Kenneth Rexroth

po_Rexroth-Kenneth1Kenneth Rexroth (December 22, 1905 – June 6, 1982) was an American poet, translator and critical essayist.

Rexroth is regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance, and paved the groundwork for the movement. Although he did not consider himself to be a Beat poet, and disliked the association, he was dubbed the “Father of the Beats” by Time. He was among the first poets in the United States to explore traditional Japanese poetic forms such as haiku.

Much of Rexroth’s work can be classified as “erotic” or “love poetry,” given his deep fascination with transcendent love. According to Hamill and Kleiner, “nowhere is Rexroth’s verse more fully realized than in his erotic poetry”.

His poetry is marked by a sensitivity to Asian forms as well as an appreciation of Ancient Greek lyric poetry, particularly that of Sappho. Rexroth’s poetic voice is similar to that of Tu Fu (whom he translated), expressing indignation with the inequities of the world from an existential vantage.

During the 1970s Rexroth, along with the scholar Ling Chung, translated the notable Song Dynasty poet Li Ch’ing-chao and an anthology of Chinese women poets, titled The Orchid Boat.

Rexroth viewed love for another person as a sacramental act that could connect one with a transcendent, universal awareness. In his introduction to his poem The Phoenix and the Tortoise, Rexroth articulated his understanding of love and marriage: “The process as I see it goes something like this: from abandon to erotic mysticism, from erotic mysticism to the ethical mysticism of sacramental marriage, thence to the realization of the ethical mysticism of universal responsibility.” In other words, love was a key to truly realizing one’s existence, something that could be cemented and validated in the long run by wedded union.

Rexroth died in Santa Barbara in 1982. He had spent his final years translating Japanese and Chinese women poets, as well as promoting the work of female poets in America and overseas. He is buried on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Cemetery Association overlooking the sea, and while all the other graves face inland, his alone faces the Pacific. His epitaph reads, “As the full moon rises / The swan sings in sleep / On the lake of the mind.”


With The Love Poems of Marichiko, Kenneth Rexroth claimed to have translated the poetry of a contemporary, “young Japanese woman poet,” but it was later disclosed that he was the author, and he gained critical recognition for having conveyed so authentically the feelings of someone of another gender and culture.

po_Marichiko1Marichiko is the pen name of a contemporary young woman who lives near the temple of Marishi-ben in Kyoto. Marishi-ben is an Indian, pre-Ayryan goddess of the dawn who is a bodhisattva in Buddhism and patron of geisha, prostitutes, women in childbirth, and lovers. Few temples or shrines to her or even statues exist in Japan, but her presence is indicated by statues, often in avenues like sphinxes, of wild boars, who draw her chariot. She has three faces: the front of compassion, one side, a sow; the other a woman in orgasm. She is popular, though hidden deity of tantric, Tachigawa Shingon, and as the Light of Lights, the shakti, the Power of Bliss of Vairocana (the primordial Buddha, Dainichi Nyorai), seated in sexual bliss.

A sampling of Marichiko’s poems:

A single ray in the dawn,
The bliss of our love
Is incomprehensible.
No sun shines there, no
Moon, no stars, no lightning flash,
Not even lamplight.
All things are incandescent
With love which lights up all the world.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Every morning, I
Wake alone, dreaming my
Arm is your sweet flesh
Pressing my lips.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I hold your head tight
Between my thighs and press
Against your mouth and
Float away forever in
An orchid boat
On the River of Heaven.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Love me. At this moment we
Are the happiest
People in the world.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Making love with you
Is like drinking sea water.
The more I drink
The thirstier I become,
Until nothing can slake my thirst
But to drink the entire sea.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Some day in six inches of
Ashes will be all
That’s left of our passionate minds,
Of all the world created
By our love, its origins
And passing away.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Spring is early this year.
Laurel, plums, peaches,
Almonds, mimosa,
All bloom at once. Under the
Moon, night smells like your body.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The disorder of my hair
Is due to my lonely sleepless pillow.
My hollow eyes and gaunt cheeks
Are your fault.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You ask me what I thought about
Before we were lovers.
The answer is easy.
Before I met you
I didn’t have anything to think about.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You wake me,
Part my thighs, and kiss me.
I give you the dew
Of the first morning of the world.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Your tongue thrums and moves
Into me, and I become
Hollow and blaze with
Whirling light, like the inside
Of a vast expanding pearl.