Paul Blackburn & Me: It’s Complicated

The dissertation--see those four blue volumes--and the two books that emerged from it

My Ph.D. dissertation and the two books that emerged from it, the Collected and Selected Poems of Paul Blackbur

It’s been thirty years since I finished editing the Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn. I still can’t quit him.

Paul Blackburn died on September 13, 1971—exactly forty-five years ago today. He was forty-four. I never met him, but I spent more than half a decade with him, writing my dissertation and editing his collected and selected poems. When I started this three-pronged project, it seemed to me that Blackburn had lived a reasonably long life. By the time I finished, I thought he’d died tragically young.

As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. Bear with me here. I never wrote down this story before, so I’m relishing the details.


I first encountered Blackburn in the late 1970s through M.L. Rosenthal, whose Yeats seminar I had taken as a grad student at NYU. I’d been contemplating writing a thesis about one of the confessional poets, Rosenthal’s specialty, but when I went in to talk to him about possible dissertation subjects, Rosenthal said, “What do you think about Paul Blackburn?”

I hadn’t thought about him at all. Indeed, I’d never heard of him. Rosenthal explained, “Blackburn’s widow asked me to edit his collected poems. I don’t have the time but I told her I would pass the job along to a qualified graduate student.” He added, “If you do the scholarly edition for your dissertation, you’ll end up with a published book when you get your Ph.D.”

I got hold of The Cities, the book Rosenthal had recommended as quintessential Blackburn. Many of the poems were about the BMT subway line, which I’d grown up riding in Brooklyn. I admired Blackburn’s technical skill, his musical score-like notations of the works, his ability to make the writing look easy. I shoved down my doubts about his attitudes towards women. A published book…Now there was a shiny object for an aspiring academic.

For the rest of the story, published on an actual poetry blog, see Paul Blackburn and Me.

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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. PAT NOLAN says:

    Hi, Edie. I have been a life long PB fan, starting with The Cities. I picked up a copy of The Collected shortly after it was published at a bookstore in Berkeley. I used to have a mimeo magazine, now I have a blog. I posted a nostalgia piece entitled Someone Else’s Paul Blackburn a year or so ago about finding a used copy of The Cities at Black Oak Books in Berkeley. Its previous owner had been Tom Clark (another PB fan) and had his marginalia and commentary on many of the pages. I understand that the Poetry Project had a commemorative event for Paul some time in May or June. BTW, I came across your piece at Silliman’s blog.

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