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Tribute to Barney Rosset, 1922-2012

Posted: 05/09/2012 1:47 pm

Today, at five the doors of the Great Hall at Cooper Union will open, and there will be a memorial service for Barney Rosset, the legendary publisher of Evergreen Review and Grove Press.

The first time I heard the name Barney Rosset, I was an eighteen-year-old student at Bennington College. My professor Ben Belitt told me to volunteer as an intern at Grove Press. He said it would be good for me.

There was an off-campus term where I could do something like that, but I opted instead to stay in Ben's downstairs apartment and work on his archives, which consisted of mostly looking out the window and writing poems. I did a lot of reading that winter, too. Ben's shelves were filled with Grove Press books-in addition to the Lorca and Neruda that he translated for Barney. I read them all. There were also countless old issues of the Evergreen Review piled up in the garage, which abutted my space overlooking Paran Creek. It was clear these piles of folded and gathered paper were not something anyone in their right mind would throw out. They were part of history.

As I wrote on the site's blog today, Evergreen Review was arguably one of the most influential literary magazines of the 20th century. It introduced America to some of the most important voices of its era-from D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller to Samuel Beckett and the Beats to Lorca and Neruda and authors in translation from around the world. The worthiest memorial to Barney's memory I can think of, would be to preserve that legacy digitally. You can on the Evergreen Review site.

I first met Barney in the 1990s in his loft where a few friends gathered to play pool on Tuesday nights. My first night there, I told Barney about our mutual friend Ben Belitt. His reaction completed the circuit that was first sparked in Vermont when Ben told me about Barney. He lit up, and spoke with great admiration for Ben, remembering details about my mentor--stuff only someone close could have known. It was as though Barney engaged with Ben's contributions the way a priest might with the Holy.

Over the years, when I heard Barney talk about other writers and artists, famous or just starting out, there was that same texture, the same juxtaposition of soul: this was "the divine incunabula" as Ben put it, the creative impulse that is the best part of us all being here. In its purest form, that "being there," for Barney, seemed to be art and the expression of absolutely everything that falls under the category of unmitigated human experience. He was a crucial part of the world's literary history, and his contributions--blasphemy be damned--are immortal.

Cheers, Barney. And thank you.

This post originally appeared on the Evergreen Review website.

 

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