Between 2007 and 2009 Marthe J. Whitcomb (née Larsen) met with Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, Douglas Kerr and Andrew Leavitt to talk about her life with the poet Kenneth Rexroth. These casual conversations took place over a series of meetings at Marthe’s apartment on Franklin Street in San Francisco, as well as in Inverness, CA. Through the collaborative process of interview, investigative storytelling, and reading Rexroth's poetry, Marthe reflects on her life with Kenneth, their family, friends, travels and work together.
About the interviews
Brenda Hillman is the author of nine full-length collections from Wesleyan University Press, the most recent of which are Practical Water (2009), winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (2013), which received the International Griffin Poetry Prize for 2014. With Patricia Dienstfrey, she edited The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (Wesleyan, 2003), and has co-translated Poems from Above the Hill by Ashur Etwebi and Instances by Jeongrye Choi. Hillman teaches at St. Mary’s College where she is the Olivia C. Filippi Professor of Poetry; she is an activist for social and environmental justice.
Robert Hass is one of the nation's most celebrated poets, a distinguished UC Berkeley professor, an environmental activist, a noted translator and the author of many books of poetry and prose, most recently Time and Materials, which received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, The Apple Trees at Olema, and a collection of essays, What Light Can Do. A Saint Mary's alumnus, Hass '63 is also the co-founder of the River of Words program, an education initiative that integrates nature and the arts into K-12 classrooms nationwide, and the International Youth Creativity Awards, the largest youth poetry and art competition in the world.
Andrew Leavitt is a hematologist at The University of California, San Francisco. Andy met Katharine Rexroth, Marthe’s second daughter, in medical school. They married in 1986 and eventually moved to San Francisco in 1988 where Andy has resided ever since. Andy was married to Katharine until her death in December 1996, and they have two children, Joshua and Eli, who live in San Francisco and Boston, respectively. Realizing Marthe’s extensive personal knowledge and experience during a very dynamic era in San Francisco during the 1940s – 1960s, Andy arranged for Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, and Douglas Kerr to interview Marthe as part of an oral history project.
Sharon Zetter is a writer and artist living in Cerrillos, New Mexico. She works as a poetry editor, book designer, and grant writer for Omnidawn Publishing. With the poet Lucas M. Rivera, she runs Called Back Books.
Janine deBoisblanc has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Saint Mary's College of California. She is currently working on a memoir and teaches writing classes with diablowriters.org.
Brittany Wason graduated from Saint Mary's College of California with an MFA in Poetry. She is very thankful for the opportunity to work on this project.
in conversation with:
production team & Web design
Douglas Kerr is an English instructor at Stanford University Online High School. He was completing his dissertation on Buddhism and poetic practice at Stanford University when the opportunity to interview Marthe serendipitously arose. During the period of interviews, he assisted Chicago Review in publication of Rexroth’s early letters for their “Kenneth Rexroth: A Centenary Portfolio” issue, and he helped Marthe publish photographs in her possession of writers in 1950s San Francisco (Brick, Summer 2008). He was a foundational editor of the journal Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation out of Stanford University. Douglas’s friendship with Marthe is a fond memory for him.