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Paul Blackburn papers

Identifier: C-13

Scope and Contents

Materials are largely from the mid-1950s, including letters and poems that reveal the poet’s life, work and travels in Europe, Toulouse, Banyalbufar in Majorca, Vienna, Frankfurt, and Perugia are among the places from which the poet writes. Some correspondence and work from later years. Robert Buckeye’s research and correspondence in preparation of and the article for Credences itself gives considerable useful comment on the poet’s work.


  • Creation: 1953 - 1984


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email:

Biographical / Historical

Paul Blackburn was born on Nov. 24, 1926, the son of Frances Frost and William Gordon Blackburn, in St. Albans, Vermont. The parents divorced in 1930, shortly after the birth of their second child, a daughter, Jean. William went to California and Frances went to New York City, leaving their two children with her parents, where they had a dreary and unpleasant childhood. At 14, Paul accompanied his mother to New York City where she encouraged his poetical bent and introduced him to her rather Bohemian life. He attended New York University, but eventually graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1950. Paul supported himself with a variety of jobs including editing encyclopedias and book reviews, while publishing his poetry in “little” magazines. He published 19 books of original poetry, six published posthumously. He did many translations, most notably the Provencal troubadour poets, the poem of El Cid, selections from Garcia Lorca. The Blackburn Papers contain no letters to his sister, Jean, who dropped out of the world in her twenties to join a nunnery.

Blackburn began a correspondence in the late 40’s with Robert Creeley at the suggestion of Ezra Pound, whom Paul visited often in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Both Pound and Creeley greatly influenced Paul, and through Creeley he became acquainted with Cid Corman, Charles Olson, Joel Oppenheimer, Jonathan Williams, and the Black Mountain poets, although he never included himself in that loosely associated group.

Blackburn was married three times: to Winifred Grey McCarthy, from 1954-58, to Sara Golden, l963-67, and to Jean Diane Miller, with whom he had a son, Carlos T., from 1968 until his death in 1971.

In 1954, newly married, Paul was awarded a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship and went to Europe to teach in Toulouse, France, where he also studied the language and literature of the Troubadours. Returning to New York City in 1957, their marriage dissolved. Paul could not find work and his mother died of cancer. While he commuted between Brooklyn and Manhattan he wrote a series of “Subway Poems.” He contributed to the Black Mountain Review, the literary magazine established in 1953 to raise money for the foundering Black Mountain College (1933-1956), and was a contributing editor to one issue.

Paul Blackburn was known to be a very generous friend; there were those who thought he spread himself too thin in encouraging and promoting others when he might have been doing more for himself and his own reputation. He was devoted to the ideal of a democratic community of poets, and to further that end he was instrumental in organizing two important reading series and moved one of them to St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery where the Poetry Project still flourishes today. Toward the end of his short life he began his Journals, which was published posthumously. Burt Kimmelman writes, “In the Journals no other but the present moment exists, fleeting, yet permanent.” “The poetry of process is opposed to the notion of progress...each arrival signals a new departure...the Journals created, for later poetry, a new aesthetic sense of what a poetic statement could be.”

In 1967 Paul Blackburn won a Guggenheim Fellowship. He taught at the State University of New York at Cortland, NY from 1970 until his death of esophageal cancer, in 1971, at the age of forty-four.


1 Box

Language of Materials



The Blackburn Papers are arranged in three series. Series I consists of correspondence from Paul Blackburn to many friends, in alphabetical order, and chronologically in each group. The series also contains letters from Winifred Blackburn to Larry Bronfman. Each letter or card is in its own folder. Series II is correspondence (1977-1984) to and from Robert Buckeye, Special Collections Librarian, Emeritus, concerning research and notes on Paul Blackburn’s correspondence and poems for Credences, and includes a final copy of Credences. Series III is composed of published and unpublished poetry manuscripts, in alphabetical order by title, each poem in its own folder.

Other Finding Aids

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The materials in the Paul Blackburn Papers were purchased from Joseph the Provider, March 23, 1981. The exceptions are three letters to Cid Corman, which were purchased from Glenn Horowitz, Nov. 15, 1982, and one letter and two postal cards to Bill Kintner, purchased from James S. Jaffe, Feb. 2, 1988.

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Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

Middlebury College
Davis Family Library
110 Storrs Avenue
Middlebury Vermont 05753 United States