Kenneth Rexroth at Large in San Francisco

Selected columns from the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967)
and San Francisco Magazine (1968-1975)



January-July 1960
Here I Am
A Night Out in the City
Beckett and Ionesco
In Praise of Amateur Shakespeare
The Civil Rights Sit-ins
Three Poets in the News
Kabuki Theater
The Popularity of Poetry

August-December 1960
The Tao of Fishing
Riding in the Mountains
Art of Grace and Modesty
Why I Like Opera
Why I Don’t Like Jazz Festivals
Aida and Ornette Coleman
Matters of Taste
The Greatest Fiction

Pacifica Radio KPFA

Reveling in Cultural Diversity
Golden Gate Park
The Persistence of Pseudoscience
Last Stand of la Vie Méditerranée
In Praise of Live Music

The Film Elektra
By the Waterfall
The Mime Troupe in the Park
The Chinese Theater
Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary

H.L. Mencken
Ralph Stackpole and the Coit Tower Murals
Tom Jones and The Ginger Man
Charles Mingus
Greeks and Buddhists in Afghanistan
The Harlem Riots
Wonder and Meditation in the Sierras
Mysticism, Ethical and Chemical
Wagnerian Tartuffery

The Mafia Invasion of North Beach
Proposals for Chinatown
Bob Dylan
Cowboy Diplomacy
The Strategy of Peace
Wine — French versus Californian
After the Watts Riot
The Quiet Center
Poetry on Record
Voices Outside the Inn

January-September 1966
The Subculture Facing Armageddon
Environmental Blitzkrieg
Urban Alienation Renewal
Lively Arts versus TV Culture
Marxism and the Persistence of Alienation
The International Cultural Revolution
What Is Immoral?
Camouflaging the Rape of the Environment

September 1966-June 1967 (trip around the world)
What I Will Miss in San Francisco
Wandering the Streets of London
The Provos of Amsterdam
Bolshevism as State Capitalism
The Arts of Finland
Tintoretto and the Painters of Venice
Buddhism and Hinduism in India
Thai Buddhism

The May Revolt in France
The Ecological Point of No Return
Radical Movements on the Defensive
The Ecological Revolution

Women’s Liberation
Architecture and Religion

Old Chinatown
Bohemian San Francisco Between the Wars
Organized Vice, Then and Now

The San Francisco Renaissance
The Beat Era
Haight-Ashbury and the Sixties
The New Rock Music
End of a Golden Age




In early 1960 the San Francisco Examiner (a Hearst newspaper) offered Kenneth Rexroth a job writing a weekly column. He accepted. By May 1961 the column had proved popular enough that he was asked to do two and sometimes even three per week.

The association was an odd one. Although Rexroth was by that time a well-known figure in the Bay Area, he was known primarily as a political and cultural radical, and even (somewhat misleadingly) as “the godfather of the Beat Generation.” But he was willing to work for the Examiner as long as they gave him complete freedom to write whatever he wanted. They did so until mid-1967, when they fired him after he wrote a particularly scathing article on the American police. He then shifted to the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1967-1972) and San Francisco Magazine (1967-1975).

Altogether he wrote over 800 columns for those three publications. I’ve read them all with interest and often with astonishment at his detailed practical knowledge of so many facets of life. But many of them are inevitably ephemeral and would be of limited interest to present-day readers. For this online selection I have chosen about a tenth of them which I think retain some contemporary relevance or offer intriguing glimpses of earlier days.

His Examiner columns often appeared on the same page with reactionary columns by people such as Barry Goldwater and reactionary editorials by the owner, William Randolph Hearst Jr. This strange and challenging context often makes for lively reading. Somehow Rexroth manages to convey unconventional and at times even rather subtle ideas to ordinary readers with only the slightest modification of the style he used when addressing more hip or radical or sophisticated audiences. Nevertheless, such columns could hardly be expected to be as consistently excellent as his more carefully composed works. He himself considered them primarily as a job to help pay the rent while he did other writing that he took more seriously. They were usually dashed off at the last minute, and the Examiner did not always do a very careful job of proofreading them.

I have silently corrected obvious typos, added an occasional comma that seems to be necessary to make the sense clear, and taken the liberty of composing new titles (the original titles were composed by Examiner editors and often do not give a very good idea of what Rexroth is actually talking about). Footnotes and bracketed comments are mine. Omissions are indicated by bracketed ellipses: [...].

For the moment I have not included any of the Bay Guardian columns, which tended to be almost exclusively and depressingly “political” in the most narrow and quickly dated sense (specific denunciations of LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, and countless lesser politicians and officials who are now largely forgotten). If sufficient interest is shown, I may eventually post a more extensive selection that will include such articles. But personally I find his more modest and “positive” efforts to encourage participatory communitarian tendencies, and his accounts of how he himself deals with the day-to-day problems and possibilities of life, more enduringly interesting than his repetitive grumblings about how everything is going down the tubes which he tended to get increasingly into in the late sixties and early seventies.

This selection is substantially the same one that I proposed to several publishers in 1985. At that time none were sufficiently interested, and I put the project on the shelf. I still think it would make a nice and probably reasonably popular book (ironically, there is a very attractive, profusely illustrated French edition of these same columns). But meanwhile, while we’re waiting for American publishers to take interest in the vast, scarcely tapped trove of unpublished Rexroth writings, the advent of the Web has made it possible to make such material generally accessible without worrying about printing costs or potential sales.

In my little book The Relevance of Rexroth I have presented my own views on Rexroth (including criticisms of some of the views he expresses in these columns). Here, as in the other Rexroth writings posted at this website, I have let him speak for himself. I think you’ll find him both entertaining and instructive, and maybe even inspiring.

Ken Knabb
May 2002

NOTE (August 2016): From 2010 to 2016 I posted ALL of Rexroth’s Examiner columns on the approximate 50th anniversaries of their original appearance. The whole series (including his complete articles for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and San Francisco Magazine) is now online here, but I am also leaving the present selection in place for readers who may wish to begin their exploration with the cream of the crop.


Introduction and Table of Contents for Kenneth Rexroth at Large in San Francisco (selected columns from the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco magazine). Copyright 1960-1975 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.