Carl Rakosi Papers and Audio

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Carl Rakosi (1903-2005) was a social worker, psychotherapist and poet, best known for his affiliation with the “Objectivists,” a group of poets assembled by Louis Zukofsky in the early 1930s and championed by Ezra Pound. Other “Objectivists” included William Carlos Williams, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Basil Bunting, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert McAlmon, and the Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker. In the late-1930s, after the collapse of several collaborative “Objectivist” publishing ventures, Rakosi stopped writing and publishing poetry and devoted his energy toward establishing himself as a social worker and psychotherapist. His only volume of poetry from this period, Selected Poems, was published by James Laughlin’s New Directions in 1941.

In 1925, Rakosi legally changed his name to Callman Rawley for professional reasons. Over the course of a long and successful career as a social work administrator and psychotherapist, he published several articles and reviews on social work and psychology as Rawley.

In 1965, prompted by an unexpected letter from Andrew Crozier, a young English poet, Rawley resumed writing and publishing poetry as Carl Rakosi. Between 1967 and 1999, Rakosi published eight individual volumes of poetry. Collections of his prose (1983) and poetry (1985) were published by the National Poetry Foundation, and a collection of his early writing (edited by Andrew Crozier) was published in 1995.

This collection contains literary and personal correspondence, working papers, lecture notes, poems, book reviews, interviews with Rakosi, and will eventually contain several audio recordings, mainly recordings of poetry readings and lectures on poetry delivered by Rakosi during the 1970s and 80s. With a few exceptions (namely, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Bruce Fearing, George and Linda Oppen, Martin Rosenblum, and Bob Ryley), only Rakosi’s side of the correspondence is included in the digitized portion of the collection; the vast majority of Rakosi’s letters here were written during the 1980s. The physical materials presented here are all part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Special Collections. Other significant collections of Rakosi material are held by UCSD’s Archive for New Poetry, by the Harry Ransom Center (correspondence with Louis Zukofsky, Marianne Moore, Charles Tomlinson, and William Carlos Williams), and by Harvard’s Houghton Library (in the New Directions Publishing Corporation collection).

Biography

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Rakosi emigrated to the United States from Hungary as a young child and attended high school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where his father worked as a watchmaker and jeweler. In 1917, Rakosi was naturalized as an American citizen. He briefly attended the University of Chicago before transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating in 1924 with an English degree. As a student in Madison he published his first poems, served on the editorial board of The Wisconsin Literary Magazine, and befriended the writers Margery Latimer, Kenneth Fearing, and Leon Serabian Herald. After graduation, Rakosi moved to New York City, where he introduced himself to the editor Jane Heap on Latimer’s recommendation. Heap published three of Rakosi’s poems in The Little Review in 1925.

In 1925, Rakosi legally changed his name to Callman Rawley and returned to Madison, where he earned a master’s degree in industrial psychology in 1926. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Rawley cycled through a series of graduate programs and social work jobs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Texas, and New Orleans. While living in New York City in the mid-1930s, Rawley joined the Communist Party, though he did not remain an active member of the party for long. In 1939, he married Leah Jaffe, and in 1940 earned a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1945, the family moved to Minneapolis, where Rawley served as the executive director of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service until his retirement in 1968.

Rakosi’s return to poetry in 1965 coincided with the revival and recovery of many of his fellow “Objectivists.” The atmosphere of American poetry had much changed, and Rakosi found a much more receptive audience for his work during his second writing career: between 1969 and 1979 he served as a writer-in-residence or guest instructor at UW-Madison, the University of Minnesota, Michigan State University, and Naropa University. In 1978, Carl and Leah moved to San Francisco, where they became close friends with George and Mary Oppen and several other Bay Area writers and artists. In 1989, Leah died of cancer. A few years later, Carl began a long-term relationship with Marilyn Kane, a former neighbor. Rakosi died in San Francisco on June 25, 2004, after a series of strokes.