KENNETH REXROTH IN HIS OWN WORDS



ON CAPITALISM AND COMMUNISM

“I starve under capitalism, and I would starve under a dictatorship of the
proletarian for the same reasons. After all I am interested in perpetual revolution
in a sense other than Trotsky’s—the constant raising into relevance of ignored
values. Poetry has for its mission in society the reduction of what the Society of
Jesus named ‘invincible ignorance,’ and the true poet is as much to be feared by
the proletariat as by the bourgeoisie.” [1931]  (76)

Doom and destruction are inevitable until humans escape “from the frozen
embrace of this dead economic system.”  (115)


ON IDEAS IN 1941

“Maybe I am slowly growing up and learning that it is idle and tedious to quarrel
with others about their ideas. After all, ideas are going to play a very scant role in
the world we are entering.”  (116)


ON REGISTERING AS A CONSCIENTOUS OBJECTOR DURING WORLD WAR II

“Under such circumstances I feel one has a responsibility to his species—it is silly
to spend one’s life talking about ‘Mutual Aid’—and then make socks in jail or
plant trees while one’s species tears itself to pieces.”  (107)


ON HISTORY

“The problem is to control history/ We already understand it.”  (104)


ON HIS DISILLUSIONMENT WITH A STALINIST

“Mr. Humphries is welcome to his opinion of my vocabulary, but I came into the
Popular Front from the Left, and went out by the same door. Mr. Humphries
knows this. He has either locked himself in the burning building or left by some
other exit.” (105)


ON POETS’ WIVES

“Only Blake and Cowper ever got the kind of wives poets should have, and Blake’s
was illiterate, and Cowper’s wasn’t his wife.”  (132)

“You marry a poet so you can have a social feather in your cap, and then treat him
as though he had the nerves of a ditch digger.”  (169)


ON MEETING JANINA LEPSKA, HENRY MILLER’S GIRLFRIEND IN 1942

“Like all Slavs, she gives off a sort of muffed and booted aroma of Venus in Furs.”  
(134)


ON BEING PUZZLED WHY EDITOR SELDEN RODMAN WOULD PRINT E. B.
WHITE

“Has he got, locked up at the bank, an autographed picture of you fucking a
sheep?”  (174)


ON POET JOHN CROWE RANSOM

“A late anal arch deacon.”  (174)


ON REPORTING TO ENGLISH POET CHARLES WREY GARDINER AFTER
ENGLISH WRITER CYRILL CONNOLLY HAD PASSED THROUGH SAN
FRANCISCO IN 1947

“We fed him and got him drunk and gave him a marijuana cigarette and
everything.”



ON HIS OWN POETICS

My poetry aims to get into my “own bowels and into the physical intimacies of my
relations with others and the world. Most poetry is best when it is about what the
poet thinks of some pink beloved pussy and not at all about H[enry] A. Wallace
and J.C. God.”  (175)


ON THE BEATS AFTER CHAMPIONING THEM AND FEELING BETRAYED
(284), SPOKEN TO ALLEN GINSBERG

“I know what you’re doing. I feel as if I walked into a candy store and got beaten
up by a bunch of juvenile delinquents.”  (259)


ON JACK KEROUAC’S AUTOMATIC WRITING

“[T]errifying gibberish that sounds like a tape recording of a gang bang with
everybody full of pod, juice and bennies, all at once.”  (269)


ON THE FACULTY OF BARD COLLEGE IN 1948        

They like to get “drunk as perch orchard swine.”  (177)



ON ROBERT CREELEY WHO HAD AN AFFAIR WITH REXROTH’S PREVIOUS
WIFE, SPOKEN AT AGE 71 IN 1976

“Don’t mention that name in my presence; I’ll beat the shit out of him if I ever see
him again.”  (359)


ON HIS FRIENDS CHARLIE PARKER AND DYLAN THOMAS

“like pillars of Hercules, like two ruined Titans guarding the entrance to one of
Dante’s circles…. Both of them were overcome by the horror of the world in which
they found themselves, because at last they could no longer overcome that world
with the weapon of a purely lyrical art.”  (231)


ON CHOGYAM TRUNGPA

“[Trungpa is] a counter Buddha, sometimes considered his brother, who always
goes about seeking whom he may devour with ignorance and trying to destroy the
Buddha word.”  (365)


ON CHILDREN

“Children [are] safest in a convent or a whorehouse.”  (292)


EUROPE FIRSTHAND
---ON ENGLISH FOOD IN 1949
“Every time they set a plate in front of you in a restaurant, you feel like suing the
management…. They can spoil anything. All they have to do is take food out of a
package or tin and put it on a plate and it becomes inedible.”  (404)
“I’d rather be/ Fed intravenously.”  (294)          


---ON ENGLISH ANARCHISTS
“You people are not anarchists, you are just exceptionally English. You are even
more brutally rude than the rest of your countrymen.”  (193)


---ON HEARING SPOKEN FRENCH (HE TRANSLATED THE WRITTEN)

“[It sounds like] “farting into lettuce.”  (202)


---ON VISITING GERMANY IN 1966

“The only civilized Germans departed in smoke from the gas ovens.”  (322)


ON WHY IN 1951 HE STARTED CHARGING 50 CENTS ADMISSION TO HIS
FRIDAY LITERARY EVENINGS

“To keep out the people who drop cigarette butts in the goldfish bowl.”  (221)


ON HOW TO SURVIVE PRISON

Based on his experience in some “nasty jails,” he said the trick of getting through a
prison term was never to think of “any screw or warden as human.”  (229)


ON EAST COAST ESTABLISHMENT LITERARY CRITICISM

The kind favored by “the castrated rabbits of Puddle, a magazine of Piddle.”  (239)


ON SEEING AN EMPTY CRATE ON THE FLOOR WHILE ACTING AS M.C.

“This is a lectern for a midget who is going to recite the Iliad in haiku form.”  (244)


ON COMMITMENT TO HIS WORK IN 1960 AT AGE 55

“I must get certain jobs done soon. This is a debt—not just to society—but to the
society of generations to come. Of this failure to do my duty, I am always terribly
aware.”  (303)


ON THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION IN 1961

“[The social revolution has become] pot and pussy.” (307)

Life deteriorated among the Flower Children of Haight-Ashbury because “nobody
did the dishes; they were screwing one another and everybody got diseases. It was
love time. No one cleaned the bathrooms, the kitchen, the urinals.”  (412)


ON THE BOURGEOISIE

“Never trust a bourgeois millionaire.”  (354)

“My god, they think if you do it on your side, you’re a freak.”  (309)

“A snob is a person who imitates the manners of the class above him.”  (373)


ON “THE FUZZ” PLAYBOY (1967)

“[Police are involved] in a symbiotic relationship within the illegal communities—
narcotics peddlers, prostitutes, and gamblers—that function as subcultures in the
society.”  (326)

“The Boss Heat in San Francisco got me fired from three jobs at once, one of which
I had held for almost ten years. Can I prove it? No. My informants refuse to
testify.”  (330)


ON ILLUMINATION

“The Catholic contemplative, the Sufi, the Buddhist monk follow counsels of
perfection—illumination comes as the crown of a life of intense ethical activism, of
honesty, of loyalty, poverty, chastity, and above all charity, positive, outgoing, love
of all creatures. The good life creates the ambiance into which spiritual
illumination flows like a sourceless, totally diffused light.”  (328)


ON CONFERENCES IN 1964, “PANELIZING DISSENT”

“A characteristic social mechanism [is] the institutionalization of dissent and
revolt…. Today Malcolm X is invited to address executive seminars at Shangri-las
nestled in the snow-clad Rockies.”  (343)


ON THE JAPANESE ECONOMY IN 1975

“Japanese businessmen are only too well aware that they owe their ever expanding
economy to the fact that seventy percent of their taxes do not go for wars, past,
present and future.”  (350)


ON THE USA IN 1975

“[It’s] a long dead corpse full of fighting maggots cannibalizing each other.”  (351)


ON PSYCHOLOGY AND MENTAL ILLNESS

“The idea that you can lie on a couch for five years, spend twenty thousand dollars,
suddenly remember the first time you saw your grandfather’s penis, rise
illuminated, and walk away in complete mental health… is pure bullshit.”  (109)

Rexroth believed that mental illness was, like tuberculosis, a disease of the poor,
and not “an indoor sport of the Viennese upper class.”  (109)

While on duty as an orderly in a mental hospital, “No patient was put in seclusion,
unless he was so completely demented that he ran around, threw himself in all
directions, and attacked people. And no one was kept in restraint except people
with brain damage from strokes or trauma who were unconscious and would roll
out of bed and injure themselves.”  (108)

[Rexroth said that the only people he thought should ever receive capital
punishment were the doctors who ordered shock therapy and lobotomies for their
patients.  (394)]


ON RESPONDING TO A FEMINIST WHILE ON STAGE

“I may not look that way, but I was a feminist before most of your mothers were
born.”  (353)

“[I write poetry to] please women—not to bitch about them.”  (353)


ON RACE IN 1947

KR translation of an epigram
by Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 330-395),
the last great Roman historian:


Dawn after dawn comes on the wine
Spilt on  books and music,
And on the stained and tumbled pillows.
And then, while we are paying
No attention, a black man comes
And roasts some of us, and fries
Some of us, and boils some of us,
And throws us all in the dump.


ON RESPONDING TO THOSE WHITES IN 1961 WHO CLAIMED THE CIVIL
RIGHTS MOVEMENT HAD ACHIEVED ITS OBJECTIVES

“If you are being raped in the kitchen or burned alive in the woods, it is small
consolation to know that all the world condemns your persecutors as evil men….
The end of the road is total social indifference as to race, not in the Five Spot or the
Blue Note [jazz clubs]; not in City College; not in a political rally…. It means that
race won’t make any difference if you’re a plumber and go to the Plumber’s
Convention. It won’t make a particle of difference with your neighbors in your
apartment house or suburb. It won’t make any difference to the kids your kids
play with, or to the young men and women your sons and daughters choose to
marry.”  (307-8)


ON HIS FIRST TIME IN NATURE (1924)

“To the southwest the great mountain rose up covered with walls of ice. There was
no one near me for miles in any direction. I realized then, with complete certainty,
this was the place for me. This was the kind of life I liked best. I resolved to live it
as much I could from then on.”  (32)


ON HIS STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT SANTA
BARBARA

“They’re all stoned and they’re all illiterate.”  (332)

                                                                                            
page one        page two