Poetry offers us the capacity to carry in us and express the contradictory impulses that make us human.
Donald Allen, best known for his promotion of poetry by San Francisco Renaissance and Beat poets through his work at Grove Press, was born in Muscatine, Iowa in 1912. Allen earned his BA and MA in English literature from the University of Iowa, completing his studies in 1935. He then enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley for postgraduate studies before moving to New York and working as an editor at Grove Press from 1950–70. Allen worked in Grove’s offices in both New York and on the West Coast. He served as co-editor of the publisher’s journal, Evergreen Review, which released Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” in 1957. Under Allen’s guidance, Evergreen Review also published work by contemporary Mexican authors. Allen’s other projects at Grove included his translation of four plays by Eugène Ionesco.
In 1958, Allen began to edit The New American Poetry, 1945–1960 (University of California Press, 1960), which featured elder Black Mountain School poets, such as Charles Olson; San Francisco Renaissance poets, including Jack Spicer; and numerous established and emerging Beat poets, notably Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Jack Kerouac, David Meltzer, Peter Orlovsky, Lew Welch, and Philip Whalen. Allen’s other anthologies are The Postmoderns: The New American Poetry Revised (Grove Press, 1982); The Poetics of the New American Poetry (Grove/Atlantic, 1973), co-edited with poetry scholar Warren Tallman; and New American Story, co-edited with Robert Creeley (Evergreen Black Cat Books, 1965).
Allen was also a publisher who founded and managed the presses Grey Fox and Four Seasons Foundation, both of which published works by Welch. His presses were unique for their promotion of works on Buddhism and by LGBTQ writers. Allen died in San Francisco on August 29, 2004.