Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The carefully descriptive title of this work suggests its format: It is autobiographical in the sense that it is a factual narrative of the first twenty-one years of Kenneth Rexroth’s life—beginning actually three generations before his birth in 1905, and ending three weeks after the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927—and it introduces and identifies dozens of people who touched upon that life. It is a novel in that, though the book proceeds chronologically, the reader is always conscious of selectivity and rearrangement, aware that Rexroth does not let strict chronology dictate form. Nor does Rexroth feel the necessity to identify specifically each character. Their function—their influence on the formation of Rexroth’s character, personality, and intellect—is more important to him than their names. This does not mean that all notable or recognizable names are not used. James T. Farrell is here, and Harte Crane, and Maxwell Bodenheim. It does mean that anyone who was likely to be injured or insulted by the gossip attending his or her identification is not named.

The book is presented in thirty-eight generally chronological chapters; it is significant, however, that they are not titled chapters, and that they are not grouped under a series of descriptive headings as are divisions of many biographies and autobiographies. There is no attempt to impose an intellectual or ideological order on or to imply a progress to the life portrayed here. As...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Gardner, Geoffrey, ed. For Rexroth, 1980.

Gibson, Morgan. Kenneth Rexroth, 1972.

Hall, Donald. “Kenneth Rexroth and His Poetry,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXV (November 23, 1980), p. 9.

Morrow, Bradford. Introduction to World Outside the Window: The Selected Essays of Kenneth Rexroth, 1987.

White, Robin. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXI (February 13, 1966), p. 5.