Don


Don Allen's death leaves a very large hole, although one knew it had to come, as obviously it does for all. But for my company and for me he was the one who managed the defining connection again and again, as with Charles Olson, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Douglas Woolf, Richard Brautigan, and a far wider loop of writers than these few can even begin to suggest. For example, he is the crucial editor at Grove Press for John Rechy's City of Night (1963) and it's also Don who publishes in his own "Writing" series Pamela Millward's Mother: A Novel of the Revolution (San Francisco. 1970) and Dale Herd's Early Morning Wind (Bolinas, 1972). I cannot think of another editor of that now past century who so located and prepared the publication of so much one recognizes as bedrock, Frank O'Hara, Federico Garcia Lorca, and on and on and on.

He was, as all who knew him as friend will testify, a wonderfully droll and perceptive ally, a suavely hip and securing host, who in all manner of situation was never seemingly at a loss. I remember going with him into a typical standup cowboy bar late one night as we were driving from Vancouver back to Albuquerque and Don's asking the bartender, when finally we got his attention, what kind of vermouth he used in his martinis. Likewise, thinking of martinis, I remember Don's suggesting we stop as we were again driving together up to see Bill Eastlake in Cuba, NM by way of a back road through Jemez Springs. It was late spring and there was a fresh fall of snow under the pines, some of which Don then scooped up for the martinis he poured for us from his fabulous silver flask.

His style was always a dear and abiding pleasure. It was certainly there the first time we met in the early fifties, when I'd come begging to New Directions where he was an editor, hoping for some sort of job. There wasn't any but as I was leaving, Don said something like, But you should at least have a book, and reaching his hand behind him, be it said, without looking, he got and handed me Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales.

Thanks to his generous invitation, I worked with him in the editing of several anthologies of those years, New American Story (Grove, 1965) and The New Writing in the USA (Penguin, 1967). The last is one of my own favorites, just that it gave us chance to use a variety of so-called genre, not just one at a time. The first has a notable absence for which I was responsible and which still makes me wince. Don had suggested we include something from Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, but for whatever reason, I was feeling depressed and very serious, and so didn't get it. When I did it was just too late.

Most recently I heard of Don from dear mutual friends Ellen Tallman and Robin Blaser, both of whom had known him since proverbial school days. His pleasantly teasing and provocative charms did not in the least lessen with age. In fact, he grew if anything more wry and engaging than ever. I know that his "editorial" intelligence never flagged as witness his edition with Ben Friedlander of Olson's Collected Prose (University of California Press, 1997). Finally, it's Don's New American Poetry, which brings us all into the world, and that work is still in print after very nearly fifty years. Some things -- like Don Allen -- are forever.

~~ Robert Creeley

Providence, RI

September 19, 2004