Kenneth Rexroth Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In addition to more than thirty books of poetry, of which nearly half are translations from six languages, Kenneth Rexroth philosophically developed his erotic mysticism in verse drama, autobiographies, and critical essays. His four ritual plays of ecstatic transcendence in the midst of collapsing classical Greek civilization, influenced by Japanese N and Greek tragedy, were collected in 1951 as Beyond the Mountains, premiered by the Living Theater in New York. Praised as one of Rexroth’s most enduring achievements by poet William Carlos Williams, the classical scholar George Woodcock, and Japanese scholars Kodama Sanehide and Sakurai Emiko, Beyond the Mountains is distinguished by its faithfulness to both the Eastern and Western traditions that fed its subtle form, by its passionate characters who dramatize modern as well as ancient spiritual crises, and by its sensuously intellectual style.

In An Autobiographical Novel (1966, 1978) and Excerpts from a Life (1981), Rexroth’s adventures are boldly narrated just as he spoke—with the uncanny power of epigrammatically characterizing everyone he met. Moreover, his religious, philosophical, and literary ideas are amplified in his wide-ranging essays, which have served to expand the audience for modern poetry. Most of his essays have been collected, and he also provided important introductory essays to his editions of other writers.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Kenneth Rexroth’s contributions to diverse literary and intellectual movements are suggested by Louis Zukofsky’s inclusion of A Prolegomenon to a Theodicy, a long, cubist, philosophical revery, in An “Objectivists Anthology” (1932) and by Rexroth’s membership in the Industrial Workers of the World, the John Reed Clubs, and the San Francisco “Libertarian Circle,” among other revolutionary organizations, in which nonviolent, communitarian anarchism set an independent line in opposition to totalitarian communism and fascism as well as to the injustices of capitalistic democracy. His leadership in the Libertarian Circle was indispensable to the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance years before the Beat poets emerged in 1956, when Rexroth introduced poet Allen Ginsberg and others at the famous debut of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” He helped to advance the work of such poets as Denise Levertov, Gary Snyder, Jerome Rothenberg, Shiraishi Kazuko, and many others, and his translations of women poets of China and Japan were deliberately feminist contributions.

Rexroth’s work is read widely in Asia and Europe as well as in the United States. His international reputation has been aided by the popularity of his translations, his extensive travels and publication abroad, his collaboration with many writers in Europe and Asia, and the steady support of James Laughlin, whose New Directions published many of Rexroth’s books. Rexroth’s...

(The entire section is 421 words.)


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gibson, Morgan. Kenneth Rexroth. New York: Twayne, 1972. The first book-length study of Rexroth and a good introduction to his life and work. Chronological in approach, the book traces Rexroth’s career. Includes chronology, notes, select bibliography (including an annotated list of secondary sources), and index.

_______. Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East-West Wisdom. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1986. This book expands Gibson’s Kenneth Rexroth (1972) in order to assess the poet’s entire career. Benefiting from the close friendship with Rexroth, Gibson traces the evolution of themes and styles and analyzes the poems, plays, translations, and essays. Contains notes, bibliography (including an unannotated list of secondary sources), and index.

Grisby, Gordon K. “The Presence of Reality: The Poetry of Kenneth Rexroth.” Antioch Review 31 (Fall, 1971): 405-422. Grisby links the directness and clarity of Rexroth’s style to the nature of his vision. Many well-chosen examples from the poems illustrate the main themes of Rexroth’s poetry.

Gutierrez, Donald. The Holiness of the Real: The Short Verse of Kenneth Rexroth. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996. A critical study of selected poems by Rexroth. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.


(The entire section is 436 words.)