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This is Jacket 12, July 2000   |   # 12  Contents   |   Homepage   |   Catalog   |

Jerome Rothenberg:

Paul Blackburn

(The commentary on Paul Blackburn that appeared in second volume of Poems for the Millennium, co-edited with Pierre Joris. )

I have drunk my white wine and worked
I have lasted it out into silence  

                     ( — P.B.)

Like other important American poets of his time, his work reflected an identification with the initial experiments of Pound & Williams, buttressed in his case by resources of language that opened to a still larger range of European and Latin American predecessors. A Vermonter by birth, he lived most of his life in New York City, but traveled from there early & late, to chart the world through a succession of poems that were his ongoing journal (= day book), culminating in a final diaristic work appropriately called The Journals (posthumously published: 1975), of which The Net of Place [included in Poems for the Millennium] is a part.

Paul Blackburn

Paul Blackburn

While he was a chronicler thereby of the desiring, often thwarted mind — his own & others’ — the central focus of his art was, as he saw it, a devotion to the quirky music language made: what the ear heard joined to what the eye saw. In this he early followed Pound into a search for means & sources in the troubador poetry of medieval Provence (the gathered work is called Proensa), surpassing the older poet in the voice he gave to his translations. (Or, translation aside, in the modern send-ups / variations of that voice in his own poems.)

Skeptical by nature, he clung still to a belief in poetry as both a private & communal act, a sense of which pervades his nearly final poem — ‘evening fantasy’ — in its imagining of poets dead before him, gathered in a kind of paradise-of-poets. (His ‘Phone Call to Rutherford’ is addressed to William Carlos Williams, following the older poet’s second stroke & subsequent aphasia.)

For all his reticence in framing a poetics, Blackburn’s recognition, circa 1960, of a new ‘American duende’ was a summons — a rallying cry — for many with whom his work was intersecting.

Photo of Paul Blackburn courtesy Joan Miller-Cohn

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