Kenneth Rexroth was an American poet who helped found the San Francisco Renaissance during the late 1940s. He has frequently been associated with the Beat Movement, and served as a mentor and friend to many Beat poets. Rexroth began publishing poems in magazines during the '20s, and his work frequently focused on nature, radical politics, love, and erotica. His interests expanded beyond written poetry, however. He worked in radio as a reviewer and commentator, was active in radical politics, and read his poetry in nightclubs against a backdrop of jazz.
Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905 in South Bend, IN. Following the death of his mother in 1916 and his father in 1918, he moved to Chicago where he lived with his aunt. He attended Chicago Art School, and worked a series of odd jobs including employment as a soda jerk. He also became interested in radical politics, and would read his poems standing on a soapbox on street corners. Rexroth was arrested and jailed in 1923-1924, allegedly for being part owner of a brothel.
Rexroth traveled widely, met notable Surrealists in Paris in the mid-'20s, and eventually settled in San Francisco, which would become his home. By the late '40s, his poetry, along with his efforts to promote the work of other poets on KPFA in San Francisco, also helped build a sturdy foundation for the San Francisco Renaissance.. "...Rexroth was the leading elder poet in San Francisco in the 1950s when I arrived, and he had a program on KPFA. And he didn't review just literature. He reviewed every subject -- geology, anthropology, astronomy, philosophy -- and it seemed as he had this encyclopedic knowledge," recalled poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
While Rexroth read frequently, both as a poet in clubs and as a commentator and reviewer on KPFA, few of his recitations are currently available. Several of his poems, including "I Didn't Want It...," "Nicholas, You Ran Away...," "A Girl in a Torn Nightgown...," and "Do No Talk Anymore..." appeared on Kenneth Rexroth at the Blackhawk, but this title remains out of print. His one currently available reading was captured in 1957 on Poetry Readings in the Cellar, a collection also featuring readings by Ferlinghetti against a backdrop of jazz. "We think that good poetry gives jazz words that match its own importance," Rexroth wrote of his methodology. "...The combination of poetry and jazz with the poet reciting, gives the poet a new kind of audience. Not necessarily a bigger one, but a more normal one -- ordinary people out for the evening, looking for civilized entertainment."
Rexroth served as a mentor to a number of other poets including Ferlinghetti and was referred to by Time as the father of the Beat Movement. Rexroth worked as the MC to the opening of Six Gallery in 1955 and was present at Allen Ginsberg's obscenity trial the same year. He was married four times, and would spend his final years translating Chinese and Japanese poetry. He died in Santa Barbara in 1982. [A number of Rexroth's works have also been available on the Web: see http://www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/.] ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.~ Rovi