I’ve been thinking of Ken all day. The following is from my introduction of his terrific essay collection, Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch (2012):
Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch thrives in the outrider genre. At once disciplined and astute, studious and light-of-foot, it puts into useful tension the textures of life and art. Kenneth Warren comments on the close associations poetry has in relation to a lived experience—an experience that’s always in question, but that poetry and art attempt to shape. Written over the course of thirty years for small press zines and journals, including his finely edited House Organ, this collection of essays represents an era in part neglected in the literary record. Somewhere between the New American Poetry of the ’60s and ’70s, the Language writing of the ’80s and ’90s, and the more recent advance of smoke and mirrors entertainingly referred to as Conceptual Poetry, a diverse, complex, and marvelous cultural period of poetic potential has been often overlooked. Warren’s essays correct this, offering a record of literary achievement, cultural production, and social witness through essays and reviews on figures as diverse as d. a. levy, James Haining, Bob Kaufman, Kathy Acker, Ed Sanders, and Bo Didley. These essays, along with “Language and Its Meaning” and other fugitive reviews in part reveal a character of mind devoted to a human need for knowledge and experience as it was created in a cultural period of radical change (I’m thinking of course of the era beginning with Reagan and the obnoxious reflex, he initiated, of throwing a dollar sign over everything). “Semiotic Sobriety” counteracts the more-well known claims of the New Sentence—not so much as challenge, but as a divergent increase of patterns of perception largely missed by that doughty text. The cultural history and the literary account Warren offers remind readers of the vast and invigorating contexts of poetry that have largely gone underground—under the dollar sign—and into a bunker of beautiful things.