The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater: 1945-1985
Edited by Kevin Killian and David Brazil.
ISBN 978-0-9767364-5-5 (2010) $25.95
With new interest in poetry as a performative art, and with prewar experiments much in mind, the young poets of postwar America infused the stage with the rhythms and shocks of their poetry. From the multidisciplinary nexus of Black Mountain, to the Harvard-based Cambridge Poets Theatre, to the West Coast Beats and San Francisco Renaissance, these energies manifested themselves all at once, and through the decades have continued to grow and mutate, innovating a form of writing that defies boundaries of genre. THE KENNING ANTHOLOGY OF POETS THEATER: 1945-1985 documents the emergence, growth, and varied fortunes of the form over decades of American literary history, with a focus on key regional movements. The largest and most comprehensive anthology of its kind yet assembled, the volume collects classics of poets theater as well as rarities long out of print and texts from unpublished manuscripts and archives. It will be an indispensable reference for students of postwar American poetry and avant-garde theater.
Among the poets featured in THE KENNING ANTHOLOGY OF POETS THEATER are Charles Olson, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Russell Atkins, Gregory Corso, Helen Adam, Michael McClure, James Broughton, Kenneth Koch, Jackson Mac Low, Lorenzo Thomas, Anne Waldman, ruth weiss, Ron Padgett, Hannah Weiner, Lew Welch, Sonia Sanchez, Joe Brainard, Bruce Andrews, Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop, Bob Holman and Bob Rosenthal, Steve Benson, Ted Greenwald, Carla Harryman, Ntozake Shange, Bob Perelman, Kit Robinson, Robert Grenier, Alan Bernheimer, Charles Bernstein, Stephen Rodefer, Fiona Templeton, Kenward Elmslie, and Leslie Scalapino. Also included are previously unpublished plays by Jack Spicer, V.R. “Bunny” Lang, James Schuyler, Robert Duncan, Madeline Gleason, Diane di Prima, Barbara Guest, James Keilty, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Johanna Drucker, and Nada Gordon. The editors provide informative and provocative prefatory matter, including extensive notes on each play, as well as several that fall within the purview of the book but, for one reason or another, were omitted, as with Pedro Pietri’s The Masses Are Asses or Jessica Hagedorn’s Tenement Lover. Rounding out the book are contemporary classics: LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman and Kathy Acker’s The Birth of the Poet.
This is a great book! Here are the poets, the great modern poets who have given us our language, our imagery, our style…And though the fickle theater has sometimes betrayed them, they remain the foundation of our hope that the theater of poetry lives today.—Judith MalinaDon’t be fooled by the sober title. This wonderful volume cannot but delight anyone who likes their plays served in the raw and the cooked of poetry.—Caroline Bergvall
Reminds us of the vital role of theater among postwar U.S. poets and testifies to the enduring connection between poetry and drama from Shakespeare and Milton to Gertrude Stein and Amiri Baraka…This is a major contribution to poetics and performance studies.—Michael Davidson
If poets theater has been about language capacitance foregrounded from the get-go, then this book is the go-to-go.—Rodrigo Toscano
Kevin Killian and David Brazil have done a great service… The selection is wide-ranging, eclectic, and generally highly intelligent… Forces and influences are carefully and thoughtfully delineated, and a map of the progress of poets’ theater in that crucial transition period between high modernism and post-modernism is brought into view. …The truth is poetry and theater need the spontaneity and rigor each tends to suspect in the other.—Mac Wellman, BOMB
“If a dream is a rebus, what is a play?” Leave it to poets to take a perfectly good rhetorical question such as this, from Nada Gordon’s play Distraction, and come up with multiple answers, each less likely than the last, and all of them brimful with a belief in complete freedom of expression. With The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater, poets Kevin Killian and David Brazil have provided as friendly as possible a reintroduction to a genre that, in contemporary America, at least, has some ways to reclaim the world-historical heights of appeal it held among the ancient Greeks, the Elizabethans and in pre-Franco Spain.—Jordan Davis, The Nation
Brazil and Killian provide a solid sense of poets theater’s seminal decades, bringing to light its central concerns and lost masterpieces, on one hand and, on the other, revealing its importance to the genre as we know it today.—Maxwell Heller, The Poetry Project Newsletter