We Are Sorry To Inform You . . .


A collector friend of mine was doing some research into Donald Allen's New American Poetry Anthology and wondered what became of the original submissions and documentation surrounding it.  He found out that Allen's papers are in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at University of California San Diego.  Looking at the catalog of holdings online, he came across this list of poets whose work was rejected.
Rejected authors - Correspondence.
118William Bronk - 2 ALs, 1 APCs; 5 R, (8 leaves).
119Cid Corman - 6 TL, 3 R, (11 leaves).
1110Judson Crews - 1 TLS; 3 TSc; 2 R, (6 leaves).
1111Paul Goodman - 2 ALs; 1 TSc; 4 R, (8 leaves).
1112Joanne Kyger - 2 TLs; 1 R, (3 leaves).
1113David Lyttle - 4 TLs; 3 R, (7 leaves).
1114Jack Micheline - 1 TLs; 1 TS; 1 R, (3 leaves).
1115Stan Persky - 1 ALs, 1 TLs; 3 R, (5 leaves).
Kyle and I talk all the time (yes, sad, I know) about just who the hell Donald Allen was anyway.  He was THE great editor of the postmodern poetry after all.  The Modernist editors, like Maxwell Perkins, get all the ink, what about the equally influential Allen.  I mean even Allen's contemporary Richard Seaver got a memoir published after his death just a few years ago.  I guess that Allen remains a true editor:  an invisible hand behind the work that pulls the sentences together to make things dance but never coming out for any face time.

An equally interesting book could be done on The New American Poetry Anthology itself.  Maybe I missed it.  I dimly recall reading some academic papers on the topic and I know Ron Silliman, years ago, analyzed the ins and outs of the Anthology to great effect.  A thorough going-over of the Donald Allen papers is definitely long overdue.  I would suspect that some grad student is at the Mandeville today looking over folder 11 and shaking his head over the measley three leaves concerning Joanne Kyger.  It is a given that Allen dropped the ball when it came to the inclusion of women in the Anthology.  Helen Adam, Madeline Gleason, Denise Levertov and Barbara Guest.  As Mr. Tony of PTI says, That's it that's the list.  Adam and Gleason are not exactly "New."  By 1960, they were the Grandmothers of the New American Poetry much like Charles Olson (yeah, I said it, Olson as Grandmother of New American Poetry; there is something Old Woman and the Shoe about his time at Black Mountain), and even Olson was a little bit younger.  So really there were only two "new" poets that were women in the entire Anthology.  And years later this has been the Anthology's great shame and cross to bear. 

Quite frankly, I can see excluding Kyger.  Donald Allen was uniquely positioned in the San Francisco poetry scene to experience and appreciate the work of Kyger.  Reading Poets Be Like God, Kyger's coming out party was The Tapestry and the Web in 1965, and I would suspect she would definitely have made the list by that point.

For me the real omission was Diane Di Prima.  This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, Di Prima's first book of poetry, came out in 1958, published by Hettie Cohen and LeRoi Jones' Totem Press.  Di Prima's connection to Cohen and Jones would seem to be in her favor as would her ties to the Beats.  She fits into at least one of the major grouping in the Anthology.  Unfortunately there is no getting around the fact that Di Prima's problem is/was that her chromosomes did not match the other poets.  Omissions, like Di Prima, cannot be overlooked or explained away.  They are the blindspot of Allen's editorial vision.

Persky and Micheline surprise me a bit.  These guys were San Francisco staples and you would think that Allen would include them.  Persky did not come into his own until the 1960s, but Micheline's River of Red Wine, with an introduction by Jack Kerouac, came out in 1957, so clearly Micheline fit the bill as a publishing, young poet by 1960. 

As for William Bronk, Cid Corman, Judson Crews and Paul Goodman, there seems to be a concerted effort on Allen's part to create the impression that poetry dried up and shrivelled away during the McCarthy Era, particularly in regards to early 1950s little magazine culture and Corman and Crews.  It could be argued that Corman and Crews kept the little magazine tradition alive from 1951-1957, until the Revolution explode in the wake of Evergreen Review #2 - The San Francisco Scene, the publication of On the Road and the Howl Trial.  It is almost like Allen wanted to claim credit for the Little Mag boom with his work at Evergreen Review.  That is not exactly fair as Origin, The Naked Ear, Suck-Egg Mule kept the little mag on life support during some very lean years. 

Why all this shitting on Cid Corman?  Reading the letters of Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, they treat Corman like the fat kid at school, bullying him about editorial decisions.  Olson should talk to the hand, as the kids like to say, as Corman's Origin kept Olson in print until the Black Mountain Mob (Jonathan Williams/Jargon, Robert Creeley/Divers Press) got their act together and gave Olson the royal treatment.  Which begs the question:  Was Cid Corman an asshole?  I can think of no other reason for the sheer lack of respect he gets as a publisher, editor and poet, particular in regard to his role as bridge from the late 1940s to the late 1950s magazine scene.

That leaves David Lyttle, who I have to admit is even more of a mystery to me than Donald Allen.  Maybe somebody can fill me in with a little bit of intel on Lyttle. 



Joseph Massey said...

Cid wasn't an asshole, but he didn't play games with people either. He was honest, brutally so, with other poets and he made some enemies that way. He was difficult and stubborn. But not an asshole. I knew the guy.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Joseph's right on here about Cid; without pointing the finger at anyone, perhaps we should look at the enemies he made to discover who the real assholes were.

Joseph Massey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Massey said...

It would be interesting to see those letters from Cid to Donald Allen. Cid said he signed a contract and then later refused to be included.

His own words:

"...I don't give a shit about my name, or fame; and I've refused publicity, over the years, that would have made me very well known early: I was in Don Allen's anthology, which made a lot of noise and fame for people.

"He was here in Kyoto, actually, at the time he was making the book, and I had signed a contract with him and pulled out at the end. He was very upset with me -- nobody else had done that. My reason, I told him very clearly, which was the truth: I hadn't been published by any large house, and I didn't want to be known by just eight poems of mine, I didn't want to be limited to that kind of feeling. I know the way anthologies work, having read so many of them already at that point: that people get stuck on the handful of poems that becomes the signature of the poet. Well, they were all poems from my book Sun Rock Man -- and they were all good poems -- there was nothing wrong with the poetry -- but I didn't want to be known just by that. So I pulled out, and that pissed him off."


Post a Comment