He started writing poetry during his teenage years. He later attended New York University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He worked briefly as the poetry editor of The Nation.
His three marriages -- to Winifred Grey McCarthy, Sara Golden, and Joan Diane Miller -- produced one child. Blackburn died of esophageal cancer at the young age of forty-four.
During his time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Blackburn began corresponding with poet Ezra Pound.