The two major poles of Cid Corman’s life were the United States and Japan, specifically Boston and Kyoto. Close study of his work shows how it embodies both the tensions of urban American life, social and literary, and the qualities of philosophical serenity and complex identification with nature associated with Asia. Corman was born Sidney Corman in Boston and attended the Boston Latin School and then Tufts University, where he graduated (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1945. He did graduate work at the University of Michigan, where he won a Hopwood Award in Poetry. Back in Boston, Corman ran what was to be the first of his “editorial” contributions to modern poetry, a weekly radio program on WMEX that presented the best of contemporary poets in the Boston area. In 1951, he began Origin magazine. A Fulbright to Paris and a year as an English instructor in Matera, Italy (the source for much of the material of Corman’s early volumes of poetry), were the initial phases of Corman’s voyaging away from the United States to discover and resolve the contradictions of literary self-exile. Such exile was, and is, Corman’s major theme. After returning to the United States, Corman made the first of his trips to Kyoto, spent two years in San Francisco, and then returned to Kyoto.
In Kyoto, Corman’s work and influence flourished. There he not only wrote an enormous amount of poetry but also published in a simple and elegant format Origin magazine, sending it back to the United States for argument, discussion, and protest, as well as distribution. For Corman, the activity in Kyoto, along with the influence of the city’s famous Zen teachers, made the Japanese city one of the necessary places of pilgrimage of American poetry. To contemporary poets who visited or lived in Kyoto, such as Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Clayton Eshleman, Corman’s activities and, indeed, his physical presence in the coffee shop that he and his Japanese wife, Shizumi, ran, meant serious engagement and encounter with some of the strongest literary currents of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Since that time, Corman continued to be active as a poet, translator, editor, essayist, and maker of fine books. His final projects, including several large volumes of poetry, influenced by Asian masters, are outlined in an interview with Gregory Dunne. Corman died in Kyoto, Japan, on March 12, 2004.