Poet, composer, and editor Russell Atkins was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Raised by his grandmother, mother, and aunt, he developed a love of music early on and studied piano from the age of seven. Atkins went on to study music at the Cleveland School of Arts and the Cleveland Institute of Music. He was also involved in the Karamu House, considered the oldest African American theater in the United States and home to many productions of Langston Hughes’s dramatic works. In 1950, Atkins cofounded, with Adelaide Simon, the magazine Free Lance. Recognized as one of the oldest, most influential little magazines of the Black avant-garde, the journal did much to disseminate innovative writing in the African American community and influenced the New American Poetry. During these years, Atkins corresponded with many poets, including Marianne Moore, Langston Hughes, and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka).
Music is central to Atkins’s methods of writing; he once wrote of his practice, “I would ‘compose’ like a painter and write poems like a composer.” Atkins developed a mode of composition he calls “phenomenalism,” in which image and sound combinations extend the possibilities of semantic meaning through sonic play and visual forms. He is often described as a “concrete poet,” and his influential essay “A Psychovisual Perspective for ‘Musical’ Composition” elaborated on the visual aspects of musical and verse composition.
Books and Other Separate Publications
Note: Atkins’ first book. The book’s opening poem previously appeared in the Seattle magazine Experiment: A Quarterly Of New Poetry (Vol IV, no. 1 ). Back cover lists three of Atkins’ previous publications: “The Hypothetical Arbitrary Constant of Inhibition” (see Free Lance 8:2 ); “A Psychovisual Perspective for ‘Musical’ Composition” (see Free Lance 3:2  and 5:1 ); and “The Invalidity of Dominant Group Educational Forms” (see Free Lance 7:2 ).
Eureka: Hearse Press, 1961
Saddle-stapled in illustrated wrappers, 5.5″ x 8.5″, 20 pages, 200 copies, offset printed. Cover illustration by Ben Tibbs. Published as the 16th Hearse Press Chapbook edited by E.V. Griffith.
4. TWO BY ATKINS: THE ABORTIONIST & THE CORPSE
Cleveland: Free Lance, 1963
Saddle-stapled in printed and illustrated wrappers, 40 pages. “Two poetic dramas to be set to music”.
[not in archive]
Note: Two By Atkins: The Abortionist and The Corpse: Two Poetic Dramas To Be Set To Music was published by The Free Lance Press, a division of the Free Lance Poets and Prose Workshop, under the auspices of Caspar LeRoy Jordan. Both texts had originally been published in 1954, The Abortionist in Free Lance: a magazine of poetry and prose and The Corpse in the Western Review (Iowa State University). Name on cover as “Rvssyll Atkyns.”
5. OBJECTS 2
Cleveland: Renegade Press, 1963
Saddle-stapled in printed and illustrated wrappers, 5.5” x 8.5”, 28 pages, 100 copies, letterpress printed by d.a. levy. Cover art by d.a. levy. This Renegade Press edition includes three poems that appear in OBJECTS (Eureka: Hearse Press, 1960) but is otherwise a different collection.
6. OBJECTS 2
Cleveland: Renegade Press, 1964
Saddle-stapled in printed wrappers, 5.5” x 8.5”, 20 pages, letterpress printed by d.a. levy. Second Renegade Press printing with sequence of poems changed from first printing, plus one added poem.
7. DISTANT THE SOUND [POLLUTED LAKE SERIES, No. 1]
Cleveland: Renegade Press, 1965
Saddle-stapled in printed wrappers, 4.25? x 6?, 12 pages, letterpress printed by d.a. levy.
Cleveland: 7 Flowers Press, 1966
Side-stapled sheets bound in to printed wrappers, 4.25″ x 8.25″, 4 pages, 200 copies, letterpress and mimeograph printed by d.a. levy.
9. OBJECTS FOR PIANO
Cleveland: Free Lance, 1967
Saddle-stapled in wrappers, 16 pages. Musical score. There is a short afterword in which the author’s interest in modern music is described.
[not in archive]
11. THE NAIL
Cleveland: Free Lance Press, 1970
Stapled wrappers, 90 pages.
[not in archive]
Note: The Nail was based on the eponymous story by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón and written in 1957 at the suggestion of composer Hale Smith. It is meant to be set to music for performance.
12. HERE IN THE
Cleveland: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1976
Perfect bound in printed wrappers, 5.5″ x 8.5″, 52 pages, offset printed. Published as Cleveland Poets Series No. 13.
Contributions to Books and Other Publications
1. The Cleveland Manifesto Of Poetry (Cleveland: The Asphodel Bookshop, 1964) first edition, single sheet printed on both sides, mimeograph, dated June 1, 1964 , statements by d.a. levy Kent Taylor, Jau Billera, Russell Atkins, Russell Salamon, and Adelaide Simon. (T&H B-01)
2. The Muntu Poets Of Cleveland (Cleveland: The United Black Artists of Cleveland and Free Lance Poets Press, 1968) first edition, stapled wrappers, Atkins provides the Introductions and one poem: SPYRYTUAL.
3. A Tribute To Jim Lowell (Cleveland: Ghost Press, June 1967) first edition, stapled wrappers, 1/500 copies, mimeograph, cover and silkscreens by T.L. Kryss, contributors include (in order of appearance) B.P. Nichol, T.L. Kryss (Preface), R. Wolter, Jonathan Williams, Mitchell Goodman & Denise Levertov, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Olson, Russell Atkins, Marvin Malone, William Wantling, Jacob Leed, T.L. Kryss, Dwight MacDonald, Paul Carroll, Carl Woideck, d.a. levy, Douglas Casement, George Dowden, Mike Murphy, Franklin W.W. Osinski, Geoffrey Cook, Kent Taylor, D.R. Wagner, Charles Bukowski, Donald Cauble, J.M. Edelstein, James Laughlin, Robert Lowell, Douglas Blazek, Brown Miller, Phillip Kaplan, Gilbert Sorrentino, Guy Davenport, Felix Pollak, Michael McClure, rjs, Dave Cunliffe, Ron Caplan, Carl Weissner, David W. Harris, Walter Lowenfels, John Cornillion, Allen De Loach, Jasper Wood, Walter R. Keller , Ted Berrigan.
Deep Cleveland: biographical data
Eclipse: facsimiles of Atkins work