In the Moment of Passing

Donald Merriam Allen
1912 - 2004

Don Allen squatting in Stan Persky and George Stanley's front yard,
Vancouver, 11/1/72 during a roundtrip by car from Bolinas and back.

Photo © Gerard Malanga.

from Beat Portraits by John Thomas

As Editor for Grove Press's The New American Poetry:1945-1960 Donald Allen almost
single-handedly enlarged the canon of contemporary poetry in the United States. The
difference between the older traditional voices and the new was described by Robert Lowell
as the difference between the "cooked" and the "raw." Many of the contributors to this
historic and cultural record are now considered part of the postmodern canon.
Helen Adam, Brother Antoninus, John Ashbery, Paul Blackburn
Robin Blaser, Ebbe Borregaard, Bruce Boyd, Ray Bremser
James Broughton, Paul Carroll, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley
Edward Dorn, Kirby Doyle, Richard Duerden, Robert Duncan
Larry Eigner, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Edward Field, Allen Ginsberg
Madeline Gleason, Barbara Guest, Le Roi Jones, Jack Kerouac
Kenneth Koch, Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov, Ron Loewinsohn
Edward Marshall, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Frank O'Hara
Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer, Peter Orlovsky, Stuart Z. Perkoff
James Schuyler, Gary Snyder, Gilbert Sorrentino, Jack Spicer
Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, John Wieners, Jonathan Williams
The Donald Allen Collection
Special Collections Library
University of California, San Diego

The collection consists of four different groups or series of materials
pertaining to the editorial work at Grove Press, Four Seasons Foundation,
Grey Fox Press, and to special projects Allen did for Penguin and St. James
presses. The addition (1991) contains manuscript and typescript materials
related to the Four Seasons Foundation publication of Interviews
(1980) by Edward Dorn, The Graces (1983) by Aaron Shurin, the
Grey Fox Press publication of Enough Said (1980) by Philip Whalen
and I Remain (1980), a collection of Lew Welch's letters.

In the Moment of Passing

Don Allen - July 1995

Photo by Magda Cregg


~~ Robert Creeley ~~


Memories of Donald Mirriam Allen

Somebody said not long ago that they thought Don Allen was still alive, and now his death confirms it. A courtly, civilized man of the very old school, with an "air" about him; as the French would say he was "of good air" (debonaire). Lew Welch introduced me to him in maybe 1968, which was when Don published my embarrassingly juvenile juvenilia, Time Raid, in his Four Seasons Foundation writing series.

He was a "conversationalist" who was more interested in drawing one out than in making his "point" (unlike Lew in this regard, who was all point, no draw). The last time I saw him was in Bolinas, California, somewhere in the sodden, depressive 70's. As literary culture continues to give way to technical culture, it becomes increasingly certain that we shall not see his like again.

~~ Charles Upton

When I was in college, my friends and I (the black turtle-neck sweater, Camel cigarette crowd), were all fledgling writers and took writing and reading extremely seriously. Our "bible" was Donald Allen's New American Poetry 1945-60. We tore that book apart, reading everything, dog-earing pages, sharing quotes, and inhaling the works of Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure and others. When I left college I came to San Francisco State to pursue a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, largely because Robert Duncan was teaching there.

Over the years, my personal orbit intersected that of Creeley's, Snyder's, McClure's, Whalen's, Lew Welch, Jim Koller, Lenore Kandel, and Robert Duncan and I'm proud to say that we became friends and many of them became mentors for me. They became my community. Through them I met Donald Allen and was able to thank him and express to him my gratitude for his Herculean effort at compiling such a wonderful book. He was a kind, self-effacing, and extremely gentle man, but through his untiring efforts on behalf of Poetry and poets, he left a large, deeply incised footprint which I have been exploring all the years of my life since first picking up the spoor. With a deep bow of gratitude and respect to Donald Allen.

~~ Peter Coyote

Donald Allen edited one of the few anthologies that collected disparate materials into a persuasively coherent presentation, making visible what was previously invisible, creating taste instead of sweeping up enthusiasms promoted by others, which is what most lesser "anthologists" do. In this respect, he set a good example for my own anthologizing. Nonetheless, not having met the man, I've often wondered why Allen never again did an anthology that was comparably consequential. Respecting his example, I've wanted for some three decades now to edit an anthology of yet 'Newer American Poetry', which is to say work I thought yet more avant-gade, its contributors scarcely overlapping with his; but nobody ever commissioned it.

~~ Richard Kostelanetz

Richard Kostelanetz forwarded to me his comments on Donald Allen's anthology. I think Richard hit the nail on the head - those are my sentiments exactly about Allen's work. Great anthology; too bad he didn't do others expanding on the concept.

~~ Dr. John M. Bennett

I met Don a few times in Bolinas, in the early 1970s. The only crisp--now somewhat soggy--memory I have of him is he standing with a depressed Lew Welch and telling us that Lew's contract with Grove Press, I think it was, to publish a book of Lew's poems had expired. Don seemed angry and embarrassed at the situation, and later himself published several books Lew's splendid and important work, for which we are grateful.

~~ Joel Weishaus

I didn't know Don Allen well enough to say much about him personally, although I'd met him. At the time, he impressed me as cool and aloof -- very much the opposite of his engaging anthology, a very big deal that brought recognition to some terrific poets and set the literary academy on its ear.

~~ Jan Herman

I haven't opened my copy of The New American Poetry:
in twenty years but believe I could list from memory
most of its contents and its contributors. Donald Allen's
taste is that of a book editor or radio producer who sees
the scene whole and sees that it is the parts and not the
rhetoric that make the whole scene.

Palgrave's The Golden Treasury created conditions for the
acceptance of lyrical poetry in English for about five
generations. Allen did it for non-lyrical poetry for his
generation and ours.

~~ John Robert Colombo

Very sad news

letter for Donald Allen

weather is good


the leaves
yellow mixed to green

announcing autumn

september 11, 2004

~~ Rinaldo Rasa

Donald M. Allen's death marks not merely the passing of a lover of poetry, but of the chronicler of a generation. With his anthologies Allen gave honor, and credibility, to a genre of writers often tainted by notions of instability, or triviality. What's more, it was Donald Allen who had the vision to recognize those foot soldiers in the front lines of modern poetry.

He likewise showed a discerning eye, and an ever larger heart, in choosing to publish other now celebrated poets in his New American Poetry 1945-61, which has been like the I Ching to many forever in need of a righteous poetry fix. As the editor of the issue of "Evergreen Review" containing the first separate printing of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Donald Allen was a pioneer who worked behind the scenes, without celebrity and hype, to give voice to the urgings of our times.

~~ Jayne Lyn Stahl

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