Oyster Boy Review 18  
  Winter 2003–4
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The Complete Poems, by Kenneth Rexroth

Jeffery Beam

  The Complete Poems.
Kenneth Rexroth.
Sam Hamill & Bradford Morrow, editor.
Copper Canyon Press, 2002.
816 pages, $40 (paperback).
ISBN: 1556591713

De Andrade, Thomas, Celan, Porchia, Follain, Martone, Levertov, Raine, Massey. One poet incorporates into his body of work all the best characteristics of these—Kenneth Rexroth. At last a complete poems of Rexroth! No mean task for Sam Hamill and Bradford Morrow, for Rexroth, one of the twentieth century's greatest literary minds (not just poets notice, but minds), wrote fifty-four volumes of poetry, essays, and translations. Nature, the environment, pacifism, politics, sex, poetic theory, social criticism, Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, pre-Modern, and Post-Modern all move through his work as the radiant bars of light spring from Bellini's St. Therese in Rome.

Rexroth's always readable, always lovely, always probing work hews paths through many troublesome modern issues. His erudition, though profound, was offered with eloquent simplicity. His ideas, though oftentimes radical, always found soil in the perennial philosophy. His nature and erotic poems always envelop the reader with a sensual earthiness heightened with spiritual splendor. Not only was Rexroth a poet of massive talent and skill, but he was a man of great moral center. His work, which is so often not the case in poetry, became more matter-of-factly plain, while holding on to the expressive romanticism that forged his outlook.

Ultimately, Rexroth's work instills a sense that the world of action and the world of contemplation require the same attention and care. One cannot exist without the other: "As the years pass, / The generations of birds pass too. / But you must watch carefully. / The same towhees and jays / Seem to have been in the same places / To thousands of generations of men." ("As the Years Pass")

This book represents a major voice in English literature. One hopes this volume solidifies Rexroth's place in our literary pantheon.