Donald Allen, 92, Book Editor of Bold New Voices in Poetry, DiesBy WOLFGANG SAXON
Published: September 9, 2004
Donald Merriam Allen, a poetry editor whose 1960 anthology of the era's contemporary and avant-garde poets remains a milestone in American letters, died on Aug. 29 in San Francisco. He was 92.
His death was announced by his friend and executor, Michael Williams.
Mr. Allen started compiling his landmark collection in 1958 as an editor at Grove Press. In "The New American Poetry: 1945-1960" he presented a new generation. It offered a sampler of 44 young voices arranged in five overlapping groupings, and was one of the first countercultural collections of American verse. The difference between the older traditional voices and the new was described by Robert Lowell as the difference between the "cooked" and the "raw."
There were the Black Mountain poets like Charles Olson, Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley; the San Francsico renaissance voices of James Broughton, Madeline Gleason and Lawrence Ferlinghetti; the beat generation of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso; the New York poets like John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara; and a fifth group of younger names without geographical definition, including Philip Whalen and Stuart Z. Perkoff.
Mr. Allen's handiwork caused a literary stir and upset the poetry establishment in particular. It spotlighted some large new talents culled from small magazines and lent a degree of respectability even to fringe lyricists from San Francisco and its environs.
What united them, Harvey Shapiro noted in his review in The New York Times in 1960, was their disdain for traditional great English and American poetry and poets. More disapprovingly, the critic John Simon wrote, "Mr. Allen's anthology divides all gall into five parts."
But the work endured and was reissued most recently by the University of California Press, where it remains in print. In 1975 Mr. Allen edited, with Warren Tallman, an updated companion volume to the 1960 anthology, "The Poetics of the New American Poetry" (Grove).
Donald Allen was born in Muscatine, Iowa, the son of a doctor. He graduated in 1934 from the University of Iowa, from which he also received an M.A. in English literature a year later. After postgraduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, he moved to New York. He was an editor at Grove from 1950 to 1970, both in New York and later on the West Coast, where he was co-editor of Grove's Evergreen Review, which published Ginsberg's "Howl."
He translated four plays by Eugene Ionesco (Grove, 1958), and his versions of "The Bald Soprano" and "The Lesson" continue to be staged. He edited selections of writings by O'Hara, Olson, Kerouac, Mr. Creeley, Edward Dorn, Jack Spicer and others.
To promote his favorite writers he founded and managed two literary presses, Grey Fox and Four Seasons Foundation, which published the new poetry along with books on philosophy and Buddhism and gay and lesbian literature.
Mr. Allen is survived by a sister, Kathryn Payne of Charlottesville, Va.
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