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Upton, Charles 1948–

Upton, Charles 1948–

PERSONAL: Born December 13, 1948, in San Francisco, CA; married Jenny Doane. Education: Attended University of California, Davis. Religion: Sufism.

ADDRESSES: Home—100 Sycamore Ave., San Anselmo, CA 94960. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Poet and writer.


Panic Grass (poems), City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1968.

Time Raid (poems), Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1969.

(Editor, with Robert Starfire and others) Because You Talk: Poetry and Prose, Other Voices Literary Society (San Francisco, CA), 1976.

(Translator) Doorkeeper of the Heart; Versions of Rabi'a, Threshold Books (Putney, VT), 1988.

Hammering Hot Iron: A Spiritual Critique of Bly's Iron John, Quest Books (Wheaton, IL), 1993.

The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Post-modernism and the New Age, Sophia Perennis (Ghent, NY), 2001.

Cracks in the Great Wall: The UFO Phenomenon and Traditional Metaphysics, Sophia Perennis (Hillsdale, NY), 2004.

Legends of the End: Prophecies of the End Times, Antichrist, Apocalypse, and Messiah from Eight Religious Traditions, Sophia Perennis (Hillsdale, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Charles Upton's first book of poems, Panic Grass, created a sensation when the nineteen-year-old author gave a public reading of it in San Francisco in 1968. The long poem was viewed as the record of a deeply spiritual search and the work of a dedicated visionary of the apocalypse. Upton had been interested in poetry since the age of ten, when he discovered the work of the Beat poets. While still in high school, he began writing his own poetry. "It was a poetry of fervent, sincere emotion whose symbology was drawn from fundamentally Christian sources which, mixed with the images of direct experience, expressed an unfettered, idealistic spirituality," wrote Pat Nolan in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

Panic Grass was inspired by a cross-country road trip Upton took with a friend in 1967. As he explained in an article posted on the Serious Seekers Web site, he rejected his privileged background—which included descent "from many European kings," including Char-lemagne and Alfred the Great—and became active in political protests and countercultural activities. He "hitchhiked around the country, rode freight trains, took psychedelic drugs, wrote poetry, visited gurus, dabbled in yoga and meditation, and delved into comparative religion and mythology." During this period he met Beat poet Lew Welch, who helped him publish a book of juvenilia, Time Raid, as well as the long poem Panic Grass.

According to Nolan, Panic Grass is "Upton's synthesis of [Allen Ginsberg's] Howl and [Jack] Kerouac's On the Road." It describes late-twentieth-century America on the verge of apocalypse as Vietnam-era protests and race riots engulfed the country, and it ends with an im-age of a burning sky. As Nolan pointed out, Upton employs the long line and the natural language of his major poetic influences, Walt Whitman and Ginsberg. Panic Grass elicited significant praise. Indeed, according to Nolan, the poem "probably reflected the sentiment of its time more accurately than any other poem of that era; it was straight from the gut."

Despite the success of Panic Grass, which catapulted Upton to fame, the young poet quickly withdrew from the literary spotlight. As he noted on the Serious Seekers Web site, "at 19 I was 'the youngest member of the Beat Generation' … with absolutely nothing more to say. So I withdrew. I hid out. I never did a public reading of Panic Grass after it was published. My poetry fell apart, became corny or sentimental or eerily thin. I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to do with my life." Upton moved to Canada, "commune-hopping" to various parts of British Columbia but returned to California, shortly before his father's death. After a fire destroyed the house in which he grew up, Upton and his mother moved to a small apartment, and the poet began to drink heavily. At the same time he continued his exploration of mystical spiritual traditions. Eventually, Upton and his wife became followers of Sufism.

His conversion enabled Upton to stop drinking and to focus more specifically on his study of metaphysical themes. His book Hammering Hot Iron: A Spiritual Critique of Bly's Iron John, which he described as his "first work of 'metaphysics and social criticism,'" explores the psychological insights and "dangerous Neo-Pagan tendencies" in Bly's notable work about male spirituality. A more recent book, The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Postmodernism and the New Age, considers the "dangers and errors of the New Age movement."



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983, pp. 517-520.


Charles Upton Home Page, (August 24, 2005).

Serious Seekers, (June 18, 2003), "Charles Upton."

Sophia Perennis Books Web site, (August 24, 2005).

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