He said, "I am sending you over a student in whom I think you would be interested and who you might be able to help. He is a poet with immense talent. In a few days, we got a phone call from Philip Lamantia. We asked him to dinner that night. It was an amazing experience. He was about sixteen years old and extremely handsome-a small Italian lad who seemed already to have read most avant-garde literature and who, again, was already the best of the third generation of surrealists I have never known anyone else who started out, without preliminaries, with no five-finger exercises or scales, as an achieved poet.
Having published three books of poetry by that time, Rexroth was well versed in avant-garde literature and active in radical politics; he had visited Paris in the twenties, when surrealism was at its height of influence, and even claimed to have met some of the group's members. He had also resided in New York, but ended up rejecting that city's intellectual culture as "too European. His influence on the young Lamantia would prove to be both deep and lasting. As soon as he arrived in Manhattan, Lamantia was plunged into an exhilarating-but at first, undoubtedly bewildering-milieu where he encountered many of the famous surrealists whose work he had studied in the past year.
He took up his post as an editorial assistant at View, "mostly rejecting the daily deluge of unsolicited manuscripts. There were weekly gallery openings, jazz on Fifty-Second Street, endless parties, and almost daily invitations to lunch and dinner. Lamantia found Breton himself to be less accessible than he may have hoped, partly because of the language barrier Breton spoke only French , and partly because, as Lamantia jotted in his autobiographical notes, Breton was "not social, and didn't go to galleries.
The significance of this dinner-as well as the special introduction to Lamantia's poems in VVV -can be gauged by Breton's oft-criticized aloofness from the New York art milieu. The introduction to an anthology of View, for example, cites Edouard Roditi, the polyglot poet and translator of Young Cherry Trees: "Surrealism proper, Roditi reminds us, was a closed society. This was especially true of Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, editors of View; while surrealism remained central to their concerns, they sometimes featured material from the wider avant-garde scene. Their "Americana Fantastica" issue, in particular, was intended to showcase the art and writing of a homegrown imagination complementary with, but not beholden to, European surrealism.
As Tyler pointedly stated in that issue, the fantastic, "having no home but its own Though his encounters with Breton were infrequent, Lamantiamet with the Swiss artist Kurt Seligmann on a weekly basis. Seligmann spoke English fluently and shared his knowledge of magical lore, "graciously" allowing Lamantia to peruse his vast collection of alchemical texts. Lamantia also was introduced to the surrealist-influenced American filmmaker Maya Deren, who was sufficiently impressed that she gave him a brief role in her film At Land , which also includes appearances by Gregory Bateson, John Cage, and Parker Tyler.
Lamantia and Tyler would stay in touch until Tyler's death in As the war came to an end, the European refugees began to return home, and their American counterparts appeared either uninterested in or incapable of perpetuating surrealism in its original form. The transplantation of surrealism to the United States had indeed failed.
Moreover, Lamantia had, as he put it, "a fight with Ford" and resigned from View. Filled with bitterness and disappointment, Lamantia decided to return to San Francisco. At that point, he hadn't seen Breton for some time; indeed, his last encounter with Breton-by chance, in the company of Yves Tanguy, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh-was one of the experiences he treasured most from the half-year or so he had spent in New York. Having witnessed infighting and further examples of aversive behavior among the New York surrealists, followed by the breakup of the scene at war's end, Lamantia was alienated and disillusioned-and for the moment, ready to renounce surrealism.
He boarded a train back to San Francisco in late In San Francisco, Lamantia enrolled in the Bates School for a year in order to obtain his high school diploma. Above all, I was attracted by his inexhaustible and encyclopedic way of conversing. I'd visit him once a week Sometimes we'd talk a whole weekend.
He also afforded Lamantia much practical assistance in obtaining Conscientious Objector status, after turning eighteen in October , in order to register a pacific refusal to go to war. In terms of his own poetry, Lamantia would frequently refer to this period as his "naturalistic" phase, implying a rejection of the original sources of his inspiration in the unconscious and automatic writing.
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The poems he wrote at this time comprise the first section of his first book, Erotic Poems , published by George Leite's friend and collaborator Bern Porter, whose eponymous imprint had previously published books by Henry Miller, as well as Parker Tyler's The Granite Butterfly , a poem dedicated to Lamantia.
Erotic Poems was introduced by Rexroth, who also suggested its title. In his introduction, Rexroth downplays the distinction between the two sections, and notably, Lamantia would reprint some of the poems from the "naturalistic" section in the first edition of his retrospective gathering of his early surrealist work, Touch of the Marvelous Generally speaking, the naturalistic poems are more measured in tone and pace than the earlier work, but lines like "You flee into a corridor of stars.
In the late s, Lamantia was an active participant in the "San Francisco Libertarian Circle," a Wednesday-night discussion group that formed around Rexroth, concomitant with his famous Friday-night "at home" salons. The subject matter of these meetings was as various as Rexroth's protean interests-Lamantia once lectured on the theories of Wilhelm Reich-but appears to have largely focused on philosophical and political anarchism, with participants reading the works of such writers as Peter Kropotkin, Enrico Malatesta, Emma Goldman, Martin Buber, and Nikolai Berdyaev.
During this period, along with fellow poets Sanders Russell and Robert Stock, Lamantia also edited a magazine, The Ark, intended as a more politically-oriented companion to Circle, though disagreements among the three editors halted its publication after the first issue in Spring In addition to these activities, between and , Lamantia audited a number of classes at the University of California, Berkeley, though he never formally enrolled.
While he sat in on poetry lectures by Josephine Miles-mentor to Duncan and Spicer, among others-Lamantia primarily attended classes in comparative religion and medieval history. He was deeply influenced by the lectures of Leonardo Olschki and Ernst Kantorowicz. His lecture on "The Assassins" sparked Lamantia's interest in Islam, leading him to study the Koran and retain a lasting sympathy for that religion. Kantorowicz, an expert on medieval political and intellectual history, specialized in Frederick II of Sicily, the thirteenth-century Holy Roman Emperor whose religious tolerance, polymath erudition, and patronage of poetry had a lifelong appeal for Lamantia and awakened his interest in his own ethnic heritage.
It was also in Berkeley that he met the linguist Jaime de Angulo, whose work would inspire Lamantia's investigations into Native American cultures. Mention must also be made here of the eccentric ethnomusicologist, painter, and filmmaker Harry Smith, whom Lamantia met in and with whom he would further develop his interest in modern jazz and the newly-emerging rhythm and blues.
In addition to their frequent attendance at small after-hours clubs throughout San Francisco's Fillmore district, as well as downtown Oakland, the two shared a fascination with alchemy, aided and abetted by Smith's knack for obtaining rare alchemical texts. Apart from Rexroth, Lamantia's most important friendship during this period was with John Hoffman. Born in Menlo Park, California in , Hoffman was a thin, bespectacled poet with long blonde hair and a small beard, the very image of the subsequent "beatnik" stereotype in American culture.
He and Lamantia met in San Francisco around after a poetry reading. An Airplane Whistle After Heine. Hieronymus Bosch. Then the weather changed. Dolce Colloquio. To My Dead Father. Aus einem April. Requiems for a Young Uncle. For Grace After a Party. With Barbara at Larrys. Poem Read at Joan Mitchells. The light comes on by itself.
Mary Destis Ass. Mozart Chemisier. Poem Lana Turner has collapsed. Captains Courageous. Lines for the Fortune Cookies.
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Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Series Pages: Sales rank: 54, Product dimensions: 6. About the Author Sylvia Plath was born in in Massachusetts.
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Date of Birth: October 27, Date of Death: February 11, Place of Birth: Boston, Massachusetts. Place of Death: London, England. Education: B. Read an Excerpt Conversation Among the Ruins Through portico of my elegant house you stalk With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
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