Edward Dorn Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Edward Merton Dorn attended a one-room schoolhouse for most of his first eight grades. The poet he read most frequently was James Whitcomb Riley, whose writing appeared in the local newspapers because he was from the neighboring state of Indiana. Dorn attended the University of Illinois, Urbana, and Black Mountain College, where he graduated in 1955. At Black Mountain College, in a liberal, creative environment, Dorn was associated with the rector Charles Olson, the poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Joel Oppenheimer, John Weiners, and Paul Blackburn, as well as the painter Franz Kline, the composer John Cage, and many other stimulating people. He held such disparate jobs as those of a logger in Washington State and a reference librarian at New Mexico State University in Santa Fe. During the mid-1960’s, he was the editor of Wild Dog magazine.

In 1969, he married Jennifer Dunbar, and they had a son, Kidd, and a daughter, Maya. For the last two decades of his life, he led the University of Colorado’s creative writing program. In his later years, Dorn was much concerned, in his writing and teaching, with the culture and geography of the West, writing numerous essays on the subject that were eventually collected in Way West: Stories, Essays, and Verse Accounts, 1963-1993 (1993). He died of pancreatic cancer on December 10, 1999, in Denver, Colorado.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Edward Merton Dorn is generally regarded as one of twentieth century America’s most brilliant satiric poets; he wrote more than twenty books. He was born in 1929 into a poor Illinois farm family. He never knew his father, who left the family during the Depression. His mother was of French ancestry, and his grandfather was a railroad man. Dorn attended a one-room school and, after graduating from high school, spent two years at the University of Illinois. He finally ended up at the renowned Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1951, where he studied with the poet Charles Olson; Olson strongly influenced his work both spiritually and intellectually.

Because of his association with Black Mountain College, Dorn is usually grouped with other well-known poets and artists such as Joel Oppenheimer, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Jonathan Williams, John Wieners, and prose writer Fielding Dawson. Other members of the student body and faculty included dancer Merce Cunningham, composers Lou Harrison and John Cage, and painters Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Rauschenberg. All these diverse aesthetic and cultural influences contributed to the development of Dorn’s unique poetic vision, one that responded with particular vehemence to social and political injustice. He was especially concerned with the plight of American Indians and addressed their degrading treatment by European colonists in several of his finest works, such as The Shoshoneans and Recollections of Gran Apachería.

After a few years at Black Mountain College, Dorn decided to leave school and go exploring. He wandered around Kansas, Wyoming, and Washington State, where he worked and met his first wife, Helene. He returned to Black Mountain to finish his degree in 1955 and then returned to Washington State to work in the Skagit Valley in 1957. Dorn recorded those experiences in a novel, the highly regarded By the Sound. His reading of cultural geographer Carl Sauer’s “Morphology of Landscape” crucially influenced his poetic stance and caused him to regard humankind’s interaction with the natural environment as his primary subject matter for the...

(The entire section is 890 words.)