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Paul Blackburn Portrait

Paul Blackburn was born in St. Albans, Vermont. His parents separated when he was three, and he grew up with his mother's parents until his mother took him to New York's Greenwich Village at age fourteen. After a stint in the Army, he enrolled at New York University but then transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where he started a correspondence with Ezra Pound, then incarcerated at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, who encouraged his poetry writing. In New York, Blackburn pursued an interest in Provençal troubadour poets, translating them into English. By the late 1950s Blackburn was becoming known as a poet of city life, with poems that were both witty and observant about New York in particular. But he was also active in the antiwar and civil rights movements and regularly wrote poems about those issues as well. Meanwhile, he was supporting himself with editing and translating jobs. All along he had also written culturally and epistemologically reflective poems about his travels abroad. "At the Well" is a strikingly contemporary and wittily challenging poem about otherness and colonialism. Blackburn died at age 44 from cancer of the esophagus.