Blackburn, Paul

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Prolific American poet and translator Paul Blackburn (1926-1971) is known for his verse focusing on life in New York City; for his association with the Black Mountain literary circle that included American poets such as Robert Creeley (1926-2005), Charles Olson (1910-1970), and Denise Levertov (1923-1997); and for his work as a translator of Provençal, Spanish, and Portuguese writers.

Blackburn was born on November 24, 1926, in Saint Albans, Vermont. His mother was the author Frances Frost (1905-1959), who encouraged her son's literary development during his teen years in New York's Greenwich Village.

Blackburn was influenced by the work of American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972), whom he read in the course of his studies at the University of Wisconsin, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1950. Blackburn even traveled to Washington D.C., to visit Pound while he was institutionalized at St. Elizabeths Hospital. Pound's friendship benefitted Blackburn both personally and professionally; Pound introduced Blackburn to poet Robert Creeley (1926-2005), whose friendship also expanded Blackburn's literary circle and publishing opportunities. Proensa (1953), his first book of translations, and his first book of poetry, The Dissolving Fabric (1955), were published by Creeley's Divers Press. Through his relationship with Creeley, Blackburn became associated with the Black Mountain school of writers, including Charles Olson (1910-1970), Jonathan Williams (1929-2008), and Denise Levertov (1923-1997), and also took part in the emerging style of poetry called Projective Verse.

It was the use of Provençal in Pound's Cantos that encouraged Blackburn to learn the language, and in 1954, Blackburn received a Fullbright fellowship to study in France. His translations of and commentaries on the Provençal poets in Proensa have received much critical attention. Blackburn's own collections of verse include Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (1960); The Nets (1961); The Cities (1967); In, On, or About the Premises (1968); The Journals (1975); and The Selection of Heaven (1980). Blackburn was honored as a Guggenheim fellow in poetry in 1967. Although Blackburn was a prolific poet, during his lifetime his works were most often published with smaller presses, and several of his works were published posthumously. Blackburn was also a translator of Spanish and Portuguese. Other translated works by Blackburn include: Poem of the Cid (1966); Pablo Picasso's Hunk of Skin (1968); and Guillem de Poitou: His Eleven Extant Poems (1976).

Robert M. West. "Blackburn, Paul." American National Biography Online. (Feb. 2000) http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-01892.html (accessed September 13, 2011). "Paul Blackburn." Contemporary Authors Online. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. (2002) http://galenet.galegroup.com (accessed September 27, 2006).

From the guide to the Paul Blackburn Provençal poets collection, circa 1953, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Biography

Born in Saint Albans, Vermont, November 24th 1926, Paul Blackburn influenced contemporary literature through his poetry, translations and the encouragement and patronage he offered to fellow poets. His parents, William Gordon Blackburn and Frances Frost (also a poet, novelist and author of children's books) separated when Blackburn was three. He was cared for primarily by his maternal grandparents until he was fourteen, when his mother took him back to New York City to live with her in Greenwich Village. He began writing poetry in his late teens under her encouragement.

Just after enrolling in New York University in 1945, Blackburn joined the army in hopes of being sent overseas. The war ended shortly thereafter however, and he served as a laboratory technician in Colorado. In 1947 he returned to NYU, and subsequently transferred to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1949, graduating in 1950.

It was during his college years that Blackburn first came under the influence of Ezra Pound. While at the University of Wisconsin he began corresponding with Pound, and hitchhiked to Washington D.C. several times to visit him at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Via Pound, he came in to contact with Cid Corman, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer and Jonathan Williams. Through this contact came an ancillary involvement with the first two issues of Olson's magazine, BLACK MOUNTAIN REVIEW, and consequent, the inexact [erroneous?] inclusion of Blackburn in the Black Mountain school of poets. Blackburn neither attended the college, not taught there, and as Edith Jarolim points out in her intoduction to the Collected Poems, "Blackburn always opposed the division of poets into schools and did not like the role of Black Mountain poet into which he was cast by Donald Allen's anthology THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY (1960). He embraced all types of poetry, citing the value of "all work, if you work 'em right." (E. Jarolim in THE COLLECTED POEMS OF PAUL BLACKBURN, 1985)

It was Pound as well, who pointed Blackburn in the direction of Provencal poetry, and he studied the languages of Provence while at the University of Wisconsin. His work on Provencal translations intensified following the 1953 publication of a slim selection of the translations and with a Fulbright Fellowship in 1954 to study Provencal language and literature in France. This vein of his work continued for the rest of his life and didn't see full publication until after his death because he was never quite satisfied with it.

Blackburn was also well-known for his translations from Spanish of the epic Poem for the Cid, Lorca, a book of Pablo Picasso's poems, and of contemporary South American writers such as Octavio Paz and his friend Julio Cortazar.

In addition to the poetry and the translating, Blackburn played an important part in the poetry community, helping fledgling poets develop, and providing emotional support and opportunities to read for both unknown and established writers at the various reading series with which was involved. He was central in organizing readings that offered work from the Beats, the New York School, the Deep Image Poets, and the Black Mountain Poets. Clayton Eshleman has written, "Many, not just a few, but many poets alive today are beholden to him for a basic artistic kindness, for readings, yes, and for advice, but more humanly for a kind of comradeship that very few poets are willing to give." The readings he ran were progenitors to the Poetry Project at St. Marks Church on the Bowery.

Up until the mid-1960s Blackburn supported himself by various print-shop, editorial and translating jobs, including a short stint as poetry editor of THE NATION. Some of his early jobs included working in-house on encyclopedias, and writing free lance reviews. By the mid-1960s Blackburn began receiving offers of teaching positions, and in 1965, 1966 and 1967 he directed workshops at the Aspen Writers' Conference. He was Poet-In-Residence at City College of New York in 1966-67. A Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 enabled him to return to Europe to work on his translations and poetry. Upon returning to the U.S. he supported himself through reading tours and teaching at the State University of New York at Cortland.

Blackburn was married three times: to Winifred Grey McCarthy from 1954 to 1958; Sara Golden from 1963 to 1967; and to Joan Diane Miller in 1968, with whom he had his son, Carlos T. Blackburn died in 1971 of the esophageal cancer.

During his lifetime Blackburn published thirteen books of poetry: THE DISSOLVING FABRIC (1955), BROOKLYN MANHATTAN TRANSIT: A BOUQUET FOR FLATBUSH (1960), THE NETS (1961), 16 SLOPPY HAIKU AND A LYRIC FOR ROBERT REARDON (1966), SING SONG (1966), THE REARDON POEMS (1967), THE CITIES (1967), IN. ON. OR ABOUT THE PREMISES (1968), TWO NEW POEMS (1969), THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT MCKINLEY, THREE DREAMS AND AN OLD POEM, GIN: FOUR JOURNAL PIECES (1970), and THE JOURNALS: BLUE MOUNDS ENTRIES (1971); and 5 major works of translations: PROENSA (1953), POEM OF THE CID (1996), Julio Cortazar's END OF THE GAME AND OTHER STORIES (1967), Pablo Picasso' s HUNK OF SKIN and Julio Cortazar's CRONOPIOS AND FAMAS.

Nine other books of poetry were published posthumously: EARLY SELECTED Y MAS: POEMS 1949-1966 (1972), THE JOURNALS, HALFWAY DOWN THE COAST (1975), BY EAR (1978), AGAINST THE SILENCES (1980), THE SELECTION OF HEAVEN (1980), THE COLLECTED POEMS OF PAUL BLACKBURN (1985), THE SELECTED POEMS(?) and THE PARALLEL VOYAGES (1987); and 2 works of translation: PROENSA: AN ANTHOLOGY OF TROUBADOR POETRY (1978) AND LORCA/BLACKBURN: POEMS OF FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA CHOSEN BY PAUL BLACKBURN (1979).

For a complete bibliography see Kathleen Woodward, PAUL BLACKBURN: A CHECKLIST (San Diego: Archive for New Poetry, University of California, San Diego, 1980).

From the guide to the Paul Blackburn Papers, 1919 - 1971, (University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Theodore Enslin Papers, ca. 1955-1975 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn Loewinsohn, Ron. Papers, 1953-1976 Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
referencedIn Joel Oppenheimer Papers, 1925-1988. Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries
referencedIn Diane Di Prima Papers, 1948-1971 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn John Taggart Papers, 1965-1974 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Angel Hair Archive, 1965-1973 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn New American Poetry Circuit Records., 1969-1974. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
referencedIn William L. Kinter papers, Kinter (William L.) papers, 1958-1965 John Hay Library, Special Collections
referencedIn Literary Correspondence and Manuscripts Collection, undated, 1929-1990. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
creatorOf Paul Blackburn Provençal poets collection, circa 1953 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
referencedIn (Everett) Leroi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) Papers, 1957-1965 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn Frances Frost Papers, 1936-1959 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Allen Ginsberg papers, 1937-1994 Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
referencedIn Outburst Archive, 1959-1964 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn George Economou Papers, 1954-1996. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
referencedIn John Taggart Archive, 1970-1974 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn M. L. Rosenthal Papers, ca. 1930-1996 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn New Directions Publishing Corp. records, ca. 1933-1997. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Origin Archive, 1951-1968 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn Camels Coming, Archive, 1965-1969 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn June Oppen Degnan Papers, 1959-1973 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Fales Manuscript Collection, ca. 1700-2000 Fales Library & Special Collections
creatorOf Paul Blackburn Papers, 1919 - 1971 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Edith Jarolim Collection, 1934-1985 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Ann Charters Papers., 1966-1982. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Center.
referencedIn Larry Eigner Papers., 1950-1979. Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
referencedIn Fales Manuscript Collection, ca. 1700-2000 Fales Library & Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Allen, Donald Merriam, 1912- person
associatedWith Angel Hair Books (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Baraka, Amiri, 1934- person
associatedWith Camels coming (San Francisco, Calif.) corporateBody
associatedWith Charters, Ann. person
correspondedWith Corman, Cid person
correspondedWith Cortázar, Julio person
correspondedWith Creeley, Robert, 1926- person
correspondedWith Degnan, June Oppen person
associatedWith Di Prima, Diane, Archives person
associatedWith Divers Press. corporateBody
correspondedWith Duncan, Robert Edward, 1919- person
associatedWith Economou, George. person
correspondedWith Eigner, Larry, 1927- person
associatedWith Enslin, Theodore person
correspondedWith Eshleman, Clayton person
associatedWith Fales, DeCoursey, 1888-1966 person
correspondedWith Frost, Frances Mary, 1905-1959 person
associatedWith Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997 person
correspondedWith Hamady, Walter person
associatedWith Jarolim, Edith person
associatedWith Jiménez-Landi, Antonio person
correspondedWith Kelly, Robert, 1935- person
associatedWith Kinter, William L. (William Lewis), 1915- person
correspondedWith Levertov, Denise, 1923-1997 person
associatedWith Loewinsohn, Ron. person
correspondedWith Lowenfels, Walter, 1897-1976 person
associatedWith New American Poetry Circuit corporateBody
correspondedWith New Directions Publishing Corp. corporateBody
correspondedWith Olson, Charles, 1910-1970 person
correspondedWith Oppenheimer, Joel person
associatedWith Origin (Boston, Mass.). corporateBody
correspondedWith Paz, Octavio, 1914-1998 person
associatedWith Picasso, Pablo, 1881-1973 person
correspondedWith Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972 person
correspondedWith Randall, Margaret, 1936- person
correspondedWith Raworth, Tom person
correspondedWith Rothenberg, Jerome, 1931- person
associatedWith Taggart, John, 1942- person
associatedWith University of Connecticut. University of Connecticut Libraries. corporateBody
correspondedWith Wakoski, Diane person
correspondedWith Williams, Jonathan, 1929- person
correspondedWith Zukofsky, Louis, 1904-1978 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
American poetry--20th century
Provençal poetry--Translations into English
Black Mountain school (Group of poets)
Occupation
Translator
Function

Person

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