Kenneth Warren was a rare public leader who knew when/how to push the envelope of public discourse, to seek and participate in deep, locally defined values in an era nonetheless when the local is being uprooted in favor of global development. He was a man dedicated to finding the deeper currents that might drive a community, and thus a world, forward into a brighter and more humane future of greater good.
The sudden death of writer, critic, editor, Jungian scholar and astrologist Kenneth Warren has a special poignancy for his friends in Gloucester. Many of us first met Ken when he and Fred Whitehead were editing The Whole Song, the landmark volume of selected poetry by Lynn native and Gloucester poet laureate Vincent Ferrini, published in 2004 by the University of Illinois Press.
Ken visited Gloucester frequently, reading at the Writers Center, where he was an advisory board member, and The Book Store. He also spoke at the centenary celebrations for Ferrini and Charles Olson, about whom Ken was working on an important series of essays in House Organ, the quarterly publication of contemporary poetry and prose he edited and published, first from Lakewood, Ohio, where Ken was library director for 25 years, and later from his home in Youngstown, NY.
Ken was that rarest of critics, who could write about avant-garde poetry, Punk Rock, the interface of astrology and the arts, and the complexities of Jungian analysis, often in the same review. To read his 2012 collection of essays, Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch: A Guide to the Homeric Punkhole, 1980-2012, is to gain a sense of one of the most original and capacious minds of our time.
Yet Ken was far from self-involved. As editor and publisher of House Organ, he sought out a stunning array of contributors, from former Black Mountain, Beat and New American poets to those who were young and unpublished, to review some of the most exciting experimental writing in print and to submit their own poetry and prose. To experience a single issue of the magazine that appeared in one’s mail box punctually each season, in its idiosyncratic 4 by 11 inch format, was to have an entrée into some of the most exciting work in poetry and personal and critical prose of our time.
Speaking for myself, it was a privilege to be asked by Ken to submit work he’d heard about, or to have been sent a series of remarkable collections of poetry or prose to review. His editorial style was supportive rather than intrusive. He let his writers be themselves, and in the process I believe we all flourished. In asking me to contribute to House Organ, Ken literally gave me a second career as a critic and essayist, one that I would not have enjoyed without Ken. Ken also published Gloucester poets Melissa de Haan Cummings and Josie Schoel.
Ken and I did not meet frequently, but when we did the talk was incandescent—largely from Ken’s side. I would always leave with lists of books to read or new writers to discover. With Ken one did not need to take a post-graduate course in innovative writing; one simply listened to him talk or read his extraordinary study of the work and thought of Ferrini and Olson that had been appearing serially in House Organ.
“We have suffered a great loss. Something has stopped and I don't know if it can start up again.”
Andre Spears, a member of the board of directors of the Gloucester Writers Center, wrote:
“Ken Warren departed the planet on Thursday (May 21), as the sun was transiting from Taurus into Gemini. He was, and remains, a beautiful spirit, particularly open to the world, and he leaves behind, in the singular poetic community he made cohere, a terrible absence that only time, sooner or later, will erase."
Ken loved Gloucester. He knew the city from his deep immersion in the poetry of Olson and Ferrini and from his own time spent here absorbing the look and feel of the place, its history. Ken understood community and how it could be uprooted by gentrification and unwarranted development. As his friend Daniel Slife wrote: “He was a man dedicated to finding the deeper currents that might drive a community, and thus a world, forward into a brighter and more humane future of greater good.”
Goodbye, Ken. We will miss you sorely.