Kenneth Rexroth
Kenneth Rexroth.jpg
Born22 December 1905 Edit this on Wikidata
Died6 June 1982 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 76)
OccupationPoet, writer, translator, critic, musician Edit this on Wikidata

Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth (1905–1982[1]) was an American poet, translator, and critical essayist. He is regarded as a central figure in the San Francisco Renaissance, and paved the groundwork for the movement.[2] 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 magazine.[3] Largely self-educated, Rexroth learned several languages and translated poems from Chinese, French, Spanish, and Japanese.[4]

Early life

Rexroth was born Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth in South Bend, Indiana,[5] the son of Charles Rexroth, a pharmaceuticals salesman, and Delia Reed. His childhood was troubled by his father's alcoholism and his mother's chronic illness. His mother died in 1916 and his father in 1919, after which he went to live with his aunt in Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago.

At age nineteen, he hitchhiked across the country, taking odd jobs and working a stint as a Forest Service trail crew hand, cook, and packer in the Pacific Northwest, at the Marblemount Ranger Station.[6]

Poetry career

In the 1930s, Rexroth was associated with the Objectivists, a largely New York group gathered around Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen.[7] He was included in the 1931 issue of Poetry magazine dedicated to Objectivist poetry, and in the 1932 An “Objectivists” Anthology.[8] 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".[3]

With The Love Poems of Marichiko, 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.[9] Linda Hamalian, his biographer, suggests that, "translating the work of women poets from China and Japan reveals a transformation of both heart and mind".[3]

Kenneth Rexroth Street in San Francisco, California
Kenneth Rexroth Street in San Francisco, California

With Rexroth acting as master of ceremonies, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen performed at the famous Six Gallery reading on October 7, 1955. Rexroth later testified as a defense witness at Ferlinghetti's obscenity trial for publishing "Howl". Rexroth had previously sent Ginsberg (new in the Bay Area) to meet Snyder, and was thus responsible for their friendship. Lawrence Ferlinghetti named Rexroth as one of his own mentors.[10] Rexroth was eventually critical of the Beat movement. Years after the Six Gallery reading, Time referred to him as "Father of the Beats.[3] Rexroth ostensibly appears in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums as Reinhold Cacoethes.[11]


As a young man in Chicago, Rexroth was involved with the anarchist movement and was active in the IWW.[6] Lawrence Ferlinghetti recalled that Rexroth self-identified as a philosophical anarchist, regularly associated with other anarchists in North Beach, and sold Italian anarchist newspapers at the City Lights Bookstore.[12]

Rexroth, a pacifist, was a conscientious objector during World War II.[6]

Last years

Rexroth died in Santa Barbara on June 6, 1982.[5] 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. The year before his death, on Easter, Rexroth converted to Roman Catholicism.[13]


As author

(all titles poetry except where indicated)

As translator

(in chronological order)



  1. ^ Irr, Caren (February 2000). "Rexroth, Kenneth (1905-1982), poet and translator". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1602193. ISBN 978-0-19-860669-7.
  2. ^ "Kenneth Rexroth". The Academy of American Poets.
  3. ^ a b c d Sam Hamill, Sam; Kleiner, Elaine Laura, eds. (1997). Sacramental Acts: The Love Poems of Kenneth Rexroth. Copper Canyon Press. ISBN 9781556590801. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  4. ^ "Kenneth Rexroth". Modern American Poetry. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  5. ^ a b "News & Notes". PN Review. 9 (3). February 1983. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Suiter 2002, p. 81
  7. ^ McAllister, Andrew, ed. (1996). The Objectivists. Eastburn: Bloodaxe Books. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9781852243418.
  8. ^ Scroggins, Mark. "The "Objectivists" and Their Publications". Z-site, A Companion to the Works of Louis Zukofsky. Z-site. Retrieved July 17, 2021.
  9. ^ Weinberger 1986, pp. 117-118
  10. ^ "Legendary Beat Generation Bookseller and Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books on the 50th Anniversary of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and Poetry as Insurgent Art" (Interview). Democracy Now. December 24, 2007. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  11. ^ Beat Museum, The. "Books by Jack Kerouac-Real Names and their Aliases". self-published, N.D., unpaginated.
  12. ^ Wroe, Nicholas (July 1, 2006). "Last of the bohemians" (Interview). The Guardian. London. Retrieved June 8, 2008. He called himself a 'philosophical anarchist'...
  13. ^ Hamalian 1991, p. 367


Further reading