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George Woodcock

George Woodcock most recent book is Thomas Merton, Monk and Poet. He lives in Vancouver and is writing his autobiography.

Elegy for an Anarchist

George Woodcock, 19 January 1984

In the Thirties and Forties English readers – and even English poets – knew surprisingly little about American poets, except for the few, like Pound and Cummings, who set out to make themselves international figures. Thus it was not really surprising that, early in 1943, when I received a letter from a poet named Kenneth Rexroth in San Francisco, I knew nothing about his work or about the extraordinary life he had already lived. My ignorance was partly understandable since, though he had been writing poetry for twenty years, Rexroth did not publish his first book of verse – In What Hour – until 1941: but it was also an aspect of the general British ignorance of things American. I was then publishing the literary magazine NOW and was also one of the editors of War Commentary, the anarchist paper of the period, and Rexroth wrote to me because he had established in San Francisco an anarchist circle, consisting of young Californian poets and artists and older Italian and Jewish militants who were veterans of the struggles of Emma Goldman’s and Carlo Tresca’s days.–

Poem: ‘For Kenneth Rexroth, 1905-1982’

George Woodcock, 19 January 1984

Hearing you were dead, I went out to look at mountains. Forty years we had been friends, writing between cities, meeting in cities, talking of anarchist persons and principles and never climbing a mountain together. Yet all it meant was mountains, and always in your poems the mountains rose, bright as freedom, crystalline as science. Kenneth, you were like Shaw. None of your friends liked...

Dreams of Fair Game

George Woodcock, 20 May 1982

The White Man’s inability or refusal even to see the existence of Indian economic systems is the one theme that threads its way through the story of the New World,’ says Hugh Brody in Maps and Dreams. ‘European beliefs that hunting people occupied the bottom rung of an evolutionary ladder, together with contrary views of the hunter as an ideal of human existence alongside which contemporary European or American destruction of the Noble Savage could be judged and condemned, are two of the rhetorics that, in different ways, consign hunting peoples to the dustbins of history.’ Maps and Dreams is an impressive attempt to dispel popular errors about peoples whom anthropologists used condescendingly to call ‘primitive hunters’. Brody is also seeking to prove that hunting economies can continue to be viable even in modern North America, and that the way of life associated with them is worth preserving.

Traven identified

George Woodcock, 3 July 1980

I am convinced, after reading his book, The Man who was B. Traven, that the BBC producer Will Wyatt has (with some notable assistance from others) finally solved one of the most tantalising literary mysteries of our age, and has established, as firmly as it ever will be, the identity of the novelist who called himself B. Traven. In the process, he has shown that Traven was perhaps the most multiply pseudonymous man in literary history: at various stages in his life he used no less than 27 aliases, not counting his nom-de-plume and his real name which, as Mr Wyatt persuasively demonstrates, was not Ret Marut – the first name under which he presented himself to public attention – but Hermann Albert Otto Max Fiege, that of a native of the East Prussian village of Schwiebus, now in the Polish province of Poznan.

Plain English

Denis Donoghue, 20 December 1984

Orwell took little care of his manuscripts. He didn’t anticipate that collectors of such things would pay real money for them, and that universities would think it a privilege to turn a...

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