Friday, September 4, 2015

The Living Dead

Honouring our poetic ancestors

Airs and Angels: This Night Only

By Kenneth Rexroth 1905-1982

Moonlight   now    on Malibu
The winter night    the few stars
Far away   millions    of miles
The sea   going on    and on
Forever     around   the earth
Far    and     far     as your lips    are near
Filled    with the same light     as your eyes
Darling     darling     darling
The future     is long gone by
And the past     will never happen
We have     only this
Our one forever
So small    so infinite
So brief    so vast
Immortal     as our hands that touch
Deathless     as the firelit wine we drink
Almighty      as this single kiss
That has no beginning
That will never

Wikipedia (see the link on the poet's name, above) describes Kenneth Rexroth as 'an American poet, translator and critical essayist' and goes on to say:

'He is regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance, and paved the groundwork for the movement. Although he did not consider himself to be a Beat poet, and disliked the association, he was dubbed the "Father of the Beats" by Time Magazine. He was among the first poets in the United States to explore traditional Japanese poetic forms such as haiku.'

The same article notes that his erotic poetry was particularly admired, springing from 'a deep fascination with transcendent love'. I certainly admire the poem I've chosen for you this week. I love the haunting sensuousness combined with a feeling of timeless calm.

'His poems are characterized by such an unusual range of concerns that he often began his poetry readings by wryly asking the audience: “Well, what would you like tonight: sex, mysticism or revolution?” Though almost entirely self-educated, his erudition was astonishingly broad-ranging, as reflected in essays on topics as diverse as ancient Chinese science, modern jazz, American Indian songs, California mountaineering, medieval mysticism, avant-garde art and utopian communities.'

Rexroth had a long and busy career, working for some years as an academic, but mainly publishing a lot of books – mostly poetry but also essays and criticism (though he said he only wrote prose for money!) as well as many translations of Japanese and Chinese women poets. We are told that he also promoted the work of women poets 'in America and overseas', and that he was famously anti-misogynistic. He was a pacifist, was perceived as being aligned with various radical movements during his life, and described himself as 'a philosophical anarchist'. 

Here is a fascinating fact which I didn't know before:

'With The Love Poems of Marichiko, Rexroth claimed to have translated the poetry of a contemporary, "young Japanese woman poet," but it was later disclosed that he was the author, and he gained critical recognition for having conveyed so authentically the feelings of someone of another gender and culture.'

(I gotta get that book!)

There is a longer and more scholarly article about him at The Poetry Foundation, going into great detail about his poetics, and on his importance as a figure in American literary and political life. 

His writings are available from Amazon – of course running into several pages. 

Poems and photos posted to 'The Living Dead' for purposes of study and review remain the property of the copyright holders.


  1. What an extremely interesting poet, Rosemary. I LOVE this poem, especially the past that will never happen and the future long gone by, and the "darling....darling....darling...." Sigh. Thanks for this introduction. Loved it!!

  2. Regrowth is amazing. He was big on poetry performance . I have read him for some time because of that and a slight fascination with the beats, whether he wants that association or not ha.

    1. Wow. Auto correct on the phone did me wrong.

      Rexroth *sp

    2. We knew what you meant, lol. One of autocorrect's most inspired moments!

  3. O! Wow!! More passionate than e.e.cummings!

  4. The ending just makes an impression. It's a bang amongst the stars. "That which has no beginning, will never. Never. End."

  5. Oh, this was interesting to read and he sounds like a very passionate poet. I need to read more of his work.

  6. What a fascinating story about "The Love Songs of Marchiko." He must have been quite a poet if he could creata a whole new persona - someone of the opposite sex and from another culture. Impressive. Also interesting to me is that apparently he was well known, but I had never heard of him! I really DO like the poem you shared. Very sensual.

  7. A wonderful poem and poet...thanks for the share Rosemary...

  8. Thanks for the info and the beautiful poem. I will definitely be looking for more of his work.

  9. I like this gentle love poem.I applaud him for his anti misogyny can discern from the writing that he loves women.Thanks for the introduction.


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