Rexroth is one of the leading craftsmen of the day.

William Carlos Williams

Kenneth Rexroth

Kenneth Rexroth (1905–1982) was an American poet, translator, essayist and social critic who played a key role in the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s. 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. He connected with New Directions from the very beginning, and was both friend and adviser to James Laughlin for the rest of his life. New Directions published most of his books of poetry, including Collected Shorter Poems (1966), Collected Longer Poems (1968), and Selected Poems (1984); his plays (Beyond the Mountains, 1951); his Autobiographical Novel (1964; expanded edition, 1991); several collections of essays (Bird in the Bush, 1959; Assays, 1961; World Outside the Window: Selected Essays, 1987; Classics Revisited, 1986; More Classics Revisited, 1989); and numerous volumes of translations, including 100 Poems from the Chinese, 100 Poems from the Japanese, Women Poets of China, Women Poets of Japan, and Selected Poems of Pierre Reverdy.

cover image of the book In the Sierra

In the Sierra

by Kenneth Rexroth

Edited by Kim Stanley Robinson

With a contribution by Kim Stanley Robinson

Over the course of his life, Kenneth Rexroth wrote about the Sierra Nevada better than anyone. Progressive in terms of environmental ethics and comparable to the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Aldo Leopard, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder, Rexroth’s poetry and prose described the way Californians have always experienced and loved the High Sierra. Contained in this marvelous collection are transcendent nature poems, as well as prose selections from his memoir An Autobiographical Novel, newspaper columns, published and unpublished WPA guidebooks, and correspondence. Famed science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson has compiled a gift for lovers of mountains and poetry both. This volume also contains Robinson’s introduction and notes, photographs of Rexroth, a map of Rexroth’s travels, and an amazing astronomical analysis of Rexroth’s poems by the fiction writer Carter Scholz.

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Written On The Sky

Over the years, thousands of readers have discovered the beauty of classic Japanese poetry through the superb English versions by the great American poet Kenneth Rexroth. Mostly haiku, these poems range from the classical and medieval to modern poetry, with an emphasis on folk songs and love lyrics. Because women played such an outstanding role in Japanese literature, included here are selections from their work, including the contemporary, deeply sensuous Marichiko. This elegant, beautifully designed gift book of poems spanning many centuries presents the original texts in romanji, the transliteration into the Western alphabet.

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Songs Of Love, Moon & Wind

This exquisite gift book offers a wide sampling of Chinese verse, from the first century to our own time, beginning with the lyric poetry of Tu Fu, moving to the folk songs of the Six Dynasties Period, on to the Sung Dynasty, and to the present. Also represented are some of the best-known women of Chinese poetry, including Li Ching-chao and Chu Shu-chen. These simple, accessible but profound poems come through to us with a breathtaking immediacy in Kenneth Rexroth’s English versions — a wonderful gift for any lover of poetry.

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Beyond The Mountains

Kenneth Rexroth’s sequence of four short plays, Beyond the Mountains, was first brought out by New Directions in 1951, then reprinted in 1966 by City Lights Books. Reviewing it for The New York Times, William Carlos Williams concluded, “I have never been so moved by a play in verse in my time." His judgment having stood the test of time, the book is now being reissued as an ND Paperbook. “Phaedra” and “Iphigenia at Aulis,” set in the Greek heroic age, are recastings of old, familiar myths; while “Hermaios’’ and “Berenike” (collectively called “Beyond the Mountains”) take place at the start of the Christian era, in Hellenized Bactria, in the foothills of the present-day Hindu Kush. In substance, the plays are Rexroth’s personal interpretation of the elemental values of Greek civilization, and they also present a unified philosophic and lyric vision which relates to that of Rexroth’s finest poetry.

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An Autobiographical Novel

When the poet Kenneth Rexroth died in 1982, he left behind a sequel to An Autobiographical Novel (1966). His published memoir––all 365 pages of it––stopped at 1927, when the twenty-two-year-old writer and his first wife, Andrée, were about to settle in California. Now revised and expanded, An Autobiographical Novel includes reminiscences that cover another twenty years of literary life and two more marriages. Linda Hamalian, author of A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (W. W. Norton, 1991), sifted through more than 300 pages of raw tape transcriptions. Weighing fact against fictions (Rexroth loved a tall tale and relished gossip), Hamalian has prepared a valuable index that identifies obscure allusions and the real people who figured in Rexroth’s emotionally tumultuous life. “It adds up to a very good read,” she says. “I am willing to bet a nice chunk of money that readers will wish Rexroth had been able to go on and on loosening his talk-tapes.”

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Flower Wreath Hill

Kenneth Rexroth’s Flower Wreath Hill: Later Poems combines two earlier volumes, New Poems (1974) and The Morning Star (1979) to keep available the late lyric and elegiac poems and translations of a writer who is finally being recognized as “a poet of the first rank” (World Literature Today) and “a quintessential American author” (Los Angeles Times). The transcendent, unchanging beauty of nature, the mutable lives and loves of man are the twin themes of these poems, which include Rexroth’s own brief, crystalline glimpses of the natural world as well as translations from the Japanese, Chinese, and Swedish. This edition is capped by two extraordinary poem sequences: “On Flower Wreath Hill,” a meditation on mortality and eternity (inspired by the tumulus of a “long dead princess” in Kyoto––Flower Wreath Hill being a Chinese and Japanese euphemism for cemetery), and, in a remarkable feat of cross-gender identification, the openly erotic “Love Poems of Marichiko,” in which Rexroth wrote in the persona of a young Japanese woman and “translated” himself.

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More Classics Revisited

More Classics Revisited is the second volume of the late poet and polymath Kenneth Rexroth’s brilliant, succinct analyses of some of the key documents in literary history. It presents East and West: from the Bible, theBhagavad-Gita, and the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu to the works of Karl Marx, Charles Baudelaire, and William Carlos Williams. Supplementing the sixty short essays originally published as Classics Revisited in 1969 are forty-one pieces from With Eye and Ear (1970) and The Elastic Retort (1973), both long out of print, as well as various previously uncollected or unpublished essays. Taken together, these hundred and one critiques stand, writes editor Bradford Morrow, “as a primer, or Baedeker, to a whole terrain of thought, to one man’s study of imagination and its field of conjuries.” The New Directions edition of Classics Revisited was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection, attesting to the wide appeal of Rexroth’s learning and humanity.

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World Outside The Window

World Outside the Window: The Selected Essays of Kenneth Rexroth brings together twenty-seven essays written over a period of more than forty years by the man one of his publishers called “an American cultural monument.” A brilliant self-taught scholar in fields as diverse as Buddhism and modern French poetry, Rexroth was a poet, philosopher, translator, promoter of poets, conscientious objector, political activist, cultural critic, professional curmudgeon, and teacher. More than one critic has suggested that an individual could pursue a complete curriculum in the humanities simply by reading Rexroth’s essays and the works to which they refer. Clear-eyed and clear-headed, Rexroth championed “moral judgment” in the poet and artist from the very first (see “The Function of the Poet in Society,” 1936). And while he dismissed many of his essays as “journalism,” he remains our sanest guide to the cultural upheaval in American society since World War II. Was it because of his trenchant perspicacity that Rexroth’s death in 1982 was widely ignored by the press and cultural establishment, bearing out his own assessment that “When a prophet refuses to go crazy, he becomes quite a problem, crucifixion being as complicated as it is in humanitarian America”? Recently he has been called our “intellectual conscience.” It is time to read Rexroth again. This collection has been compiled and edited by Bradford Morrow, editor of Conjunctions magazine and Rexroth’s literary executor.

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Classics Revisited

Poet, translator, essayist, and voracious reader––Kenneth Rexroth was an omnivore in the fields of literature. The brief, radiant essays of Classics Revisited discuss sixty key books that are, for Rexroth, “basic documents in the history of the imagination.” Ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Huckleberry Finn, these pieces (each about five pages long) originally appeared in the Saturday Review. Distinguished by Rexroth’s plain, wide-awake style, Classics Revisited presents complex ideas in simple language, energized by the author’s air of talking eye-to-eye with his reader. Elastic, at home in several languages, Rexroth is not bound by East or West; he leaps nimbly from Homer to The Mahabharata, from Lady Murasaki to Stendhal. It is only when we pause for breath that we notice his special affinities: for Casanova, lzaak Walton, Macbeth, Icelandic sagas, classical Japanese poetry. He has read everything. In Sterne, he sees traces of the Buddha; in Fielding, hints of Confucius. “Life may not be optimistic,” Rexroth maintains in his introduction, “but it certainly is comic, and the greatest literature presents man wearing the two conventional masks; the grinning and the weeping faces that decorate theatre prosceniums. What is the face behind the mask? Just a human face––yours or mine. That is the irony of it all––the irony that distinguishes great literature––it is all so ordinary.”

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Selected Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

The late Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) is surely one of the most readable of this century’s great American poets. He is also one of the most sophisticated. Like William Carlos Williams, he honed his writing to a controlled and direct language. His intellectual complexity matches Wallace Stevens, his polymath erudition Ezra Pound. He is first among our nature poets. His love poems and erotic lyrics are unsurpassed. Rexroth’s Selected Poems brings together in a single volume a representative sampling of sixty years’ work. Here are substantial passages from his longer poems: The Homestead Called Damascus (1920-1925), begun while the poet was in his teens; the cubist Prolegomenon to a Theodicy (1925-1927); the philosophical masterpiece The Phoenix and the Tortoise (1940-1944) and The Dragon and the Unicorn (1944-1950); and the meditative The Heart’s Garden, The Garden’s Heart (1967). The shorter poems were originally gathered in In What Hour (1940), The Art of Wordly Wisdom (1949), The Signature of All Things (1950), In Defense of the Earth (1956), Natural Numbers (1964), New Poems (1974), and The Morning Star (1979).

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Women Poets Of Japan

From as early as the seventh century up to the present day, no other country has had so many important women poets as Japan. In this collection (originally published by The Seabury Press in 1977 as The Burning Heart), Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi have assembled representative works of seventy-seven poets. Starting with the Classic period (645-1603 A.D.), characterized by the wanka and tanka styles, followed by haiku poets of the Tokugawa period (to 1867), the subsequent modern tanka and haiku poets, and including the contemporary school of free verse––Women Poets of Japan records twelve hundred years of poetic accomplishment. Included are biographical notes on the individual poets, as essay on Japanese women and literature, and a table of historical periods.

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Women Poets Of China

This book (originally published in 1972 by The Seabury Press as The Orchid Boat) is the first representative collection of the poetry of Chinese women to appear in English. Unlike Japan with its long tradition of women writers, poetry by women did not become fashionable in China until the Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1911), although poems from earlier centuries that do in fact survive will quickly dispel any stereotyped views. Included here are samplings from the legendary earliest poetry of courtesans, palace women, and Tao priestesses to works by contemporary Chinese women living in both the East and West. Appendixes include notes on the poems, an introductory essay on Chinese women and literature, a table of historical periods, and a bibliography.

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One Hundred More Poems From The Japanese

Kenneth Rexroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Japanese (1955) proved such an extremely popular book that he put together a sequel. The poems are representative of a large range of classical, medieval, and modern poetry, but the emphasis, as in his companion Chinese collections (1955 and 1970), is on folk songs and love lyrics. And because women have had such an outstanding role in Japanese literature, included here are selections from the work, among others, of the remarkable early twentieth-century poet Yosano Akiko and the more contemporary, deeply sensuous Marichiko. As in the earlier volume, One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese presents the original texts in romaji, the transliteration into the Western alphabet, while the authors’ names are given in traditional calligraphy.

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New Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

“In his poetry,” writes critic Morgan Gibson of Kenneth Rexroth, “he attains––not by ego or will, but through the grace of imagination––communion with nature and those he loves; and, in a transcendent community of love, he discovers himself as being responsible for all.” This sense of what is universal, his prophetic embrace of all being and beings, is the moving spirit in New Poems, Rexroth’s first major collection since Love and the Turning Year: One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese (1970). These ninety-one pieces––original poems, adaptations, and translations––include much previously unpublished work, as well as Sky Sea Birds Trees Earth House Beasts Flowers, brought out in a limited edition by Unicorn Press. Rendered from the Chinese, some in collaboration with Ling Chung, are poems from the classic writers and three by Rexroth himself. Translations from the Japanese focus on the short, sensual poems of the contemporary woman poet Marichiko, who takes her pen name from Marichi, the Hindu goddess of the dawn. New Poems is but the latest display of the broad, striking range of Rexroth’s poetic powers.

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One Hundred Poems from the Chinese

The lyric poetry of Tu Fu ranks with the greatest in all world literature. Across the centuries––Tu Fu lived in the T’ang Dynasty (713-770)––his poems come through to us with an immediacy that is breathtaking in Kenneth Rexroth’s English versions. They are as simple as they are profound, as delicate as they are powerful. Thirty-five poems by Tu Fu make up the first part of this volume. The translator then moves on to the Sung Dynasty (10th-12th centuries) to give us a number of poets of that period, much of whose work was not previously available in English: Mei Yao Ch’en, Su Tung P’o, Lu Yu, Chu Hsi, Hsu Chao, and the poetesses Li Ch’ing Chao and Chu Shu Chen. There is a general introduction, biographical and explanatory notes on the poets and poems, and a bibliography of other translations of Chinese poetry.

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One Hundred More Poems From The Chinese

Kenneth Rexroth’s translations of Chinese verse include “poems of love, reverie and meditation in the midst of nature.” As in his earlier One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, he adds even a few more “for good measure and good luck.” Love and the Turning Year includes a selection from the Yueh Fu––folk songs from the Six Dynasties Period (fourth-fifth centuries A.D.). Most of the songs are simple, erotic lyrics. Some are attributed to legendary courtesans, while others may have been sung at harvest festivals or marriage celebrations. In addition to the folk songs, Rexroth offers a wide sampling of Chinese verse: works by 60 different poets, from the third century to our own time. Rexroth always translated Chinese poetry––as he said––“solely to please myself.” And he created, with remarkable success, English versions which stand as poems in their own right.

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cover image of the book The Collected Longer Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

The Collected Longer Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

This is a companion volume to the Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth which was published in 1967. All of the long poems written over the past forty years are included: The Homestead Called Damascus (1920-25), A Prolegomenon to a Theodicy (1925-27), The Phoenix and the Tortoise (1940-44), The Dragon and the Unicorn (1944-50) and The Heart’s Garden, The Garden’s Heart (1967-68). As we read the long poems together and in sequence we can see that Rexroth is a philosophical poet of consequence who offers us a comprehensive system of values based on the realization of the ethical mysticism of universal responsibility. He is concerned, above all, with process: the movement from the Dual to the Other. “I have tried,” Rexroth writes," to embody in verse the belief that the only valid conservation of value lies in the assumption of unlimited liability, the supernatural identification of the self with the tragic unity of creative process. I hope I have made it clear that the self does not do this by an act of will, by sheer assertion. He who would save his life must lose it."

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cover image of the book The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

This volume brings together all of Kenneth Rexroth’s shorter poems from 1920 to the present, including a group of new poems written since the publication of Natural Numbers, drawn from seven earlier books. Among the American poets of the generation that came to prominence in the Forties, Kenneth Rexroth has been notable both for the independence of his personal voice and for his accessibility to the tradition of international avant-garde literature. He began writing and publishing in magazines at fifteen. His earliest work was personal and concrete, much like that of the Imagists. In his twenties he wrote in the disassociative style — sometimes called “literary cubism " — developed by Mallarmé, Apollinaire, and Reverdy. This was not free association, but the conscious disassociation and recombination of the elements of the poem to achieve the highest possible level of significance. With his later books Rexroth moved back to a direct and classically simple form of personal statement. In this period he wrote the great nature poems, the love poems, and the contemplative lyrics that have established his reputation as one of the most important American poets.

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One Hundred Poems From The Japanese

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The New Directions Anthology Of Classical Chinese Poetry

A rich compendium of translations, The New Directions Anthology of Chinese Poetry is the first collection to look at Chinese poetry through its enormous influence on American poetry. Beginning with Ezra Pound’s Cathay (1915), the anthology includes translations by three other major U.S. poets––William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder––and an important poet-translator-scholar, David Hinton, all of whom have long been associated with New Directions. It is one of the first general anthologies ever to consider the process of translation by presenting different versions of the same poem by multiple translators, as well as examples of the translators rewriting themselves. A playful and instructive study into the art and tradition of Chinese poetry, this anthology gathers some 250 poems by nearly 40 poets, from the anonymous early poetry through the great masters of the T’ang and Sung dynasties. It also includes previously uncollected translations by Pound; a selection of essays on Chinese poetry by all five translators, some never published before in book form; Lu Chi’s famous “Rhymeprose on Literature,” translated by the eminent scholar Achilles Fang; biographical notes that are a collage of poems and comments by both the American translators and the Chinese poets themselves; as well as Eliot Weinberger’s excellent introduction that historically contextualizes the influence Chinese poetry has had on the work of American poets.

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The Green Child

by Herbert Read

Translated by Adam Phillips

With a contribution by Eliot Weinberger and Kenneth Rexroth

The Green Child is the only novel by Herbert Read — the famous English poet, anarchist, and literary critic. First published by New Directions in 1948, it remains a singular work of bewildering imagination and radiance. The author considered it a philosophical fable akin to Plato’s cave.

Olivero, the former dictator of a South American country, has returned to his native England after faking his own assassination. On a walk he sees, through a cottage window, a green-skinned young girl tied to a chair. He watches in horror as a man forces the girl to drink lamb’s blood from a cup. Olivero rescues the child, and she leads him into unknown realms.

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Rexroth is one of the leading craftsmen of the day.

William Carlos Williams

Rexroth sees the eternal in an instant.

The Nation

To define strangeness with no great strain is the peculiar province of art; and it is as a master of this great art that Kenneth Rexroth defines and defends our earth for us.

The New York Times Book Review

His is a deeply satisfying, profoundly philosophic poetry of the world realization. No need to shout about it. No need to praise. His is the art to accept the vastness of life and give us his sure sense of it, serene, open.

The Nation

Like Whitman, Rexroth is a poet of cosmic consciousness…

Stephen Stephanchev, New Leader

Rexroth’s readings from the Japanese master poets are breathtaking in their simplicity and clarity.

New York Times
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