Ken Warren and I had been writing letters to each other since late 1980. I can’t find the first two letters, but below is an excerpt from the third. Ken was 27 years old when he wrote this letter. I was 36. I was older. He was wiser, smarter, and knew more than I about literature and culture. I had never, and haven’t since, met anyone who was so sure of his own literary mission and yet so open to work that didn’t fit easily into any literary category, program, school, club. I remember once I said to him that Wallace Stevens was more of a poet of place than Olson. He laughed. And so did I. But he considered it. Few who knew and so appreciated Olson’s work would have. A few weeks ago, after watching the meteor shower of August 11, I wrote my Stevens / Olson poem in Ken’s memory. A couple weeks later while sitting on the same porch, thinking again of him, I wrote another. A few years ago Ken temporarily took on for himself a totem of sorts, the Crow, KAW, his initials imitating the call of the crow, hence the poem. (And anyone interested in delving into the source material for Ken’s poetry needs to also look at crow mythology.)
The first time we met was in New York in 1982 to visit with Meridel Le Sueur when she was there to receive the Wonder Woman Award from the president of Dell Comics and to celebrate the publication by Feminist Press of her selected work, Ripening.
One little known fact about House Organ that people might be interested in. In the late eighties Ken and I talked about starting a literary magazine. One idea was to do “disposable” pamphlets that we place in public places, imitating the Watchtower publications of the Jehovah Witnesses. I think this was the seed idea for House Organ.
Ken Letter: 1/28/81
But the reticence, to keep the nitty gritty, dollar and cents stuff from the foreground is what I finally can object to, because this brings us to Pound as the key figure for the twentieth century–“money” and “time”. What the New Americans added to the cannon was the commoditization of personality in a collective context-and his is their value more so than the confessionals. Corso speaks of Beats giving birth bloodlessly etc. These are all issues that I am addressing in the work I am doing on 20th Century American poetry. Search for the descriptive terms, their field, you mentioned in your second letter. The mad scramble at the pyramid bottom never made more sense. So my handles are biological metaphors in poetics, money, time, the child, the family, and war.
KAW: At Home in This Wilderness
(August 28, 2016)
A murder of crows it’s called
of these dark birds gathering
in the upmost leaves and limbs
of the Beech saved
from men whose mission
is to turn Maple and Oak, Ash
Hickory, the rare thick Sassafras
Poplar and Cedar into timber.
And so it is. That crow
is at home. And
so am I.
The Stars We Say They Shoot
(August 11, 2016)
After a night of meteors’ flight first
in a line east and then to west
as if flung a flaming spear from
a distant sun announcing here I am
a sufficient god for everyone.
I wonder where are the mosquitoes.
Why does that farmer’s mule
and why the cows express
their all night discontent?
Another falling rock across
the Great Bear’s seven stars
and the flame of utter and final
the haze of a distant village light
the bats sweep overhead. I thought
I must be going blind in the morning
when to celebrate I read “The Comedian
as the Letter C”. He would laugh
at my modest proposition
that Charles Olson was Crispin.
Indeed. I so miss Ken Warren. And
distracted by the reflection
next to my mattress on the porch floor
this I could see was one more
slight obstacle to seeing.
One of the glasses’ lens shining
bright. He would say “Single vision &
Newton’s sleep” and so it was
not eyesight gone bad
and Charles and Ken were present
once again. He wrote says Maud
“I don’t of course believe at all
what Stevens proposes, that the poems
of heaven and hell have been written,
and it is the poem of Earth which now
is ours to write.” Another night
and if the clouds cooperate
there will be visible again
the stars which we
and why? call shooting
which surely is a limit
to our imagination.
Stevens offers two august propositions
that “man is the intelligence of his soul”
and “his soil is man’s intelligence”
and I see not his distinction not
either or but both. And Crispin?
Where after all is sad and done
is as he says of him a clown
“but an aspiring one.” Is this
enough? Enough to get Charles
into the poem? Isn’t it not so much
about Gloucester? But any place? Such as
the Georgia man “walking around pines/
Should be pine spoken.” My Charles
is a crisp one. Up right and up tight
not to learn what Williams did
and Stevens it is his words:
“The plum survives its poem.”
And so the stars turn to earth.
No angels Clarke (we only met
but once with Ken in Buffalo)
I think you had misplaced
a particular concreteness. It is
this that remains: distant
memories and those projectiles
in the sky above, and this protracted
and protective verse: Ken, Jack,
a book of collected poems
on the porch of a house half
built in Tennessee. And so
the stars return to earth.
Ken the Poet
Thomas Rain Crowe, New Native Press, asked Ken to submit poems to an anthology of poetry (Generations) and a collection of statements about poetry based on answers to questions that Thomas had prepared for each poet (A Living Legacy). Below are selections from both books. Few knew that Ken was a poet, a unique talent. Generations: A Centenary of American Poets (1919-2019) contains thirteen of Ken’s poems. It is also a great collection from several of the poets who published in House Organ. Both books are available from Thomas as well as online retailers like Amazon.
1./ “Place” occupies poetry in reality, and it remains a relevant concern. Is this idea important to you, or do you believe there are more current issues that poetry can or should evoke in our time?
KW: With all the force of the world, place implicates both poet and poem in the crucially extensive context of cosmos, history, politics, and psyche. By way of body and place, microcosmic and macrocosmic visions are generated from the poet and the environment. In the local imagination of the world, place compels to the poet to honor coincidence, existence, and kinship with the living and the dead. Broadly speaking, ancestral spirits, collective human pressure, elementals, history, geography, local lore, names, natural life, politics, and man-made objects generate an order of commonality and possibility in any given place. For the poet, place is ultimately where the mythopoetic language of the soul becomes emotionally entangled for the duration in the specificities of art, community, identity, and nature.
NOWHERE TO RUN
to run in marriage
Working and paying everyday
for wanting her,
But if you’d leap,
like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins,
Past the shadow curved around her,
into whatever’s left in your coffin,
You could rip free
from her wine sack
Your Noah, your Pip,
your keel, your breaker,
And sail with them
into the raging wave to come.
A Living Legacy: In Their Own Words, Some American Poets.
Generations: A Centenary of American Poets (1919-2019).
New Native Press, 2015.
Thomas Rain Crowe, Editor.
NNP PO Box 2554, Cullowhee, NC 28723
Ken was my constant literary companion for almost forty years.
I don’t have words to take measure of the loss.