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Kenneth Rexroth Biography

(1905–82), An Autobiographical Novel, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, A Homestead Called Damascus

American poet and essayist, born at South Bend, Indiana; he grew up mainly in Chicago, where he studied at the Art Institute. An Autobiographical Novel (1966) recounts his precocious involvement in a range of Modernist movements in literature and the graphic arts. From 1927 he lived principally in San Francisco, working as a journalist and latterly as a visiting lecturer at various universities. His early verse was eventually collected in The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1949) and A Homestead Called Damascus (1963). His involvement in the emergence of Objectivist poetry in 1931 is most clearly reflected in the verse of The Phoenix and the Tortoise (1944). His socialist activities in the 1930s are indicated by the political tenor of In What Hour (1940), his first published collection. Subsequent collections, in which his work is broadly divided into polemical and lyrical verse, include The Dragon and the Unicorn (1952), a verse-journal of travel in post-war Europe, In Defense of the Earth (1956), The Heart's Garden, The Garden's Heart (1967), and The Morning Star (1979). Rexroth's later work is informed by his familiarity with Oriental poetry and has its thematic centre in his desire to reconcile Christianity and Taoism. In the 1950s he was popularly termed ‘Godfather of the Beats’ and is portrayed in Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums (1958) as ‘Rheinhold Cacoethes’. Collected editions of his shorter (1967) and longer (1968) poems have been produced. Among his collections of literary essays and cultural speculations are Bird in the Bush (1959), With Eye and Ear (1970), and The Elastic Retort (1973). His extensive œuvre also encompasses numerous versedramas and translations of Chinese, Japanese, French, and classical Greek poetry. The remarkable scope of his interests is well represented by the selections in The Rexroth Reader (edited by Eric Mottram, 1972). See also Black Mountain Writers and San Francisco Renaissance.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: David Rabe Biography to Rhinoceros (Rhinocéros)