Kenward Elmslie (USA)
The grandson of publisher Joseph Pulitzer, Kenward Elmslie was born in New York City and grew up in Colorado Springs, and attended his first opera in Central City, Colorado, at age eight. He moved to Washington, D.C., at nine, and developed a crush on Broadway musicals as a teenager, taking the train to New York City on weekends. His first lyrics were performed at his prep school’s senior varsity show, and after graduating from Harvard, where he majored in English, Elmslie moved back to New York City with dreams of writing for the theatre. For the last many years of his life Elmslie split his time between his Greenwich Village brownstone and his home in Calais, Vermont, in which he had lived with opera and music lyricist John Latouche from 1951-1956, the last five years of Latouche's life, and which he later shared with long-time companion Joe Brainard.
Elmslie’s first book of poetry, Pavilions, was published in 1961 by Tibor de Nagy Editions, and thirty-plus books have followed, including a novel, The Orchid Stories, and collaborations with Joe Brainard, his significant other for more than thirty years, Trevor Winkfield, and Donna Dennis.
Elmslie wrote a play, City Junket, which was produced Off-Broadway with set and costumes by Red Grooms, and the librettos for six operas, including The Sweet Bye and Bye and Lizzie Borden (music by Jack Beeson), The Seagull (music by Thomas Pasatieri); and Miss Julie (music by Ned Rorem). Elmslie has also written the book and lyrics to the Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals The Grass Harp and Lola (music by Claibe Richardson), and Postcards on Parade (music by Steven Taylor).
In 2005, the York Theatre Company (NYC) produced “LingoLand,” a six-person Off-Broadway revue of Elmslie’s theatre lyrics, opera librettos, visual collaborations, poetry, and poem-songs, featuring Elmslie as singer/narrator. Hailed by The New York Times as an “homage to a poet of the theatre … funny, clever and utterly lovable!”
Elmslie also published Z Press which promoted the work of many of the New York School writers, including Brainard, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler.
The poet, publisher, and lyricist died at the age of 93 in 2022.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Pavilions (New York: Tibor de Nagy Editions, 1961); The Baby Book [with Joe Brainard] (New York: Boke Press, 1965); The 1967 Gamebook Calendar [with Joe Brainard] (Boke Press, 1967); Power Plant Poems (C Press, 1967); The Champ [with Joe Brainard] (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1968); Album [with Joe Brainard] (New York: Kulchur Press, 1969); Girl Machine (New York: Angel Hair, 1971); Circus Nerves (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1971); Shiny Ride [with Joe Brainard] (New York: Boke Press, 1972); Motor Disturbance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972; Full Court Press, 1978); Tropicalism (New York: Z Press, 1975); Topiary Trek [with Karl Torok] (Topia Press, 1977); The Alphabet Work (Washington, D.C.: Titanic Books, 1977); Communications Equipment (Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 1979); Moving Right Along (New York: Z Press, 1980); Bimbo Dirt [with Ken Tisa] (New York: Z Press, 1982); 26 Bars [with Donna Dennis] (New York: Z Press, 1987); Sung Sex [with Joe Brainard] (New York: Kulchur Foundation; 1990); Pay Dirt [with Joe Brainard] (Flint, Michigan: Bamberger Books, 1992); Bare Bones (Flint, Michigan: Bamberger Books, 1995); Routine Disruptions (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1998); Cyberspace [with Trevor Winkfield] (New York: Granary Books, 2000); Blast from the Past (Austin, Texas: Skanky Possum Press, 2000); Snippets [with Trevor Winkfield] (New York: Tibor de Nagy Editions, 2002); Agenda Melt [with Trevor Winkfield] (New York: Adventures of Poetry Press, 2004); Tongue of Fire [with Trevor Winkfield] (New York: Inland Sea, 2005)
Song "Dropsy Cure Weather" from The Grass Harp, with music by Claibe Richardson, lyrics and book
by Kenward Elmslie:
╬Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English
Elegy for Loosha
Ambidextrous eliminators, langorous Elvises,
get roughed up bad by soused chimpanzees
notating your daily round. Like me, all Elvises
are riveted by visceral effluvia: human ashes
sifting down from a huggable blue bowl—
[zenith of a prairie sky.
A recurrent street screech exacerbates my stage-fright
at windows of, building opposite—starer-outers,
lotus-eaters flogging their dot.com wounds.
Dead skin spin-offs flake onto a wondrous panoply,
similar to my dreams of a fertile nation
of miscreant beloveds who can replicate,
post-impact, Vanilla Conga, back aways
[a flame dance, so they say.
Reprinted from RealPoetic (2005). Copyright ©2005 by Kenward Elmslie