Perkoff, Stuart Z. 1930-1974

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PERKOFF, Stuart Z. 1930-1974

PERSONAL: Born July 29, 1930, in St. Louis, MO; died of cancer, June 14, 1974, in Venice West, CA; son of Ann and Nat (a bookmaker) Perkoff; married Suzan Blanchard, 1949; children: Sasha.

CAREER: Poet. Guest on Groucho Marx and Steve Allen television shows.

MEMBER: Communist Party.


The Suicide Room, Jonathan Williams (Karlsruhe, Germany), 1956.

(Contributor) Donald M. Allen, editor, The NewAmerican Poetry: 1945-60, Grove (New York, NY), 1960.

Eat the Earth, Black Ace/Bowery (Denver, CO), 1971.

Kowboy Pomes, Croupier Press (Golden, CO), 1973.

Alphabet, Red Hill (Los Angeles, CA), 1973.

Love Is the Silence: Poems 1948-1974, edited by Paul Vangelisti, Red Hill (Los Angeles, CA), 1975.

Visions of the Tribe, Black Ace/Temple of Man (Los Angeles, CA), 1976.

How It Is Doing What I Do, Black Ace/Temple of Man (Los Angeles, CA), 1977.

Voices of the Lady: The Collected Poems of Stuart Z.Perkoff, National Poetry Foundation (Orono, ME), 1998.

Contributed "Only Just above the Ground" to Smith, spring 1973.

SIDELIGHTS: Poet Stuart Z. Perkoff was a central figure in the West Coast Beat movement, a counter-culture literary movement that developed in Greenwich Village and San Francisco in the 1950s and spread to such artistic communities as Venice West in the Los Angeles area.

Perkoff, a St. Louis native whose father was a bookmaker, lived an itinerant life late in his adolescence, residing in New York and then on the West Coast, where he settled in Venice West, California, and took part in the city's thriving literary scene. His first book was The Suicide Room, and his work was included in such anthologies as Donald M. Allen's seminal collection The New American Poetry: 1945-1960. In Lawrence Lipton's fictional depiction of the Venice Beat movement, The Holy Barbarians (1959), Perkoff figures under his own name and has been seen as the model for the character Angel Dan Davies, whom Christine Timm in the American Book Review described as a "bearded, perennially destitute but artistically brilliant" artist and poet who "surfaces as the West Coast Beat icon, manifesting all the physical markers and aesthetic sensibilities of the Venice Beat groove." "Like his Beat counterparts," Timm wrote, "Perkoff is clear progenitor to classic literary rebels like (Henry David) Thoreau, Vachel Lindsay and William Carlos Williams."

Plagued by addiction, Perkoff had an erratic career, and many of his poems remained unpublished at the end of his life. After gaining recognition for his early work, he fell into drug addiction during the 1960s. In 1968 he was convicted of a narcotics offense, and was imprisoned until 1971. After briefly undertaking a bookselling enterprise in San Francisco, he returned to Venice in 1973 and began a series of new poetic works. He died of cancer in 1974.

Among Perkoff's published work, Kowboy Pomes—published in 1973, though written during 1959 and 1960—is considered among his most successful poem sequences, and in Alphabet (1973) Perkoff explored his Jewish heritage in a series of works based on letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Paul Vangelisti commented in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that in these final works, Perkoff employed a more direct strategy in confronting his subject, a development that marked "a turning point or at least a new point of departure in his writing. . . . [By] the end of his life, Perkoff had truly become the poet's poet." A volume of Perkoff's collected works, Voices of the Lady, was edited by his brother Gerald Perkoff and published by the National Poetry Foundation in 1998.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16: TheBeats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983, pp. 446-448.


American Book Review, July-August, 1999, Christine Timm, review of Voices of the Lady.*