Helen Adam

Helen Adam 1909-1993). Courtesy Wikipedia.

Helen Adam (December 2, 1909 - September 19, 1993 in New York City) was a Scottish poet, collagist and photographer



Adam was an active participant in The San Francisco Renaissance, a literary movement contemporaneous to the Beat Generation that occurred in San Francisco during the 1950s and 1960s. Though often associated with the Beat poets, she would more accurately be considered a predecessor of the Beat Generation.

Life Edit

Adam was born in Glasgow, Scotland. She was a precocious poet; her earliest book, The Elfin Pedlar, was published in 1923, when the poet was 14 years old. That book was in the Victorian genre of light verse about fairies and other pastoral subjects. Her early books were well known and widely reviewed; composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford set selections from The Elfin Pedlar to orchestral music, and performed them widely.[1]

Adam attended Edinburgh University for 2 years. After leaving Edinburgh University she worked as a journalist in London. In 1939 she moved to the United States and eventually moved to San Francisco. In San Francisco she worked with such influential poets as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Duncan.[2]

One of the oldest of the poets in the San Francisco Renaissance, she worked closely with Duncan, Jess, Madeline Gleason, and Jack Spicer, among others. She also encouraged many of the Beat poets as they began to explore performance and writing as an art form. While her continued use of the ballad form “mystified” many of the poets more associated with the movement, the "magic and knowledge she brought to San Francisco startled the young wild sages of its Renaissance with a special kind of madness." [3]

Adam and her sister collaborated on a ballad opera entitled San Francisco's Burning which was published in 1963 and reissued in 1985 with score by Al Carmines and drawings by Jess. A collection of Helen Adam's poems was published in a work titled Selected Poems and Ballads. Adam also acted in 2 films: Death and Our Corpses Speak, both of which were filmed in Germany.

Writing Edit

A good example of Adam's verse with its striking use of language is "Margaretta's Rime":

Margaretta's RimeEdit

In Amsterdam, that old city,
Church bells tremble and cry;
All day long their airy chiming
Clavers across the sky.

I am young in the old city,
My heart dead in my breast.
I hear the bells in the sky crying,
"Every being is blest."
In Amsterdam, that old city,
Alone at a window I stand,
A spangled garter my only clothing,
A candle flame in my hand.
The people who pass that lighted window,
Looking me up and down,
Know I am one more tourist trifle
For sale in this famous town.

Noon til dusk at the window waiting,
Nights of fury and shame.
I am young in an old city
Playing an older game.
I hear the bells in the sky crying
To the dead heart in my breast,
The gentle bells in the sky crying
"Every being is blest."

Recognition Edit

Composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford set selections from her 1st book, The Elfin Pedlar, to orchestral music, and performed them widely.[1]

She was 1 of only 4 women whose work was included in Donald Allen's landmark anthology, The New American Poetry, 1945-1960 (1960).

She won the American Book Award in 1981.

Her life was a subject of a documentary film directed by experimental film maker Rosa von Praunheim.

Publications Edit


  • The Elfin Pedlar, and Tales told by Pixy Pool. London & New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1923; New York & London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1924.
  • Charms and Dreams from the Elfin Pedlar's Pack. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1924.
  • Shadow of the Moon. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1929.
  • The Queen O' Crow Castle (with Jess). San Francisco, CA: White Rabbit Press, 1958.
  • "San Francisco's Burning". Berkeley, CA: Oannes Press, 1963; Brooklyn, NY: Hanging Loose Press, 1999.
  • Ballads (with Jess & Robert Duncan). New York: Acadia Press, 1964.
  • Counting Out Rhyme. New York: Interim Books, 1972.
  • Selected Poems and Ballads. New York: Helikon Press, 1974.
  • Turn Again to Me, and other poems. New York: Kulchur Foundation, 1977.
  • Gone Sailing. West Branch, IA: Toothpaste Press, 1980.
  • The Bells of Dis: Poems (with Ann Mikolowski). West Branch, IA: Coffee House Press, 1984.
  • (With Auste Adam) Stone Cold Gothic, 1984.


  • Songs with Music (music by Carl Grundberg). San Francisco, CA: Aleph Press, 1982.

Short fictionEdit

  • Ghosts and Grinning Shadows: Two witch stories. Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press, 1979.

Collected editionsEdit


  • The Blaze of Distance: A book of poems and interviews: Helen Adam, Robert Hass, Barry Lopez. Newport, OR: Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, 1979.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[4]

See alsoEdit

5 Poems by Helen Adam

5 Poems by Helen Adam

References Edit


Her papers are held at the State University of New York at Buffalo,[5] and at Kent State University.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ange Mlinko, "A Nurse of Enchantment", book review, in The Nation, byline March 27, 2008, accessed April 1, 2009
  2. "Helen Adam Papers website". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  3. "The Reluctant Pixie Poole". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  4. Search results = au:Helen Adam, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Dec. 18, 2013.
  5. "Collections - The Poetry Collection - Special Collections - University at Buffalo Libraries". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  6. "''Overview of the Helen Adam Papers'', Kent State Library". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 

External links Edit

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