Documentary Portraits of Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, William Carlos Williams, Anne Sexton & Other American Poets (1965)

The annals of Amer­i­can his­to­ry offer lit­tle in the way of doc­u­men­tar­i­an-poets. But luck­i­ly for us today — and espe­cial­ly for those of us who enjoy Amer­i­can poet­ry of the mid-2oth cen­tu­ry — one of the coun­try’s few such hyphen­ates lived an uncom­mon­ly pro­duc­tive life. Though known pri­mar­i­ly as a poet of the San Fran­cis­co Renais­sance, Richard O. Moore also had a career in inde­pen­dent and pub­lic media, begin­ning in 1949 with the very first broad­cast of Berke­ley’s KPFA. In the ear­ly 1950s he moved to San Fran­cis­co’s new­ly found­ed KQED, one of the coun­try’s first pub­lic tele­vi­sion sta­tions. After a stint at Colum­bia study­ing Wittgen­stein, Moore returned to KQED in 1961, where­upon he began pro­duc­ing a wide vari­ety of doc­u­men­taries.

As sub­ject mat­ter, poet­ry may not nat­u­ral­ly lend itself to tele­vi­sion. But giv­en Moore’s con­nec­tions to major Amer­i­can poets on both coasts and else­where besides, if any­one could make it work, he could. It cer­tain­ly helped that so many of those poets had com­pelling per­son­al­i­ties, not least Allen Gins­berg and Lawrence Fer­linghet­ti, the stars of one episode of Moore’s 1965 doc­u­men­tary series USA: Poet­ry. “The footage he cap­tured is noth­ing short of mirac­u­lous, a nation­al trea­sure type time cap­sule of anoth­er, more lit­er­ary age,” says the web side of San­ta Cruz’s Bad Ani­mal Books, which has gath­ered a selec­tion of episodes togeth­er on one page. “Moore pro­vid­ed a rare glimpse of some of the finest Amer­i­can poets of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry at the sum­mit of their pow­ers,” a line­up also includ­ing Ken­neth Koch, John Ash­bery, Anne Sex­ton, Frank O’Hara, Ed Sanders, Philip Whalen, and Gary Sny­der.

Moore’s doc­u­men­tary por­traits unfail­ing­ly include read­ings of the sub­jects’ work, but they don’t stop there. They also offer glimpses into these poets’ lives, pro­fes­sion­al, domes­tic, and oth­er­wise, show­ing us the cities, towns, homes, book­stores, and libraries they inhab­it. A few of these sub­jects, like Sanders, Sny­der, and the espe­cial­ly ven­er­a­ble Fer­linghet­ti con­tin­ue to inhab­it them, though most have by now shuf­fled off this mor­tal coil. William Car­los Williams had already done so by the time of USA: Poet­ry’s episode about him, and so in addi­tion to footage illus­trat­ing the bard of Pater­son­’s verse and let­ters (sights that may remind mod­ern-day view­ers of Pater­son, Jim Jar­musch’s trib­ute to the worka­day Amer­i­can poet), Moore fea­tures Williams’ son William E. Williams. Though Williams fils did­n’t fol­low Williams père into poet­ry, he did fol­low him into med­i­cine, which con­sti­tut­ed not just the poet­’s day job but —as we hear read aloud — “my food and drink, the very thing that made it pos­si­ble for me to write.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ladies and Gen­tle­men… Mr. Leonard Cohen: The Poet-Musi­cian Fea­tured in a 1965 Doc­u­men­tary

John Ash­bery Reads “Self-Por­trait in a Con­vex Mir­ror”

13 Lec­tures from Allen Ginsberg’s “His­to­ry of Poet­ry” Course (1975)

Pablo Neruda’s Poem, “The Me Bird,” Becomes a Short, Beau­ti­ful­ly Ani­mat­ed Film

Poems as Short Films: Langston Hugh­es, Pablo Neru­da and More

Allen Ginsberg’s Top 10 Favorite Films

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Anti-Pedos says:

    Allen Gins­berg advo­cat­ed for NAMBLA…an org for Pedophiles. What a dis­gust­ing per­vert. James Fran­co por­trayed him in the film Howl. James Fran­co is on video try­ing to solic­it a minor. Look into all of this and see your­self. Hol­ly­wood, Spiel­berg, are all Pedophiles. Dis­gust­ing.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.