Paul Blackburn

Paul Blackburn, circa 1969. Photo by Carlos T. Blackburn. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Paul Blackburn
Born November 24, 1926(1926-Template:MONTHNUMBER-24)
St. Albans, Vermont
Died September 13, 1971(1971-Template:MONTHNUMBER-13) (aged 44)
Cortland, New York
Occupation Poet, translator, teacher, editor
Nationality U.S.

Paul Blackburn (November 24, 1926 - September 13, 1971) was an American poet. He influenced contemporary literature through his poetry and translations, and through the encouragement and support he offered to fellow poets.[1]


Blackburn was born in St. Albans, Vermont. His parents, William Gordon Blackburn and Frances Frost (also a poet, novelist and author of children's books), separated when Blackburn was three and a half. Thereafter, he was cared for primarily by his maternal grandparents on their farm in St. Albans until he was 14, when his mother took him to New York City to live with her in Greenwich Village. He began writing poetry in his late teens under her encouragement.[2]

Shortly after enrolling in New York University (NYU) in 1945, Blackburn joined the army, hoping to be sent overseas. The war ended soon after, however, and he spent the rest of his service as a laboratory technician in Colorado. In 1947 he returned to NYU, transferring in 1949 to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and graduating in 1950.

During his college years Blackburn became influenced by Ezra Pound, and began corresponding with him while at the University of Wisconsin. He hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. several times to visit Pound at St. Elizabeth's Hospital.[3] Through Pound, he came into contact with Robert Creeley, which led to links with Cid Corman, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer and Jonathan Williams. Through Creeley came an ancillary involvement with the first 2 issues of Creeley's magazine, Black Mountain Review, which resulted in the occasional inclusion of Blackburn in the Black Mountain school of poets. The introduction to the Collected Poems states, "Blackburn always opposed the division of poets into schools and did not like the role of Black Mountain poet into which he was cast by Donald Allen's anthology The New American Poetry (1960).[4] He embraced all types of poetry, citing the value of 'all work, if you work 'em right.'" (E. Jarolim in The Collected Poems Of Paul Blackburn, 1985).[5]

It was also Pound who pointed Blackburn in the direction of Provençal poetry. Blackburn studied the languages of Provence while at the University of Wisconsin. His work on Provençal translations intensified following the 1953 publication of a slim selection of the poems from Divers Press, and the award he following year of a Fulbright Fellowship to study Provençal language and literature in France. He continued translating Provençal poetry for the rest of his life. It wasn’t until after his death that the work was fully published.

Blackburn was also well-known for his translations from Spanish of the medieval epic Poema del Mio Cid, of poetry by Federico García Lorca, Octavio Paz, and Pablo Picasso, and of the short stories of Julio Cortázar. He was for a time Cortázar's literary agent in the United States.[6]

Blackburn played an important part in the poetry community, particularly in New York, where he helped fledgling poets develop. He provided logistical and emotional support for writers coming to the city and opportunities to read for both unknown and established writers in the various reading series with which he was involved. He organized readings that offered work from the Beats, the New York School, the Deep Image Poets, and the Black Mountain Poets. Clayton Eshleman has written, "Many, not just a few, but many poets alive today are beholden to him for a basic artistic kindness, for readings, yes, and for advice, but more humanly for a kind of comradeship that very few poets are willing to give."[7] The readings he organized were the direct progenitors to the St. Mark's Poetry Project on the Bowery (see external link below). Additionally, Blackburn's commitment to recording readings that he organized and attended produced the most comprehensive oral history of the New York poetry scene between the late 1950s and 1970.[8]

Until the mid-1960s Blackburn supported himself through various print-shop, editorial and translating jobs, including a short stint as poetry editor of The Nation. Some of his early jobs included working in-house on encyclopedias and writing free-lance reviews. In the mid-60s he had a show on WBAI with interviews of and readings by poets. He began receiving offers of teaching positions, and in 1965, 1966 and 1967 he directed workshops at the Aspen Writers' Conference. He was Poet-In-Residence at City College of New York in 1966-67. A Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 enabled him to return to Europe to work on his translations and poetry. On returning to the U.S. he supported himself through reading tours and teaching at the New School and the State University of New York at Cortland.

Blackburn was married 3 times: to Winifred Grey McCarthy from 1954 to 1958; Sara Golden from 1963 to 1967; and Joan Diane Miller in 1968, with whom he had a son, Carlos T., in 1969.

Blackburn died in Cortland, New York, of esophageal cancer, aged 44.

Writing Edit

In his lifetime Blackburn published 13 books of original poetry, as well as five major works of translation. 12 other books were published posthumously. Though Blackburn never set out to fully articulate his poetics, a good summation is the 1954 piece Statement.


Poetry Edit

  • The Dissolving Fabric. Palma de Mallorca: Divers Press, 1955.
  • Brooklyn Manhattan Transit: A bouquet for Flatbush. New York: Totem Press, 1960.
  • The Nets. New York: Trobar, 1961.
  • 16 Sloppy Haiku and a Lyric for Robert Reardon. Cleveland: 400 Rabbit Press, 1966.
  • Sing Song. New York: Caterpillar, 1966.
  • The Reardon Poems. Madison, WI: Perishable Press, 1967.
  • The Parallel Voyages (edited by Clayton Eshleman & Edith Jarolim). Tucson, AZ: SUN/Gemini Press, 1987.[9]
  • The Cities. New York: Grove, 1967
  • In. On. Or About The Premises. London: Cape Goliard Press, 1968; New York: Grossman/Cape Goliard, 1968.
  • Two New Poems. Madison, WI: Perishable Press, 1969.
  • The Assassination of President McKinley. Mt. Horeb, WI: Perishable Press, 1970.
  • Three Dreams and an Old Poem. Buffalo: University Press at Buffalo, 1970.
  • Gin: Four Journal Pieces. Mt. Horeb, WI: Perishable Press, 1970.
  • The Journals: Blue Mounds Entries. Mt. Horeb, WI: Perishable Press, 1971.
  • Early Selected Y Mas: Poems 1949-1966. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1972.
  • Halfway Down the Coast. Northampton, MA: Mulch Press, 1975.
  • By Ear. New York: Magazine, 1978.
  • Against the Silences. London & New York: Permanent Press, 1980.
  • The Selection of Heaven. Mt. Horeb, WI: Perishable Press, 1980.
  • Collected Poems. Persea Books, 1985.[10] ISBN 0-8-9255086-4
  • The Parallel Voyages/. Sun Gemini, 1987.[11] ISBN 0933313020]
  • Selected Poems. Persea Books, 1989.[12] ISBN 0-8-9255123-2


  • Proensa: An Anthology of Troubadour Poetry. Palma de Mallorca: Divers Press, 1953
  • Poem of the Cid. New York: American R.D.M. Corp., 1966.
  • Julio Cortázar, End of the Game and other stories. New York: Pantheon, 1967.
    • republished as Blow-Up and Other Stories. New York: Collier, 1968.
  • Pablo Picasso, Hunk of Skin. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1968.
  • Julio Cortázar, Cronopios and Famas. New York: Pantheon, 1969.
  • Poems of Federico García Lorca Chosen and Translated by Paul Blackburn. San Francisco: Momo's Press, 1979.

Journals Edit

  • Journals (edited by Robert Kelly). Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[13]

Audio / videoEdit

Paul Blackburn's Telepathy Poem @ neo live 18 September 2013

Paul Blackburn's Telepathy Poem @ neo live 18 September 2013

  • Poems for Peace (LP). Portents / Folkways, 1966.[13]

See alsoEdit



His papers are held at University of California, San Diego.[14]


  1. M.L. Rosenthal, preface to The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn ISBN 0-89255086-4; Edith Jarolim, introduction to The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn ISBN 0-89255086-4;
  2. Clayton Eshelman,introduction to The Parallel Voyages, ISBN 0-933313-03-9
  3. Edith Jarolim, introduction to The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn ISBN 0-89255086-4
  4. Donald M. Allen Editor, New American Poetry, 1945-1960 (ISBN 0394172256 / 0-394-17225-6)
  5. Edith Jarolim, introduction to The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn ISBN 0-89255086-4
  6. Edith Jarolim, introduction to The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn ISBN 0-89255086-4
  7. "The Gull Wall" in Antiphonal Swing - Selected Prose 1962 / 1987 ISBN 0-914232-94-0
  8. Edith Jarolim, introduction to The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn ISBN 0-89255086-4
  9. Clayton Eshleman b. 1936, Poetry foundation, Web, Sep. 9, 2012.
  10. The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn,, Web, July 15, 2012.
  11. The Parallel Voyages,, Web, July 15, 2012.
  12. The Selected Poems of Paul Blackburn,, Web, July 15, 2012.
  13. 13.0 13.1 1926-1971, Poetry Foundation, Web, July 15, 2012.

External links Edit

Audio / video
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