Michael McClure

1932 (Marysville, Kans.) – 2020 (Oakland, Calif.)

McClure, announcing himself at a famous beat reading, became a significant player in the San Francisco Renaissance. Conner was a schoolfriend in Kansas. He studied with Duncan, regarded Rexroth as a mentor, and was fictionalised by his good friend Kerouac. He wrote a poem for his correspondent Ashbery and performed with Waldman. An uncritical admirer of Mailer, their acquaintanceship spawned his provocative play ‘The Beard’. Dylan, a friend, gave him an autoharp. Crick said his understanding of science was deep for a poet. Brakhage, a lifelong comrade, was spooked by his black snake.

Marianne Moore

1887 (Kirkwood, Mo.) – 1972 (New York)

A major modernist poet, whose puritan modesty was matched by a gusto for life. She worked briefly for Dewey, and found her first collection published (a friendly surprise) by H.D. She was Bishop’s first important supporter – they visited the circus on first meeting, pinching some elephant’s hair – and corresponded and advised on everything. Plath and Ted Hughes climbed her stairs, Cornell (similarly emotionally reserved) sent her books as a valentine, Lowell watched baseball with her. Among her many close correspondents, Eliot gave her a footstool and Cummings a painting of a yellow rose. She wondered whether Avedon could improve her eyebrows.

Marianne Moore knew…

Louis Zukofsky

1904 (New York) – 1978 (Port Jefferson, N.Y.)

Williams called Zukofsky the most important and neglected poet of his time. Pound encouraged him, enjoyed a long correspondence and friendship, and put him in touch with Williams; Williams and Zukofsky immediately bonded, exchanged hundreds of letters, and became significant mutual influences. Oppen met Zukofsky by chance the same day he’d discovered his poetry; with Reznikoff and Williams, they set up the Objectivist Press. Niedecker was briefly a lover and for decades a correspondent, Schapiro a fellow-student, Rakosi, Rothenburg and Rexroth friends, Levertov and Creeley visitors, and Campos, Merton and Moore among many correspondents.

Lord Byron

1788 (London) – 1824 (Messolonghi, Greece)

Byron shared his Swiss house with Polidori, enjoying a productive friendship with Shelley, but blaming Southey for reports of sexual antics there, bringing tourists out with telescopes. Hazlitt, Byron and Shelley were part of the literary circle around Leigh Hunt (whom Byron visited in jail). Byron corresponded with Scott, admiring his works more than Coleridge’s (another correspondent) or Wordsworth’s. Goethe valued him above all other poets of his age but thought him otherwise a child. His family persuaded Moore to destroy his papers to avoid controversy. Stendhal declared his eyes the most beautiful he’d ever seen.

Kenneth Rexroth

1905 (South Bend, Ind.) – 1982 (Santa Barbara, Calif.)

Rexroth was an extraordinary autodidact, who seems to have met everyone everywhere. He said he wrote poetry to seduce women and overthrow capitalism; and helped make San Francisco, as Chicago made him. Lawrence, Prokofiev, Russell, Anderson, Sandburg and Frank Lloyd Wright were all met at a radical midwest salon. The ‘country boy’ Armstrong and Yancey both turned up at a club he was involved with (“we didn’t know we were making history”). He first met Ferlinghetti in Paris, liked Léger, thought Desnos wonderful, presided over Ginsberg’s legendary reading, disliked Kerouac, thought Rivera dreadful, and turned down Nin’s invitations to dinner.

Kenneth Rexroth knew…

Gary Snyder

1930 (San Francisco) –

A leading poet of the West Coast scene, Snyder’s verse has been deeply influenced by Chinese and Japanese thought and by an ecological concern for the land. He notably announced himself at an event presided over by his early influence Rexroth, with Ginsberg and McClure also reading. Kerouac fictionalised him (they lived in a cabin together for six months). He introduced Ginsberg to buddhism and shared a plot of land with him — their deep friendship was marked by 850 letters across 40 years, and led to Snyder also meeting the East coasters Koch, Creeley, Waldman and Rothenberg.

Ezra Pound

1885 (Hailey, Idaho) – 1972 (Venice)

Pound’s deserved reputation as one of the modernist greats, and famous supporter of other writers, was undermined by his public support for fascism and antisemitism. Williams (a lifelong friend) and H. D. were met at university. He spent 3 winters with Yeats, considering him the greatest poet alive, and was close to Gaudier-Brzeska and Lewis. He helped and befriended Eliot, Joyce, Hemingway (who lived on the same street in Paris), Frost and Zukofsky. Moore and Ford, as well as Williams, were friends for decades. Hughes, Porter, Wilder, Eliot, Olson, Duncan, Lowell, Bishop and McLuhan all visited him during his long incarceration.

Diane di Prima

1934 (New York) –

Poet, publisher, editor, feminist, di Prima has been a tireless if underrated presence as writer and activist. At 19 she visited Pound daily for 2 weeks while in hospital custody. Baraka, lover and father to a child, also joined forces professionally. She helped establish The Poets’ Press with Ginsberg, McClure and Kerouac, and shared a building with Mekas (staging a strategic argument when busted by the police). O’Hara adopted her, Dine’s gifted assemblage went as deposit for an apartment, Duncan always came for Christmas. Kerouac drunkenly told her she’d never be a poet until she could forget about the baby-sitter.

Denise Levertov

1923 (Ilford, England) – 1997 (Seattle, Wash.)

Rexroth, who championed her, called her the most subtly skilful poet of her generation. Aged 12, she wrote to Eliot who responded encouragingly; Read also helped her. She mixed with Black Mountain poets in New York, her husband introducing her to Creeley (who became a close friend), Olson and Duncan, as well as to Williams, a formative influence who became an intensely sympathetic communicant. Through her intimate friendship with Duncan, she met H. D., corresponding warmly in the year before H. D.’s death. She sent Pasternak a book, who replied he was sure they’d be friends, but died before they could meet.