ABOUT THE COLLECTION


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The Kenneth Rexroth Collection at
Kanda University of International Studies

 

by Morgan Gibson, PH. D.

 

   15,000 volumes from the library of the late poet, translator, painter, critic, and scholar Kenneth Rexroth (1905-82) have been shelved and catalogued at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. During his leadership of the postwar San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, his personal library had grown so large that much of it had been kept in a second apartment at 250 Scott Street. When he had moved to Santa Barbara in 1968, some of this collection had been sold, and the remainder was shelved in his spacious home on East Pepper Lane in Mendocito, in a small guesthouse and in a large barnlike study where he did most of his writing. Though he could not have known that his library would be moved to Japan after his death, the transfer is astonishingly karmic in light of the fact that he considered Japan his spiritual home. He had wanted to spend his last years in the country of Basho, Kobo Daishi, and Yosano Akiko.
   Rexroth's library reflects the extraordinarily diverse interests of this self-educated polymath genius, who wrote authoritatively about world literature, philosophy and religion, Asian and Western cultures, political ideologies, art, jazz and classical music, folklore and other subjects. The library is a goldmine for specialists in these fields as well as young minds newly awakening to books and ideas.
   How did Rexroth's library come to Japan? Five years after his death on June 6, 1982, his remarkable collection was purchased by Kanda University of International Studies, with the help of Mitsuo Nitta of Yushodo Bookstore. Nitta has reported that after discussing the poet's papers with D. S. Zeidberg, head of the rare book section of the UCLA Library, he had received information about the library in the spring of 1985 from the California bookseller J. S. Edgren, who had long been in communication with Rexroth because of their expertise in Asian art. In August of 1985, thanks to Edgren's arrangements, Rexroth's widow Carol Tinker showed Nitta the library while she was still living in the poet's home. In addition to books stacked to the ceiling, there was the large desk where he had written many poems and essays. Carol Tinker informed Nitta that the library had to be sold. There were many difficult and painful problems involved in liquidating the estate, as Linda Hamalian has reported in her biography of the poet.
   Now that the library has been shelved and catalogued at Kanda University of International Studies, it can facilitate the work of scholars, poets, critics, students, and general readers. A list of books containing Rexroth's marginalia should help us discover ways in which he responded to various authors. And readers hitherto unfamiliar with his work will also find his library a valuable resource. Professor of Philosophy Gyo Furuta supervised the Rexroth Collection until his retirement in 1999. Professor James Vincent assisted the library staff in cataloguing the collection. And Professor Kenji Yamaryo, ex-Director of the University Library, and I developed plans to facilitate its use.
   In a special room among stacks of books that Rexroth collected rests the poet's massive antique wooden desk on which he had produced most of his work in California. "In front of me on my desk/Is typewriter and paper," he wrote in "January Night" (The Collected Shorter Poems, page 185), "And my beautiful jagged/Crystal, larger than a skull..." As poetry flowed through his mind, he often silently contemplated the crystal. What could it have meant to him? Just as William Blake saw the world in a grain of sand, Rexroth seems to have envisioned in the crystal the on-going creativity of the universe, writing, "An imponderable and/Invisible elastic/Crystal is the womb of space" ("It Is a German Honeymoon," Flower Wreath Hill , page 15).
   Visitors are welcome at the Rexroth East-West Collection at Kanda University of International Studies, but they should first make arrangements. Proposals for using the Collection are invited.
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A lecture at Kanda University of International Studies, November 12, 1994.
Excerpted from Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East-West Wisdom, Chapter 9,
"In and Out of the Academy." Copyright 2000 by Morgan Gibson.
Light & Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry, Webmaster Karl Young: http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/rexroth/gibson.htm
Originally published in 1985 as an Archon Book by The Shoe String Press, Hamden, Connecticut 06514.