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In his later poems, Blackburn came to wear his learning lightly;
in his generally short early lyrics, his erudition is still on display. (Pound’s example
was not likely to have discouraged him in that regard.) The young man who wrote the lovely
"Cantar de Noit" and satirical "For Mercury, Patron of Thieves: A
Laurel" had clearly done his homework in Proven?al and Greek poetics. But he was
also taking lessons from such American masters as William Carlos Williams–and he was a
natural when it came to picking up the rhythms of New York City streets:
Th’ holdup at the liquor-store, d’ja hear?
watch’t ‘m for ten minutes
He took it
The way the poem had already begun to look on the page, a visual representation or
"scoring" of the oral rendition of the poem, showed the influence too of another
American poet, Charles Olson. On Pound’s suggestion in 1951, Blackburn had written to a
"chicken farmer in New Hampshire," Robert Creeley; Creeley in turn introduced
him to the ideas and poetry of Olson. Although Blackburn always disliked putting poets
into categories, and although he never set foot on the campus of Black Mountain College,
he has come to be associated with Olson and the other writers who studied or taught at the
experimental North Carolina school. If rather superficial, the "Black Mountain
poet" label is not entirely misleading: Blackburn was New York distributor for the Black
Mountain Review, the literary magazine established in 1953 to raise money for the
floundering institution, and contributing editor to one of its issues. More to the point,
of all those associated with the Black Mountain aesthetic, he was arguably the most
skilled practitioner of the punctuation, line breaks, and text alignments that define the
poetics of "composition by field," as outlined in Olson’s 1951 "Projective
In 1954, newly married and newly appointed Fulbright Teaching Fellow, Blackburn went
off to Europe to study the language and literature of the troubadours. He never lost his
interest in either, but he heartily hated Toulouse, the wet and provincial center of
modern Provence (see his poem "Sirventes" against the city). During the two
years he was assigned to teach in Toulouse, he escaped frequently to Spain, eventually
settling there for a year. He loved that country’s speech, which he heard on the streets
and read in Lorca’s poetry, the slow rhythms and living traditions of Mediterranean
culture, and the nonsacredotal but anchoring rituals of everyday life:
You shall not always sit in sunlight watching
weeds grow out of drainpipes
or burros and shadows of burros
come up the street bring sand
the first one of the line with a
With a bell.
He was right about the limits of his European idyll. When he came back to New York in
Fall 1957, ostensibly just to recoup finances, things rapidly fell apart: his marriage
broke up, he couldn’t find a job, and his mother died of cancer. But hiding out in
Brooklyn from his ex-wife and commuting into Manhattan, he began writing the series of
subway poems for which he is probably best known, including "Brooklyn
Narcissus," "Clickety-Clack," and "Meditation on the BMT." And
soon enough he found new loves, new rituals, and a new population for his street
observations–the men crowded around the radio listening to the ball game, the secretary
dreaming out the window of her office. Truly an urban representative, Blackburn could
deftly enlarge the pain of his own situations to encompass wider political contexts, for
example, the impingement of impersonal institutions on the individual’s life:
After your voice’s frozen anger
emptied the air between us, the
silence of electrical connections
the vacant window pale, the
connection broken: :
("AT&T Has My Dime")
By the mid-1960s his politics were more explicit in poems that criticized the U.S.
presence in Vietnam ("Foreign Policy Commitments") or looked irreverently at the
space program ("Newsclips 2."). But most of Blackburn’s energies were devoted to
his very nonpolitical activities on the poetry scene in New York. He returned in the late
1950s to find a burgeoning bard nouveau movement in town: poetry readings, sometimes to
jazz accompaniment, were springing up in coffeehouses all over the city. He took part in
some of these early mixed media programs and was instrumental in organizing two important
Lower East Side reading series, at the Deux Megots Coffeehouse and later at Le Metro Cafe.
It was Blackburn’s idea in 1966 to move the readings at Le Metro to St.
Mark’s-Church-in-the-Bowery, where the Poetry Project still flourishes today.
It may be at the cost of his own fame that he devoted himself to spreading the word and
encouraging the work of so many poets: translator of Julio Cort?zar, Lorca, and the
troubadours, among others, he also faithfully tape-recorded local poets at an astonishing
number of readings, and gave countless fledgling writers aesthetic and practical advice.
There are those who felt he spread himself too thin, dissipating his energies on writers
unworthy of attention. Perhaps. But these activities very movingly attest to Blackburn’s
remarkable commitment to the ideal of a democratic community of poets.
And, for at least part of the decade anyway, Blackburn seemed to have energy to spare:
he was at the height of his powers in the early to mid-1960s, producing, in addition to
his political poems, such masterful mythic pieces as "The Watchers" and "At
the Well." By mid-decade, however, the ambivalence about love, always a presence in
the poems, became stronger, and the alert observing persona seems more a lonely voyeur,
often sitting with other men in a bar and talking about the futility of love, or maybe not
talking at all:
It is March 9th, 3:30 in the afternoon
The loudest sound in this public room
is the exhaust fan in the east window
or the cat at my back
asleep there in the sun
shimmer of ale .
In September 1967, his second marriage having broken up a few months earlier, a
distraught and seemingly disconsolate Blackburn boarded the S. S. Aurelia for
Europe. "The Glorious Morning," the account of the ensuing shipboard romance
with his third-wife-to-be, marked Blackburn’s first foray into the more loosely
constructed, freewheeling records of daily life he came to call "journals."
Although they were selective records, and his by-then ingrained sense of poetic form
always kept them under aesthetic control, he distinguished them from the "poems"
he continued to write during this period. He never felt entirely confident about the form,
but it allowed him the space and latitude to write such long, cumulatively powerful pieces
as "From the November Journals: Fire," as well as the freedom for such quick
takes as "Along the San Andreas Fault."
A new, more flexible poetic style, a settled relationship, a first child, and a
teaching job at the State University at Cortland, in northern New York–life seemed good
in 1970, the year Blackburn learned that he had inoperable cancer of the esophagous. Up
until a month before he died, on September 13, 1971, he continued to record, without
self-pity and without denial, his honest reactions to the news: memories triggered of his
body when he was 15 years old, of places he loved, and, characteristically, of poets and
poetry and poems.
Excerpted from the introduction to The Selected Poems of Paul Blackburn. New
York: Persea Books.
M. L. Rosenthal
Forward to Selected Poems
Welcome to Paul Blackburn’s selected poems. Don’t stop to prepare
yourself in any way. just come right in and you’ll be with him at once on some New York or
Barcelona street, it may be, or in McSorley’s tavern near the Bowery, or overlooking the
sea in M?laga, or in some shared or lonely bedroom, or wherever. As for what comes next,
the poem will draw you further into itself: i.e., toward whatever musings have been set
ticking right there in the middle of things:
It’s going to rain
Across the avenue a crane
whose name is
dips, rises and turns in a
But grace is slowness / as
ecstasy is some kind of speed or madness /
The crane moves slowly, that
much is graceful / The men
watch and the leaves
Thus begins the poem called "The Watchers." Natural, confiding speech
conspires easily with the simple opening rhyme–genially inviting, like a friend’s quick
summons to look at something interesting that’s happening on the street. And before we
know it, the huge machine with the felinely technical trade-name is almost personified, as
if it were a dancer or a bird. (The phrasing recalls the seagull whose wings "dip and
pivot him" in Hart Crane’s "To Brooklyn Bridge.") Now the musings take
over: thoughts about the crane’s "graceless geometry" and, contrariwise, about
the meaning of "grace" and–in an immensely suggestive associative leap
(esthetic, psychological, sexual)—of "ecstasy." Then the poem returns to
the literal scene, which has become charged with these resonances.
This is how Blackburn’s art works: lightly, broodingly, absorbingly. The opening
couplet of "The Watchers" takes us unawares. It is plain, casual. Its rhythm is
off-center, with two stresses in the first line but three in the second; also, the second
line creates a slight jolt, for it unexpectedly introduces a new sentence. These tiny
imbalances quietly prepare the poem for its shifts soon afterward to more richly complex
diction and rhythms. The ear at work here is remarkably attuned to both sophisticated and
ordinary speech. Of all the successors to Pound and Williams, Blackburn comes closest to
their ability to mix the colloquial and formal, and to their instinct for melodic
patterning and for volatile improvisational immediacy:
Flick of perfume, slight and faintly bitter
on my wrist, where her hand had rested
("Remains of an Afternoon")
But one need only open this selection at random, to find more such lines. The pleasure
and turmoil of life and awareness, depths of sun-warmed tranquility but also of
depression, degrees of passion both sensual and exalted–all these are the stuff of
Blackburn’s uninhibited expression. He was the poet of New York, city of poets, as it is
today, and at the same time a student of the troubadours. His idiom ranges from gross
street talk to whatever the lyric tradition can offer a writer whose mind plays joyously
with styles and tonalities that have enchanted his reverie since childhood. Blackburn was
that sort of poet, an American original who knew and loved what he was doing.
- ... . Elizabeths, where on the lawn of the ward Paul played Gerhard M?nch ... had been a painstaking scholastic disquistion on the phenomenon of amorous love ... in the 1950s and 1960s: Paul Blackburn, Jerome Rothenberg, Jonathan Williams, Denise ...
- ... Линн Шарон Шварц, «The Writing on the Wall» (2005): учёный-языковед ... , «Graffiti» («The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn» (1985)) Элвин Брукс Уайт, «Reading ...
- ... the Dean and Blackburn are friends. On his way out, Blackburn asks Dr ... got the bluebook from Blackburn and wrote an F . on it and told ... that to the principle. Blackburn began to plea and asks for forgiveness ...
- ... чувствовали недоброжелательность со стороны других (Blackburn & Lee-Evans, 1985). В ... Center. Berne, E. (1964). Games people play. New York: Ballantine. Bernstein, D. A., ... paranoid conditions: Heuristic suggestions based on a computer simulation model. ...
- ... salutary influence on the course of my life” (Blackburn 33). ... world as if unconscious” (Blackburn 115). Although stunned by ... his country. Work Cited Blackburn, Joyce. George Wythe of ... History and Culture, 1958. Boyer, Paul S., Clifford E. Clark, Joseph F. ...