Songwriter, playwright, poet, artist, and photographer Helen Adam was born in Glasgow, Scotland and studied at Edinburgh University before moving to the United States in 1939. As a teen in Scotland, she established herself as a balladeer and published songs under the name “Pixy Pool.” She would later write narrative poems which evoked traditional ballad forms and themes, but which revised and subverted Romantic notions of womanhood and desire partly by focusing on the macabre side of fairy tales. She settled in California in 1949 and took Robert Duncan’s workshop in 1953, afterward becoming an active participant in the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s. She quickly became known for her incantatory and mystifying oral performance style. She moved to New York City in 1964, where she became an influence on the Beat poets, especially Allen Ginsburg. She also devoted herself to photography and collage, and produced two versions of her opera, San Francisco’s Burning.
Adam’s books of poetry include Turn Again to Me and Other Poems (1977), Gone Sailing (1980), and The Bells of Dis (1984). Her work was included in Donald Allen’s famous anthology The New American Poetry (1945-1960), and she was awarded the American Book Award in 1981. Her work is collected in A Helen Adam Reader (2007, edited by Kristen Prevallet).