In His Own Defense

In his review of “The Selected Poems of Kenneth Rexroth” (Book Review, March 31), Clayton Eshleman quotes from my introduction: “Each of (Rexroth’s) four wives may be seen as touchstones through which his philosophy of sacrament and communal love is comprehended.” Mr. Eshleman then states, “Yet in this ‘Selected Poems’ there is no mention of Marie Class (sic), the poet’s second wife, or of Carol Tinker, his fourth.” This is simply incorrect. Marie Cass is the subject of the paragraph preceding the one from which Mr. Eshleman quotes; Carol Tinker’s marriage to Rexroth is noted in the very sentence before the one he cites!

After commenting that my introduction was well written and “packed with fascinating information,” Mr. Eshleman goes on to say that he wishes I had dared place Rexroth in a context with his peers. To this I can only state that he and I are in agreement regarding Rexroth’s importance, and would point out that at the beginning of my introduction, I compare Rexroth’s erudition to Pound’s and his simple, direct style to Williams'; concluding that as a result, he is “one of our most readable and yet complex poets.”

Later, I declare, “Clearly he has written some of the most beautiful love poems in this century.” Mr. Eshleman himself quotes my contention that Rexroth’s is “the most original and persuasive synthesis of transcendent metaphysical and erotic verse written by an American poet in this century.” There are limits to how much one may accomplish within the framework of a short introduction, but I think it is obvious that I did not back away from making claims for these poems being among the most significant and beautiful written by an American in this century.

Finally, I should say that, yes, New Directions imposed page limits on the selection I made. New Directions’ series of “Selected Poems” (Williams, Pound, Paz, Merton, etc.) all run more or less 160 pages. Mr. Eshleman is surely aware of this. To call it “a glaring defect” is ingenuous. Would, indeed, that I had twice the space. But the point was/is moot. However, I should point out that New Directions has in print both a “Collected Shorter” and “Collected Longer” poems of Rexroth, readily available to any readers whose interest carries him or her beyond the “Selected.”



Literary Executor for the Kenneth Rexroth Trust

New York City