Alden Van Buskirk

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At The Poetry Foundation, Garrett Caples writes a moving essay on the life of Alden Van Buskirk, a Vermont born, Dartmouth-St. Louis-Mexico-Oakland raised poet with connections to the Beats and a love for Rimbaud.

Van Buskirk (Van, to his friends) published only one, posthumous volume, titled LAMI, a largely autobiographical work collected by his close friend David Rattray. The book also contains an introduction by Allen Ginsberg, who writes:

“This whole witty—somber—book, LAMI, consists of 91 pages & makes a complete statement of Person.”

The book is organized primarily by place: St. Louis, Oakland. In “Lami in Oakland” Van Buskirk ruminates on the city and his recent diagnosis—paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, or PNH, the extremely rare, fatal blood disease that tormented the poet but perhaps provided incalculable inspiration:

Imagined cement cities, the new color of metal &

feel of plastic melting in windows,

dreamt this city Oakland from a school map,

its chemistry of colors,

melted fish shapes &

vacuous faces—

but not this emptiness in myself.

Van Buskirk died from PNH in 1961 in San Francisco, and LAMI was published four years later. In 2011, a memorial reading was held in his honor, which can be found on video here.


Walter Gordon is an intern at The Rumpus. He is a native of Berkeley, CA and goes to college in Oberlin, OH. He spends most of his time reading. His eyes hurt. Other hobbies include photography, writing fiction, and sitting on top of tall piles of rocks. More from this author →