Poetry News

Entropy Provides a Visitation with Robin Blaser

By Harriet Staff

Robin Blaser

In the San Francisco-Bay Area, Berkeley Renaissance predates The Beats. At Entropy, Patrick James Dunagan introduces readers to one particularly compelling Berkeley Renaissance figure, and one of our favorites: Robin Blaser. From Entropy:

Robin reached a point in the poem that I remember as “the voice of the 26 letters thunders in the alphabet and the diaphanous heart is at the door” – and wham! both doors burst open, and the wind or winds die down, and that’s it. The curtains stop swaying, the wind’s all done with. Then the end of the poem. Then the bluebird song, played twice, and the end of the night.

After all that I walked on stage and in the audience buzz of the aftermath told Robin what happened, and he had no idea. “Both doors?” he asked me. “Well, that would be Robert and Jack!! Oh, how I love to conjure spirits when I read.”

— Steve Dickison, “Visitation by Divination: A Ghost Story”

The above epigraph is drawn from a piece that readily demonstrates San Francisco State Poetry Center Director and poet Steve Dickison’s reverence for poet Robin Blaser’s profoundly recognizant awareness of his role in the three-way of poetry which proved central to Blaser’s own life. It is a reverence I deeply share.

Blaser’s presence in American Poetry often gets overlooked amongst his contemporaries of the divergent “schools” popularly celebrated in Don Allen’s now widely-recognized-as-seminal anthology New American Poetry: 1945-60. Like so many others, his work straddles the arbitrary divisions Allen sets up in his Introduction. Working as a librarian at San Francisco State, Blaser was a key member of the inner circle within the San Francisco Renaissance. Although much of this “school” is usually eclipsed by the inclusion of the San Francisco Beats, with the starring event being Allen Ginsberg’s landmark 1955 reading of Howl, it was in fact predated and manifestly informed by the earlier Berkeley Renaissance in the late 1940s during Blaser’s student years alongside the likes of poets Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and William Everson under the semi-led direction of the unofficial grand impresario of the Bay Area poetry scene Kenneth Rexroth.

Despite Blaser’s strong ties to San Francisco he also formed deeply lasting connections with the work of poet Charles Olson, the arch-patriarch of the poetics associated with Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In addition, Blaser spent significant time in Boston during the 1950s, a period of fertile development in what has sometimes been referred to as the Boston Occult School of Poetry. Other poets sharing similar crossover between San Francisco, Black Mountain, and Boston at the same time include Joe Dunn, John Wieners and Jack Spicer. In Boston, the poet with whom they formed a lasting nexus was Stephen Jonas. This 1950s era Boston gathering, again with deep ties to Olson who was for significant stretches of time living in nearby Gloucester, has proved endlessly influential upon the work of poets such as Gerrit Lansing, Joseph Torra, and Ammiel Alcalay. [...]

Continue at Entropy. And if you need more Blaser in your life, as we all do, take a gander at this selection of poems. Blaser's scholarship should also not be overlooked—"The Fire" from 1967 provides a great primer for his poetry, while his 1995 lecture at “The Recovery of the Public World” Conference maps the development of his poetics 30 years on.

Originally Published: June 16th, 2015