Paul Blackburn

Ron Silliman’s May 15 blog celebrates the work of Paul Blackburn and makes the following announcement: “The Paul Blackburn page at the Electronic Poetry Center has gone live. Jack Krick’s months of effort have finally born fruit. I’m here to tell you it’s a major event.” (Note: R.B. Kitaj did the portrait of Paul.)

I agree and I wholeheartedly recommend that you visit both Ron’s blog and the EPC page. Good stuff there. Paul’s work has too long been ignored. I was so happy to read the news that I wrote the following two comments and posted them on the Silliman blogspot.

Oh, this makes me so happy to read this. Tears in my eyes even. Paul, more than anybody else (well, along with the composer Barney Childs) was my mentor, the way he spoke and lived his poetry. I met him in 1964 at the Aspen Writers Workshop. Robert Vas Dias was the director but Toby Olson was the man responsible most for bringing Paul. Paul took to my work and understood my hesitancy and nervousness and befriended me (Toby too for that matter). Simply accepted me and stayed close to me. I was honored but too young to realize I was honored. In 1967 he was on some sort of government-funded journey through the south visiting African American colleges, and he stayed with Lee and me at our house in Memphis when he was reading and leading workshops at Lemoyne-Owen College. After several days in Memphis, Lee and I drove him to Nashville and visited Fisk University with him. I remember him talking about poetry and since we had beans and hot dogs for dinner, every once in a while, leaning over and raising one cheek or the other (away from the person he was talking to) to fart. Not missing a beat in the conversation. He spoke about visiting Pound in Venice and he read poems and played tapes of live readings from New York City. I remember especially Joel Oppenheimer’s “Sirventes on a sad occurrence.” It was a remarkable reading of a great and important poem. I raved about the reading. Paul smiled and said there were only three people in the audience, him and two others. But also Ray Bremser was on those tapes, Ed Sanders, Diane DiPrima, others. I was dumbfounded and delighted, a pure poetry high. During that visit Paul wrote a poem for Lee, something like “A Short Riotous Poem for Lee Merrill Byrd” that’s in the Collected. He wrote that poem sitting at our table. Beautiful spring flowers sat in front of him. Paul was writing in his thick journal. He asked Lee, “What kind of flowers are these?” Lee said, “The 39-cent kind.” And that’s the line in the poem. It was a lesson in poetics I never forgot. The improvisation, the being there, the careful listening and paying close attention to what is in front of you and letting the poem happen. [See note at end.] That week he received his first two copies The Cities. He gave us one and dedicated it to us with his fat pen. That book is one of my treasures. Somewhere I have tapes Paul used to send to us, him reading his poems. I copied them for Edie Jarolim, but I need to find them to send to the Electronic Poetry Center. Over the years, Paul kept up with us and in Colorado he visited us, along with Joan and their baby Carlos. He never forgot his friendship. He introduced me to the bigger world of poetry. I miss him greatly in my heart. Thanks greatly for reminding me. And many thanks to Jack Krick and the Electronic Poetry Center. I also will speak up for a paperback of the Collected.


1. In my first printing of this entry, I was so excited to write something down I got my dates all wrong, and so I've made corrections. Four years later we were living in South Fork, CO. I knew he was sick. We had written back and forth and he had told us about the cancer in his throat, but then Toby called and told me Paul was dying and if I wanted to talk to say goodbye I better do it quick. Now 30-something years later I'm very unsure what happened. Part of me remembers me calling him and weeping and telling him goodbye. Another part of me remembers me never never making the call. I don't know. I was 29. Thinking about Paul brought up all sorts of stuff in my head.

2. Turns out that the poem “A Short Riotous Poem for Lee Merrill Byrd” doesn't have that line "the 39-cent kind." Well, I guess that could be embarrassing, but still it's a wonderful story. And I think that line is in some poem of Paul's. I need to go do some researching. Oh well.

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