Dec 022016
Key West's Poet Laureate Emeritus Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

Key West Poet Laureate Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

What impressed me most about the poets of the Beat scene was their independence. Their need was not quite so much to get appreciation and recognition from society for what they were doing as it was to establish faith in themselves regardless of pubic opinion or being in print. Our “kitchen-counter press” published William Wantling’s first publication because of this self confidence shining through it. Gregory Corso got his own poems down first and then looked around for approval, which he evidently got from Allen Ginsberg although Ginsberg had been formally educated and did not need to be associated with Corso’s success. Ginsberg’s interest was simply compassion for a man who knew he had a calling and followed it. His activities helped provide courage for poets in similar situations that were anonymous. I think now of Jack Micheine and the evangelistic poets who identified themselves with the miracles of creation itself, like the sun, or just being alive. Their lack of education, I believe, was accepted as a flaw that was voluntary. Style was the substance. A philosophy or a set of ideas, was only book talk. Any reasoning beyond innate faith was irrelevant. Their sense of Christian ideals was within themselves and did not need argument or persuasion. As a result we got an American way to use the sense of understanding that gave the country as a whole a sense of human depth that the untutored mind could turn to without the need for elaborate explications expensive architecture, a pecking order or casual approval. The independence was real and convincing and, as I say, independent without the need for argument or persuasion.

Society was in transition in many ways after World War II and so the poets’s  voice was heard as distinct and finally as a part of our native literature. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) was trying to manufacture native literature pertinent to our country’s identity with his The Song of Hiawatha (1855). The Beat movement was much more democratic in its sources even though its casual approach to the complex art of poetry often results in a response to it, from the reader, that is often casual as well.

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Kirby Congdon
Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.

Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.
 December 2, 2016  Posted by at 12:35 am Issue #195, Kirby Congdon  Add comments