Carl Rakosi

Carl Rakosi (1903-2004) – Photograph by Gloria Graham

Two introductions by Allen Ginsberg and one by Anselm Hollo to readings by Carl Rakosi (who shares the same birthday as the compiler of these notes) and who lived to be a spry one hundred. He would have been one hundred-and-eleven today!  (2023 – that would make him 120!) 

Allen Ginsberg’s Introduction to Carl Rakosi’s reading at Naropa on June 30, 1987 (with David Cope) comes first

(the entire reading can be listened to, in two parts – here – and here)

AG: Carl Rakosi was born in Berlin in 1903. He was, for those of you who don’t know, a practicing psychologist, a psychotherapist and social worker for many many years, went through a long radical period as a Marxist, allied with a group of other poets who in the late (19)20’s, or early (19)30’s actually, were called (the) Objectivist Group, among them George Oppen, who recently died. (William Carlos) Williamsas an elder was part of that lineage, Louis Zukofsky, a person who was very much interested in quantitative measure and syllable sound. When I was interested in open-form American-style verse in 1950 to (19)53, occasionally seeing William Carlos Williams, there was not much of a body of this kind of direct contact with the outer world, some basic image from which the poet took off, that you could follow, and that was simple (a little like David Cope’s) . There was.. It was very rare to find work that wasn’t just poetry-poetry, following (T.S.) Eliot or Wallace Stevens (great as they were). It didn’t give an example of what was plain simple American talk and American sight. So Williams recommended Carl Rakosi among others and.. as well as another poet you may not have read, Marsden Hartley , for local place, particular detail, and finding your own actual, personal family voice. And as I’ve been reading some (of) Carl Rakosi’s Collected Poems, which were publishedjust a year ago, I think, by the National Poetry Foundation in Orono, I’m amazed, over and over again, at the way he gets at his own talk , and is able to.. he knows a good thing when he sees it (or hears it), and you know it too, that it’s genuine, someone genuinely talking, not just somebody writing poetry but somebody actually talking, clearly, who’s got the ironic wit to actually zero-in on his own sound, (and common sound, and American sound at the same time) with a fine mind, and, at his age, a tremendous amount of experience . So since this Kerouac School has some Zen flavor to it, and Buddhist flavor, and since, inadvertently, whether he likes it or not, Carl Rakosi is a kind of national-treasure Zen master, for being.. (for) paying attention to particulars, it’s a really happy occasion for him to read here, again (this is his second visit to Naropa and third to Boulder) ,and I’m pleased to see him read with David Cope who has some of the same personal humane clarity of American place

CR: Well thank you Allen for promoting me to Zen Master!

And then, six years later, 1993, another Naropa reading, this time, with Bobbie Louise Hawkins 
(audio, mistakenly identifying the additional participation of Michael Ondaatje, here)

AG: The original program at Naropa Institute’s School of Poetics was to combine the wisdoms of the East and West in the forms of contemplative or meditative Tibetan-style spontaneous crazy wisdom and Western common-sense – Yankee spontaneous crazy wisdom, also. And in the lineage of the Western clear intelligence, there were these schools that descended from (Walt) Whitman through (Ezra) Pound to William Carlos Williams and the Imagists and Objectivists,and one of the great practitioners of the .. what was called, superficially, the School of Objectivism, Carl Rakosi, is now middle-aged (sic) and willing to address us. It’s a repeat visit to Naropa (he’s been here before), and in some respects, he’s the senior American poet, or elder statesman in American poetry now [1993]. So his work is available (as an elder statesman’s should be – at least it’s available – but by the rare National Poetry Foundation up in Maine, Orono –  Collected Prose, Collected Poems, and, recently-issued and just presented to the library, Carl Rakosi – Man and Poet,a kind of festschrift, (or collection of essays and examinations of his work and anecdotes). So, young, calm, spry voice, spry figure, Carl Rakosi.

Carl Rakosi  “listening to music” – Photograph by Olivier Brossard

Anselm Hollo introduces him, five years later: “The word “history” is one US-American culture has trouble with. It is commonly understood as something that is over and done with, as in the expression, “You’re history!” – or the title of a recent vogue-ish volume, The End of History, but in a truer, more sophisticated sense, history and her-story do go on, and we go on it in, with all our various narratives. On the great narrative ferris-wheel of US-American poetry, Carl Rakosi rides in an absolutely unique gondola. In the third and fourth decade of this century, Carl was already, in Andrew Crozier‘s words, “connected with the most resolutely intelligent tendency in American poetry” and occupied, (again quoting Andrew (Crozier)),”center-stage in the effort to site Modernism in America itself”. Despite all the talk of post-this and post-that, the Modernism of Carl Rakosi and his fellow Objectivists is a project that is still continuing, both in his work, and in the work of many younger poets and artists of all kinds, despite the remarkable resistance that large tracts of even the more or less sentient population of this land, have been, (and still are), putting up against all its forms. (To concretize that a bit – just take a look at what passes for public  sculpture on Boulder’s Pearl Street!) – Carl Rakosi’s Collected Poems and Collected Prose were published in the (19)80’s by the National Poetry Foundation. In 1995 Sun and Moon brought out Poems 1923-1941, which won the PEN award that year. His most recent book is The Earth Suite from Etruscan Books in England (1997), and Etruscan will also  publish his next collection, The Old Poet’s Tale. Carl Rakosi has received three NEA awards, a lifetime achievement award from the National Poetry Aassociation, and an award from the Fund For Poetry for his “contributions to contemporary poetry”. He lives [this is 1998] in San Francisco, and we are delighted to have him back here as absolutely contemporary as ever.

Kimberly Bird’s long oral history interview, begun in 2002, for the University of California Regional Oral History Office is a remarkable thing and can be accessed  here 
Here’s a brief video-clip from it, Rakosi recollecting:

Here’s his 99th Birthday celebration (including audio from a reading) 2002 at the Kelly Writer’s House

& here’s Rakosi’s PennSounds page

More Rakosi reading, this, much earlier (a reading, and an interview with Charles Amerkhanian) from his KPFA show, Ode To Gravity, 1971

Here’s a 1999 conversation with Steve Dickison

Here’s Tom Devaney’s interview, recorded in 2001

Here’s some further brief excerpts from (earlier) interviewsHis  essay, “A Note on Music and the Musical”, and several other related materials are available here

Literary critic Marjorie Perloff discusses his achievement – here  –

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