White, Kenneth

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WHITE, Kenneth

Nationality: British. Born: Glasgow, Lanarkshire, 28 April 1936. Education: University of Glasgow, M.A. (honors) in French and German 1959; University of Munich; University of Paris. Family: Married Marie-Claude Charlut. Career: Lecturer in English, Sorbonne, Paris, 1962–63, and Faculty of Letters, Pau, France, 1967–68; lecturer in French, University of Glasgow 1963–67. Lecturer in English, Institut Charles V, 1969–83, and since 1983 professor of 20th-century poetics, Sorbonne, University of Paris. Founder, Jargon Papers, Glasgow, Feuillage, Pau, The Feathered Egg, Paris, and the Cahiers de Gèopoètique, organ of the Institut International de Gèopoètique.Awards: Prix Médicis Étranger, 1983; French Academy Grand Prix de Rayonnement, 1985; de Vigny prize, 1987. Address: Gwenved, Chemin du Goaquer, 22560 Trebeurden, France.



Wild Coal. Paris, Club des Etudiants d'Anglais, 1963.

En Toute Candeur (includes essays). Paris, Mercure de France, 1964.

The Cold Wind of Dawn. London, Cape, 1966.

The Most Difficult Area. London, Cape Goliard Press, and New York, Grossman, 1968.

A Walk along the Shore. Guildford, Surrey, Circle Press, 1977.

Mahamudra (bilingual edition). Paris, Mercure de France, 1979.

Ode fragmentée à la Bretagne blanche. Bordeaux, William Blake, 1980.

Le Grand Rivage (bilingual edition). Paris, Nouveau Commerce, 1980.

Scènes d'un monde flottant (bilingual edition). Paris, Grasset, 1983.

Terre de diamant (bilingual edition). Paris, Grasset, 1983.

Atlantica: Mouvements et méditations (bilingual edition). Paris, Grasset, 1986.

The Bird Path: Collected Longer Poems. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1989.

Handbook for the Diamond Country: Collected Shorter Poems 1960–1990. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1990.

Limites et marges. Paris, Mercure de France, 2000.


Letters from Courgounel. London, Cape, 1966.

Les Limbes incandescents. Paris, Denöel, 1976.

Dérives. Paris, Nadeau, 1978.

L'Écosse avec Kenneth White. Paris, Flammarion, 1980.

Le Visage du vent d'est. Paris, Presses d'Aujourd'hui, 1980.

La Route bleue. Paris, Grasset, 1983; as The Blue Road, Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1990.


The Tribal Dharma: An Essay on the Work of Gary Snyder. Dyfed, Unicom, 1975.

The Life-Technique of John Cowper Powys. Swansea, Galloping Dog Press, 1978.

Segalen: Théorie et pratique du voyage. Paris, Eibel, 1979.

La Figure du dehors. Paris, Grasset, 1982.

Une Apocalypse tranquille: Crise et creation dans la culture occidentale. Paris, Grasset, 1985.

Mahamudra: La grande geste. Paris, Mercure de France, 1987.

Travels in the Drifting Dawn. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1989.

"Rivages": Lectures de Kenneth White. Nimes, Editions Terriers, 1987.

Orcades. Rennes, Apogée, 1998.

Corsica: L'itinéraire des rives et des monts. Ajaccio, France, La Marge Edition, 1998.

Editor, Edimbourgh. Paris, Autrement, 1986.

Editor, Ecosse. Paris, Autremont, 1988.

Translator, Selected Poems, by André Breton. London, Cape Goliard Press, 1969.

Translator, Ode to Charles Fourier, by André Breton. London, Cape Goliard Press, 1969.


Manuscript Collection: National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Critical Studies: The Truth of Poetry by Michael Hamburger, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1970; by Hans Berge, in Raster (Amsterdam), autumn 1970; by Robert Bréchon, in Critique (Paris), April 1979; "Kenneth White: Portrait de l'artiste en jeune pin" by M. Duclos, in Poetes Anglais Contemporains, edited by J. Genet and R. Gallet, Caen, Centre de Recherches de Litt. & Ling., 1982; "Kenneth White: A Re-Sourcing of Western Culture" by Tony McManus, and "A Pict in Roman Gaul: Kenneth White and France" by Graham Dunstan Martin, both in Chapman, 59, January 1990; "Poetry after God: The Reinvention of the Sacred in the Work of Eugene Guillevic and Kenneth White" by Gavin Bowd, in Dalhousie French Studies (Canada), 39–40, summer-fall 1997; "Roots of the Geo-Poetic: Going beyond Linguistic Man" by H.W. Fawkner, in Moderna Sprak (Goteborg, Sweden), 91(1), 1997; "Kenneth White: Modernite Geopoetique et Postmodernite" by Olivier Penot-Lacassagne, in Oeuvres & Critiques (Tubingen, Germany), 23(1), 1998.

Kenneth White comments:

(1980) I can call myself a poet providing the word be adequately defined. I like Elie Faure's description: "The poet is he who never ceases to have confidence precisely because he does not attach himself to any port … but pursues … a form that flies through the tempest and is lost unceasingly in the eternal becoming."

The theme of my poetry (and prose) is the way to the complete and utter realization of myself, which I see as the real and central content of art, without which it degenerates into a collection of more or less formally or psychologically interesting comments or objects. With a play on words and with the knowledge that whiteness is the synthesis of all colors, I tend for the moment to call this "complete realization of myself" whiteness and to translate moments of unity by terms indicative of whiteness. My aim, beyond the temporary realizations of whiteness, is to ground this idea, this myth (as program), to situate the ecstasy extensively, and find, discover, create a "white world."

In more philosophical terms, I see myself living in a world of separation and scission, and my aim, my desire, is to move beyond this world of separation into unity. I find the theme in Hegel, who speaks of the early Greek world as "an immaculate world unadulterated by any scission." While the Hegelian synthesis, however, is purely intellectual, ideal, my aim is concrete realization.

In this direction I have been influenced, or confirmed, by Whitman and Nietzsche (critique of present civilization, affirmation of life, will to self-realization). Both of these also mean the end of a certain Western culture and, as I see it, an opening to the East, which can help us to discover a deeper West, create in the West a civilization more existentially alive, more integrated, rather than merely mechanically active and essentially incoherent.

It is in the East that I find the terms and the vocabulary (and examples) more consonant with my search. In L'Esprit Synthetique de la Chine, Liou Kia-Hway speaks of the aim of Eastern life-thought, as contrasted with the radical dualism and abstraction of the West, as "a concrete totality which suffers no separation," penetrating beyond the dualism into the "ground of being."

The way I see myself traveling toward this ground realization is the sunyavada, which Linnart Mäll, in his Terminologia Indica, translates as "The Zero Way"—"a quite original way of thought, so original it seems impossible to compare it with anything else."

My traveling on this way I express through poems and prose, the poems in general expressing more intense moments of concentration, the prose recounting the traveling, attempting a synthesis of information interspersed with moments of higher unity. The poems are characterized perhaps by intuitive rhythm, inner form, simplicity (i.e., a highly organized complexity without elaboration), and a recurrent iconography (gulls and recent convergent image of the Rosy Gull), which makes for a characteristic world. They are meant to satisfy demands, desires such as Bash expresses—"There are many who write verse, but few who keep to the rules of the heart"—understanding "heart" here not sentimentally but as a psychosensual/intellectual synthesis, the poem itself being such a synthesis, uniting a content of ontological significance with an aesthetic of delight. "Before a poet can write haiku," writes Otsuji, and the same goes for poems in general as I understand them, "he must find a unity within his life which must come from the effort to discover his true self."

How far do I think I have traveled on my way? After passing through "the most difficult area," I would say, with Paul Klee, "a little nearer to the heart of creation than is normal but still too far away."

*  *  *

If we except the more ecstatic passages, Letters from Gourgounel contains some of Kenneth White's most achieved writing, for in the prose of the book we see his language engaging with substantial, particular experience more fully than has been the general rule in his poetry. It is not simply that much of his earlier poetry was too content with routine romantic gestures and unsubstantiated claims ("the deep-down poetry I trade my life for" or "I speak in knowledge to all men / the great things and the beautiful I bring"). It is rather that in his poetry he has set himself the difficult task of exploring those areas of experience in which emptiness and silence may be sensed not in terms of negation but in terms of a more positive approach to a sense of immanence and revelation. Thus we have references to such phenomena as "this light that is / the limit of austerity / and makes words blind," statements like "at the limits of saying / the soul flies to the mouth / and the poem is born," and poems such as "In the Emptiness" that assert, in the emptiness, an experience of "reality right to the bone."

The general difficulty, then, is to reconcile the mystic's pull toward wordlessness and the poet's ineradicable dependence on words. In particular, the poetry's frequent resort to assertion, to statements about experience, may be characterized both by abstractions and by a lack of clear focus upon such concrete details as are mentioned. The difficulty for White is how to solve such a problem in a manner that is germane to his sensibility. There are several poems(e.g., "Extraordinary Moment" and "Sesshu") that seem to indicate a possible solution. These poems clearly have learned from oriental models, and their strength is that their focus on particulars is sharp and their implications are clear without being overly spelled out.

—Robin Fulton

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White, Kenneth

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