Perhaps the single individual who inquired is the only one curious about my background. Having been brought up in a strongly anti-academic counter-cultural tradition yet loving the close reading of poetry and every language in which it has been written, dead and alive, I have always divided my time between the research library and the street. Neither has an exclusive title to literature.
This is by no means an outline of an autobiography. It says nothing about non-literary aspects of my life.
William Seaton was born August 13, 1946 in Sioux City. His parents were both from rural Iowa. His father, a lawyer, worked for Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., ending his career as general counsel. His mother, a schoolteacher with a M.S. in counseling, encouraged her children’s education.
His family moved to Glen Ellyn near Chicago in 1954 where he attended public schools, graduating a year before his class in 1963. Reading the classics from an early age, he was also influenced by the Beats and by Donald Allen’s anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960, which provided small press addresses through which even a suburban lad might obtain the poetry of his own American moment. During high school he also attended Paul Carroll’s Big Table reading series at Second City in Chicago. An Edmund J. James Scholar, he graduated from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1967 with a major in English and minors in Classical Greek and German. His senior honors thesis was on Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno.
During his undergraduate years he read his poetry in local venues and published in the “hip” issue of Oblique edited by Michael Holloway. He also read his poetry in local and college venues and appeared in a number of “happenings,” including one directed by dancer Terry Temener and another by John Cage.
During the six years following his graduation, Seaton traveled for nine months in Europe and Africa, crossed the USA a number of times, spending time in the Haight-Ashbury (including during the summer of ’67), worked as a VISTA volunteer in Chicago and Minneapolis and as an editor for Scott, Foresman (producing three years of the ACE English series). He also enrolled twice in graduate school only to withdraw, though not before study in the University of Iowa Translation Workshop under Anselm Hollo and Stavros Deligiorgis.
In the spring of 1973 he returned to the Haight in San Francisco where he read widely at such venues as the Intersection, the Mediterraneum, the Starry Plough, and Project Artaud. With Artful Goodtimes he produced the Wordriver event at the Blue Dolphin performance space. Goodtimes introduced him to Kush who had come to the city from New York to found Cloud House, a poetry storefront. Cloud House had readings most days, but it was unique in its program of street readings, exhibits of art including words, outreach to North Beach poets of the previous generation, and archives.
In 1978 he went to Nigeria where he spent a year teaching at Unity School in the hot and steamy bush of the Niger Delta. He then enrolled in the Comparative Literature Program at the University of Iowa. Iowa’s program was heavily theoretical and post-structuralist. The student was expected to discuss Derrida, Barthes, and de Man, and only rarely to descend from the empyrean to comment on an actual text. For Seaton, who had eschewed criticism in general, it was an initiation, yet, working under the direction of Stavros Deligiorgis, he eventually produced a thesis on the Transformation of Convention in the Medieval European Love Lyric. During these years he published several scholarly essays, presented many research papers at professional meetings, passed his comprehensive examinations (including one on “all English poetry from Old English to the present”), yet failed to defend his dissertation successfully.
His artistic activity in Iowa City included producing Words in the Air for the university’s cable station and participating in several experimental events, including outdoor performances and a late-night Electronic Poetry Shotgun (also on cable television).
In 1985 he accepted a position as medievalist at Long Island University in Brooklyn, though the post was eliminated three years later. He then taught on a one-year appointment at Adelphi University, after which he acquired a leaching certificate and worked in Brooklyn high schools. Since 1992 he has lived in the Hudson Valley where he has taught on adjunct appointments for SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Orange, and other universities. His Poetry on the Loose Reading/Performance Series has presented readings and other events since 1993. In 2009 he was a founder of the Northeast Poetry Center and its College of Poetry where he continues to teach. He is also active in the Seligmann Center for the Arts where he has presented the two Surreal Cabarets of performance events, the second co-curated by David Horton.
He reads his work frequently in the Hudson Valley and, within the last decade, in Budapest, Kathmandu, Prague, and London as well. His poetry, translations, and criticism have been widely published in journals, chapbooks, anthologies, and online. His Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems was published in 2008 by FootHills.
He is the recipient of the Helen Fairall Scholarship Award in Comparative Literature, the Ada Louise Ballard Fellowship in the Humanities, numerous public and private grants, and two Pushcart Prize nominations.