Library. At Widener, among other tasks, he assembled a bibliography and display of American philosophy from its beginnings to Alfred North Whitehead. His poetry has subsequently reflected a thorough engagement with twentieth-century thinkers and philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, Alfred North Whitehead, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy, Claude Levi-Strauss, and especially Hannah Arendt. 
     In the early 1960s Locus Solus published both his The Park and  The Fairie Queene. Around this time, Blaser also formed important connections to Robert Creeley and Charles Olson. 
     He emigrated to Vancouver, Canada in 1966, to become a professor of English at Simon Fraser University, where he taught until 1985, influencing such younger writers as Charles Bernstein, Daphne Marlatt and George Bowering. 
    As a young man Blaser studied piano, gave recitals and played as accompanist. His love of music merged with poetry when he wrote the libretto for an opera by British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle entitled The Last Supper, and performed in 2000 to much acclaim in Berlin and London. 
     In 2005, Blaser was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada in recognition of his outstanding contribution to poetry and the philosophy of public life. His collected essays and an expanded Holy Forest were published by the University of California Press in 2006 and 2007. 
      Blaser has written that "the real business of poetry is cosmology." Following Hannah Arendt, he seeks in his poetry to restore the public world as a space to sound out differences in multiple points of view. Hence, his poetry is often resonant with fragments, allusions and the voices of other poets and thinkers. Crucial to his visionary task is avoidance of theological certainties which close out the possibilities of the "holy forest," the totality of which is unavailable to any single human mind. Similarly the totality of his life's writings and explorations cannot be subsumed under any single impulse; rather the poems emerge as fragmentary homage to larger unsayable territories. 
     Blaser, like Spicer, employs the "serial poem" to return repeatedly from different angles, and in open-ended glimpses, to such territories, for example in the numbered "Image Nations" or "The Truth is Laughter" series which form part of The Holy Forest. Calling for recognition of poetic knowledge in public life, and of public life in poetry, Blaser seeks to redefine the lyric as something turned not by a solitary voice closed into itself but rather by a world that is larger than the human, a world that avoids foreclosing in totalitarian abstractions the fragmentary reality of experience. 


The Moth Poem (San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1964); Les Chimères: Translations of Nerval for Fran Herndon (San Francisco: Open Space, 1969); Cups (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1968); Image Nations 1-12 & The Stadium of the Mirror (London: Ferry Press, 1974); Image Nations 13 & 14, Luck Unluck Oneluck, Sky-stone, Suddenly, Gathering (North Vancouver: Cobblestone Press, 1975); Harp Trees (Vancouver: Sun Stone House & Cobblestone Press, 1977); Image Nation 15: The Lacquerhouse (Vancouver: W. Hoffer, 1981); Syntax (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1983); The Faerie Queene & The Park (Vancouver: Fissure Books, 1987); Pell Mell (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1988); The Holy Forest (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1993); Wanders [with Meredith Quartermain] (Vancouver: Nomados, 2002); The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser (Berkeley: The University of California Press) 

For a large selection of audio recordings of readings by Robin Blaser, click here: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Blaser.php 

 ╬Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English 2005-2006 


political disgust has no song 
to sing these days—not even 
“goddamn their eyes”—no 
bird in the throat—not even 
a penis to unscrew or lallop 
to pass—by—to bop this staining 
the human—can’t even piss 
on it—that’s too natural 
the truth seems to be 
under the macadam carpet 
 now, that’s the mind-door’s 
business: to pen wide and shout 

21 August, 2004
Reprinted from No: A Journal of the Arts, no. 4 (2005). Copyright ©2005 by Robin Blaser.

1 comment:

Soma Feldmar said...

I'm working on a paper about some of Blaser's publishing history, and how it can serve as a partial map of his poetic community and territory. In some searching, I found myself here, reading your post about him.

I wanted to say that my research differs from yours. I found that John Ashbery did publish Blaser's The Park in Locus Solus in 1962, but never published The Faerie Queene. However, a year earlier, in 1961, James Schuyler published Blaser's Cups in Locus Solus.

I find it fascinating and a testament to how important it was to Blaser to really know what was going on with poetry, that he sent work to those guys at Locus Solus from Berkeley. He knew how to find good homes for his work.