8 Apr 63
First off, thank you very much for that letter. I’m shamefully late in making any reply at all, acknowledgement, etc — the mess of the times here & me as well. As always, yes.
But yr letter was a great thing & believe me more than a little sustaining, simply, to get. Paul Blackburn was here overnight abt 10 days ago & read yr letter outloud to himself & me (& also wanted to make off with that photograph of you sitting on the stove in Santa Fe) — so it was heard, too, & felt there.
Exactly where June will bring me I don’t know yet — there is a possibility of a job in Albuquerque but all uncertain. I want to sit long enough to see that country again but I don’t know how long that is, who does, or when it will start flowing off in another direction, north, west, even back toward Kansas who knows. It would be a great thing to be at that conference in Vancouver this summer but all seems too far away & no money — anyway, the feeling certainly is as you move for — to travel, no tying to one place to have to be in. I hope sometime before terribly long I get near Pocatello & will come to see you all, again it’ll be, a long time since that last night in Santa Fe. Meanwhile here it becomes almost impossible to do a damn thing for my classes & simply jesus knows if I will finish up with anything but the leaving itself. But then. The sun is out & you must figure how much importance just that has come to have for me — as it always is.
So. The writing goes very slowly & pretty dry & forced when it does — it seems like formally I keep coming back on top of myself, i.e. short lined quatrains that aren’t the way I want to move, but take over when anything to be said is uncertain & wavering. So well anyway. I saw a letter in Gordon Cairnie’s book shop the other day from a J. Prynne in England (Cambridge?) who had been here last year — & he mentioned he had a book of yrs in manuscript trying to get it published in England — anything developed on that, or here with it? Or the novel?
But back to those quatrains — I once a long time ago in Santa Fe asked you the incredibly general & headon question — what do you do about form? which to ask that way was only further indication of my confusions at the time, or maybe that I come on rather idiotically anyway. But the gist remains, & I find myself all over it, still in the most elementary fashion it seems to me. Who has answers? like you said. Who does? nobody is well off, sure. But I come back to as I keep coming back to the way out of any buildingup situation where the pressures become intolerable, over whelming — here at Harvard, the Army, or in the situation from which the poem comes. Each poem does generate its own form, but not so simply? Are Creeley’s increasingly predominant quatrains the constant same extension of a constant same content (to use his phrase)? Or simply finally the iron framework he has come to not want to fight any further, working all over it, but the framework not moving into new shapes. As I keep seeing myself going into, but that 4 line stanza ain’t mine!
Why I very much read & reread yr “Geraniums” & Sousa Poem. The line is much more where I want to take myself.
& anyway — I’m covering you in this when simply I don’t know where it’s going. Forgive me that, the spring thaws are slow in coming this year. To get back down on top of it, I’m not satisfied with that short line, constantly attentive to the careful breaks of breath & phrase, out of Williams — not because it & he aren’t great things, but because 1) I can never feel at ease in it & 2) because you cant stay long in what is already so finely worked by others you do not extend it.
& yet to run “loosely” (in form) makes me too often run loosely (in thought) where I shd be tight — you’ve seen a couple of those things I was writing in Albq — I showed you abt the time you went to Idaho — & they very much lost, from where they did not tie in constantly to the energy they sought to extend. I’m not after a closed form, there, all made for me, but I also do not so simply work from Olson’s projective sense (nor does Creeley it seems to me). Well shit, I’m belaboring what I’m sure to you is not even there to belabor, but figure me for trying goddamn hard to find out where the hell I’m, it’s, going. & writing to you on this absurdly general level is at this point abt the only way I can begin to get into it — do you see me in this?
As, where does the poem end?
When I was in the Pacific last summer it seemed to me what I was writing or trying to form out in writing finally was held together formally by just one thing — a long building rhythm that reached, in some manner or other, a crescendo or peak & so was resolved (or a quiet, & so was resolved) — as myself speaking would become more & more excited till the point was reached the whole thing burst (begins to sound sexual, perhaps it is/was). This is, it seems to me, what Blackburn is talking about in that Sullen Voice interview when he speaks of the musical structure of a poem & its resolution. Constantly I felt, though, that most of what I was writing, then, did not somehow tie itself together — so often there was the use of some sort of wrapping up at the end, bringing back movements, images, references, from the poem as it had gone along, esp the beginning, to bring it back to itself in a neat whole. Too goddamn neat most of the time, & artificial — done, I figure, when what & where I was going wasn’t certain.
Oh shit anyway. The question is as much, where does the poem start. As birth & death. & as impossible to say. Or an after-the-fact rationalization.
But the element of actually speaking to somebody is very strong with me. I wrote abt this to Bob last week or so, coming up to mainly from a poem by the Spanish poet Pedro Salinas, which had struck me very much as having the tone & movement of Bob’s “For Love” or others close to that:
No te veo. Bien sé
que estás aquí, detrás
de una frágil pared
de ladrillos y cal, bien al alcance
de mi voz, si llamará.
Pero no llamaré.
Te llamaré mañana,
cuando, al no verte ya,
me imagine que sigues
aquí cerca, a mi lado,
que basta hoy la voz
que ayer no quise dar.
Mañana … cuando estes
allá detrás de una
frágil pared de vientos,
de cielos y do años.
The use of the images, what few there are, isn’t the same, granted, but the place from which the poem begins is it seems to me, similar; & is where I find myself most of the time — that talking to, across the works laid out, to someone. The talking, though, the coherence in those terms, as here, not by rhyme or any set meter or count.
Enough, I’ve got exams to finish grading, not to mention all the rest of the accumulations that wear us out. Figure on all this that I simply need to say it out to someone — if nothing strikes you, leave it. Come back on it where you can, but I’m not after tapping you for replies — to speak it out is enough (i.e., the opportunity to bother you, I reckon!) Yes, well, hell. My best to you all. Spring is here (& as Machado said, nobody knows how it did it). Banzai, hang loose, etc etc
2. Extremely dissatisfied with the walled-in, dreary atmosphere of “the one vast city of the east coast,” and having decided to discontinue his PhD work at Harvard, Irby wrote to Dorn, who was living in Pocatello, Idaho, on February 24, 1963, asking for any kind of advice on a place to go, to find work, someplace “West & out of this East,” even Pocatello maybe. Irby begins this letter (April 8, 1963) by thanking Dorn for his response (March 9, 1963) to the previous letter. In many ways, Irby’s shifting residence and frequent road-going over the next decade-and-a-half can be viewed as his way of following the advice in Dorn’s March 9, 1963, letter. After a droll, underwhelming description of Pocatello, Dorn turns to the main issue, as he sees it:
It is a pain in the ass having to tell you this because I can very rightly understand your wanting to get the hell out of there. Why don’t you roam, if I were single that’s what I would do, I mean, I wouldn’t because I did that, but if you haven’t, then you ought to, you can certainly stop here, but you shld not plan on Staying anywhere. The thing is, people have never really seen america, that’s still open. And if you want to be a writer you ought to say to yourself, and mean it, be willing to kill yourself over it, I am a writer. Read walk write live go see be arrive leave fuck around work hear, very much hear, (suffer if the chance comes but don’t press it) and exercise your mouth and lungs and fingers and given any any any intelligence which you got, you’ll be a writer. And don’t get married. I mean it’s wonderful. But it takes more time, and since you aren’t, wait. But not on the road. Be a serious traveller, no one has been that in America since La Salle. As you can see there are no problems at all. […] Let me hear from you…this is very quick, I am under more shit than you could conceive …[.]
(The above is excerpted from a letter from Irby’s personal archives and appears here with permission of Jennifer Dunbar Dorn.)
4. The photograph Irby is referring to appears on the cover of Tom Clark’s biography, Edward Dorn: A World of Difference (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002). It was taken by Gordon Clark, a friend of Irby from his time in the army (1960–1962; see the chronology in this issue), in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Clark accompanied Irby on a visit to the Dorns’ house on “Camino Sin Nombre,” in Santa Fe, in 1961, at which point the Creeleys were also visiting the Dorns.
5. See endnote 20 (“January 16, 1963”).
6. See endnote 19 (“January 16, 1963”).
10. The book to which Irby is referring was tentatively titled Idaho Out, but was never published as such. Much of its content was later included in Dorn’s 1965 volume Geography (London: Fulcrum Press, 1965).
11. Dorn’s The Rites of Passage: A Brief History (Buffalo: Frontier Press, 1965); reprinted as By the Sound (Mount Vernon/West Newbury: Frontier Press, 1971), and again as By the Sound (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1991).
15. Paul Blackburn (1926–1971). Irby is intentionally avoiding the correct title of The Sullen Art: Interviews by David Ossman with Modern Poets (New York: Corinth Books, 1963). In Irby’s review of the book for Kulchur 11 (Autumn 1963): 83–85, titled “The Unacknowledged Legislators,” he criticizes Ossman for inexplicably excluding two interviews from the collection — one with Robert Duncan, the other with Cid Corman — and remarks that “the choice of title for these interviews is, I think, unfortunate, whatever Mr. Ossman’s justifications.” See Matt Hofer’s piece in this feature, which focuses on the many book reviews Irby has written for magazines such as Kulchur, Caterpillar, Sulfur, and Poetry.
17. Pedro Salinas, Presagios (Madrid: Indice, 1923). It’s possible that Irby knew of Presagios (Omens), Salinas’s first collection of poems, through his brother, James E. Irby, who earned his PhD in Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Michigan, and subsequently taught at Princeton University, where he created the first Latin American literature courses ever to be offered at the school. James Irby’s cotranslation (with Donald A. Yates) of Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths: Stories and Other Writings was published by New Directions in 1964.
18. [Irby’s handwritten note]: i.e. what I said I was trying in the Pacific w/ a building-up rhythm, stays w/ me — the problem is modulating it — not falling into the trap of making all poems of statements into its one giant build & crash. Yes, well sure!
12 Sep 63
Yrs of the 8th to hand (to paraphrase Pound’s formula) — & when were you here? I’m indeed sorry. But then, it’s all done, & the thing’s to get up to Idaho anyway, so that wd be there to do, no matter.
I’ve seen the Creeleys a couple of times — heard a no. of the tapes from Vancouver, which are something fur shure — the readings, the discussions, tout. It will take a long time (not having been there) to hear, listen to those tapes & begin to assimilate them. But they’re there, on tape, saved, preserved — & that’s something. All in all that conference must be taken as the only “literary conference” ever almost, god knows a big big monument, milestone, mt. peak, whatever.
So — yeah — I’m through w/ the academic, least as a student, for good I think. I’m not going back to Harvard, leastways, at any foreseeable date — don’t want, no need for, a PhD (or PhooD as one type called it). I can get more done after or during an 8hr office job day — which leaves none of the residue of guilt abt it that letting college work go to do other things has had — than I cd batting my head out on Japanese & history seminars that demanded 200% of my time or nothing. It was a hard decision to make, to make finally — but I’m happy. I’ve got a job (god forbid) w/ Sandia Corporation, working in their library now, that pays well & isn’t energy-sapping. God knows I don’t come to working for such a concern, easily: but I battled that problem of how much guilt out when I was here in the Army, equally in the nuclear rat race — even, then, in the Pacific exploding them …
So god knows how long I’ll work here / till I save enough to do something else, that’s why I took it 1st off. Nothing is easy, I reckon, & like Rilke I begin to think maybe it’s better to embrace difficulty than try to sidestep it & never solve the whole mess. i.e. I’m involved w/ what happens everywhere, no matter where I am.
Which begins to sound like so much bullshit & is I reckon. I’m here because I need the money, & like the country, & there’s some people here I know — that’s it, no need for mouthing a lot of b.s. to coat it!
Anyway, yas, & on — I’ve heard from Kelly — a good, long provoking & sustaining letter (which I haven’t been able to answer) — & he said there he was going to start a mimeo sheet a la Floating Bear & Change — & wanted [to] use that Grasslands of N. Am. poem of mine in it — is that where he’s going to use yr Idaho Out? (I hope, so I’ll be able to see it). I begin to like Kelly more & more — I met him briefly in NY in April, & he was a good impression then, but esp. his letters are proof. (as equally I come to 1) knowing what he’s up to on this “deep image” bit, for real not what G. Sorrentino says he’s up to; & 2) his poems — more closely & understandingly. God, it’s important to know what is going on around one, esp (Kelly being only a yr older than I am). What one’s contemporaries are up to.
I’m glad the things I sent pleased you. Creeley liked the long one esp., too, which was a pleasure to know, as were yr comments. I sent that big one also to Duncan & Kelly & Loewinsohn, but no other word yet. As you say you don’t know how I do well, god knows I don’t either. That poem did come all at once w/o premeditation as to length — I had been reading Duncan’s “Apprehensions” that night, & I’m sure more than just that quotation got inside me & worked back out — the sorts of shifts — from section to section must have been unconsciously derived from my impressions of his mov’ts. But anyway — the important thing finally to me was the feeling abt Fort Scott that was the basis for the poem at all: — that I was able to come home (“again” contra Tom Wolfe, but I don’t know that I’d ever really been home before, not in this clear, aware way), I found I had suddenly stopped fighting the place, what it was (i.e. who I was), & simply took it, accepted it’s being there & my being in it (at home or away; but “the home of my mind”). Oh yes I got questions, but they’re of details, specifics (“Who is Frank Moore?”), by comparison. (God I can remember weekends I was home from Ft Leonard Wood, Mo., when I was early in the Army — Nov. it was, rainy & all the leaves gone down — wandering the whole damned town, looking at the oldest bldgs. particularly, just trying to get into that place (what in the hell is going on, I guess I kept wondering, why is this place here, why the hell am I in it?) & feeling generally morose & sorry for myself & resentful I’d been done it by it, all along from adolescence on.
That had to take place first, clearly, before I cd simply drive back one night in July & know WHAM like on the back of the head, I was home. There was nothing to fight. Again like Rilke felt it, all that had to bloom “invisibly” w/in me, before it emerged.
So there’s Fort Scott (yes! & Pawnee Station too!) — which, like this mt. here, gathers light to it, & because I look there.
Malin’s books […] keep w/ me there — The Grasslands of N. America, Winter Wheat in Kansas. So that I’ll be able to come to the least blade of grass even, & be there, place it, place us two? (God, grass is a mad subject no matter which-a-way you look at it!) But it has to go way on past all that even, & I know it. Or I do, anyway. I’m not after writing, trying to, the Kansas Maximus Poems, that’s sure — I couldn’t, nor wd I want to try copying Olson a-tall. But I can’t help being influenced by his poems & his ideas. Yr comments there on how he holds together, yes, come to me straight on (I had just picked up Maximus to take to work w/ me this afternoon to read on the sly, when yr letter came) — & yr comment that the only limiting factor to him is his life span — i.e. in a sense, his form is his life(’s)time — maybe a corollary to what Kelly said abt a man’s lifetime being only barely enough to master his craft, achieve his form.
OR, we keep going, yas.
Or simply, I dunno.
So yes, hell, the past year has really been the first time of serious & committed work, poetic work, for me — I mean the decision for real, not simply said or thought was there. So there is so much still to do (forever!!) — that is only now starting to come out of the woods of all manner of being mixed up, fucked up, screwed around, uncertain & afraid. Somewhere back a few months you wrote abt finally I wd come into the country, place, where men are (where men are, where one is certain of one’s manhood), & maybe that is the direction, more certainly, now.
Duncan is I think right in calling the poem an adventure — but it certainly is of the whole self, body, mind, cock, guts, heart, soul, not simply of the mind alone, as, god knows, he doesn’t restrict it. If being there, as open as we want to be times we aren’t (or as drunk or as in love, whatever?) It brings me to who where what I am so intensely I cd not avoid anything of what I am (& so why I was hit like betwixt the eyes by that interview of yrs in The Sullen Art, that you do so beautifully & clearly state that, that I felt, there, that our concern will be more & more to what we say, rather than so much to how — & the whole thing — & why, in their completely different ways I thought Kelly’s & Ginsberg’s came to the same pt).
Well, anyway, enough I guess. I was supposed to go to Fort Riley, Kansas 15–29 Sep for reserve camp (my only obligation during the year), but no orders yet — I called them & things apparently are screwed up, I don’t know if I’ll go or not — they shld call back tomorrow. I wd welcome the trip back to Kansas even if it is drive all night to get there — esp to Ft. Riley, the N. end of those wonderful Flint Hills (where the woodlands break into the high plains, the borderland, the fusion of both — where Malin centers his Winter Wheat book).
The trees are coming to fall slowly here, so much rain this summer they aren’t dried out at all. But soon the mt hillsides & pastures will be yellow w/ aspens, against those undendingly dark evergreens — the maddest of autumns, much more so than Vermont’s incredible maples. I think of DH Lawrence every time I see those yellow aspens & the pines. … Ah yes. Well — hang loose, don’t work hard. I’d like to get up there a-fore the winter blizzards, but all depends on company & leave time here; at any rate, yes, let me keep hearing from you. I’ll read Creeley’s novel soon as I get a copy & will show him yr letter tonight hopefully. (guy named Fred Wah here now at UNM — was at Vancouver — plans to start a mimeo-sheet, so things are moving maybe). The one below took abt 2 minutes to write & shows it, but maybe it’ll go along w/ yr beer tonight a la hors d’oeurvres (or however hell it’s spelled). So BANZAI & ACHTUNG & go.
love to all
KANSAS IS THE HOME OF PROHIBITION
for D. C. Franz
What d’you give me credit for?
I ain’t never had a drink
for real, before.
& I — hrrragh —
know now why fire
in fire water.
Could be charted or talked about
out of everyone
ever took a drink.
Would lead to that
heron standing in the headlights
like a weed
& took off.
// this for an old highschool drinking buddy — now a school principle
(!!) in Maryland
13 Sep — Saw Bob & all last night — & heard the tape of yr Feb. reading in B.C. w/ Idaho Out & all — & was very moved by all the new one, I hadn’t seen or heard at all before. (Oh that mad one abt Merriweather (sp?) Lewis on the Natchez Trace!)
Bob also mentioned you wd quite probably be coming down here to read sometime this (fall? spring?) — which is very good — maybe I can get leave time then & go back to Idaho as you go back — a thought, anyway, & certainly to see you here.
So, ok, nuf for now (got a call from reserve types today, & no trip to Ft Riley, least not right away). So, I can build bookcases this wkend (if I get paid) I reckon.
Anyhoo — don’t work hard — & you got any loose copies of anything lying around send them on —
So the sky isn’t bigger in Montana?! Shucks ….
3. See endnote 20 (“January 16, 1963”).
4. See endnote 2 (“January 16, 1963”).
5. See endnote 5 (“January 16, 1963”).
6. See endnote 18 (“January 16, 1963”).
12. See endnotes 8 and 10–12 (“January 16, 1963”).
14. See endnote 15 (“April 8, 1963”). Ossman’s interview with Dorn was reprinted in Edward Dorn, Interviews, edited by Donald Allen (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1980), 1–5.
16. Fred Wah (b. 1939), founder and editor of the magazines Sum, active from December 1963 to April 1965, as well as Island, active from September 1964 through 1966. The latter was also the name of Wah’s Toronto-based press. For further info see Clay and Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side.
19. Dorn read at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in February 1963; an audio recording of the reading is available at PennSound.
20. Irby is referring to Dorn’s poem “Death While Journeying,” which had been published in Folio 25, no. 3 (Summer 1960), and is collected in Dorn’s 1964 book Hands Up!. The poem is about Meriwether Lewis’s last trip, alone, on the Natchez Trace, along which, at a place called Grinder’s Stand, most historians believe Lewis committed suicide, but some contend, as Dorn’s poem envisions, that he was murdered.
21. Cf. Dorn’s poem, “Idaho Out,” which takes its epigraph from Sauer’s influential essay “The Morphology of the Landscape” and is dedicated to “Hettie and Roi” Jones. The section Irby is referring to reads: “the sky // is not / bigger in Montana. When / for instance you come / from Williston / there seems at the border a change / but it is only because man has / built a tavern there.” Dorn, Collected Poems (London: Carcanet, 2012), 160–161.
26 Dec 65
c/o 623 Clay St.
I’ve meant to write long ago, once I got yr address from Drew, but an unsettled way of life these past 2–3 months kept its drain of all other energy well-nigh constant. The hand to mouth scene. But here it is Christmas & I’m visiting friends in Palo Alto, listening to Bach violin sonatas & just finished some home-made scones — looking through an atlas I lit on England, & finding the old family home in Lincolnshire (a town named Irby, north of Boston) — I saw Essex, how close to the sea, I thought, & then thought, probably not really, not there — but is it? Anyway, & most, yr novel — I read in a friend’s copy a month ago, & got a copy just 2 days ago, looking at it all again — & here visiting friends who lived up there (Seattle) 3 years — & the drizzle we’ve had here off & on last few days — ah yes, well — it is a lovely book, I mean, its grave & great simplicity, the ‘classic grace’ I think they call it, those who use such terms a lot — perhaps it was/is the rain there, the careful fall of such insistence, soft in its way, that so calms even the terrible twists & the anguishes & the hardnesses, into more penetration, calm & careful, then even seemed to be possible, anywhere. Yrself, in that book. Given no more nor less the place than any other, any object, no ‘coloring’ we can not see so clearly for ourselves. One thinks back to his own surroundings, or I do, & so then searches to be straight & leave such resonances behind — in oneself, most, that then gravitate outward, to all others — as a lingering sense of at ease (because past, & known), or lingering familiar swell in the nostrils — of ‘elemental subtlety’, Shelley sd, Well, yes. There’s a lot in it I cdn’t have so directly come to say 2 yrs ago, I know better of now, of me maybe. So — thank you, yesirree, as they say, for all of that! you’ve made. Means to approach a land: us in it. & San Francisco assumes new needs. ‘Know what is in thy sight & what is hidden will be revealed to you’ as the gnostic gospel says. How true. /
Well, it’s been cold as nuts here, not real cold, you understand, but for here, yas — 40˚ & clear, nary any rain till Xmas Eve. One finally needs a topcoat or something, though hardy fools (me) go w/o. It’s better than rain, by far. Frost in Marin. The house I’m in over there is colder ’n outside when I get up. Alfred the basset hound & I make do till stove’s heated up. //
Several hours later, having gone to the airport to meet someone who didn’t show up — frustration, & need 3 shots of bourbon to ease, but got that Christmas Eve evening & suffered the next day all. /
So — Duncan says he has undergone a ‘conversion’ to yr poetry w/ the two in Paris Review & seemed very enthusiastic abt them. When is Geography to be out? / Kelly writes he’s finished a novel, THE SCORPIONS, that’s making the rounds […]. I discover the debate coach at SW Missouri State, Springfield, Mo., whom I knew, in my college yrs, is Jack Spicer’s brother. Strange connectives. Yeah — I’m thinking strongly abt going back to school for a year & getting a library degree (!yas) — i.e. a ticket — the work thus available is plentiful & pays decently well. If I can make it through the year w/ some sort of work till fall — employment’s a problem here in SF unless y’re an engineer or ‘management trainee’ which neither one of I ain’t —
I spent Xmas Eve translating 4 poems of Mandelstam’s — the Soviet poet who disappeared somewhere in Siberia abt 1938, victim of Stalin’s dislike. It then so happened that the NY Review of Bks this current issue has a spread on Mandelstam — 9 poems translated by Robt Lowell, & two essays on him. The interest I guess is in his having been a victim of ‘the Soviet System’ etc etc, whereas some of his most notable poetry dates way before the 30s, Anyhow, worthy of attention for his poetry, whether he pissed Stalin off or not. /
Yeah — So I stick them in, plus a couple of other things—hope all is a-swing there, one way, or somehow, or other, cold or no. Johnson grows more noxious & destructive every day. Such sickness to look around at the massive spending & display of Xmas in the U.S. Scrooge emerges hero. The English must be less despicable in this regard, but God knows — or whether it matters. Let me hear from you — & is Montgomery still maybe interested in a book of mine?
& as a lagniappe —
Eating — listening to Coltrane’s “Favorite Things”,
it is 4 years since I heard it first. And a half.
Mountain fastnesses I used to think of Santa Fe
and perched on the sides. As to get to your house
was on a “camino sin nombre”
got drunker & drunker. It was in the summer, anyway,
& not the first time I’d been there. & there was a Nation
with a poem of yrs in it. And yr new book.
And you played “My Favorite Things” you’d just got.
It is the fall of light through the hair, the teeth
there is no rest but there is calm in that country toward sunset
— 22 Nov 65
5 JAN 66 — Rains here now, in fact floods here in Marin County this morning — 5.8 inches of rain in the last 24 hrs — solid, heavy rain for the last 2 days & nights — let up now — w/ Mt Tamalpais looming above & behind me now / Drew talks more earnestly abt up & leaving SF soon, lately — we share that same desire to be on the move, but more, to be in the open, out of this city, out of any such confines. SF is a concentrated place, all packed into the end of the peninsula — the more since you can see around you & know the vistas there, the spaces on off — yeah — & reading abt Powell’s exploration down the Colorado, much less thoughts of Kansas always in the brain. This city’s changed me, Ed — I can tell, the kinds of attentions & perceptions I come to increasingly are of smaller particulars, what’s seen out windows (but that’s always w/ me) — well, yes, a city — but a dreamier quality at times, a greater preoccupation w/ inward searching, mystical writings, Charles Williams, Witchcraft, contemplation, viz., where the poem herein, on the ‘Plateau Province,’ goes as the end — Perhaps it is me, only, or mostly, anyway — yet the feeling of the city’s role persists, too — I long for them plains /
So it is a love affair of mine, that country — & I keep trying to make that into greater significances, as if it weren’t so, that it’s my love affair, but one of all men —? Or, how do I make it one of all men, in the midst of such shit & failed grand promises the US is today? That’s, then, the question, & the need — or it seems clearer to me than ever — how I feel abt that, this country, is only a first step, is no subject in itself — the particulars of the whole life are where my predispositions, love, only enter, the interstices into.
It seems more & more the case, though, that such lands as those I grew up in, are less changed — spoiled I mean — than here, Calif., land of magnificent vistas & formations like none on earth, slowly & steadily fucked by tracts billboards freeways & waste dumpage. / But that’s not to be avoided, anyway. I love this goddamn land, all things only reinforce that — & love is no means to do anything, by itself, but love. The goods of the intellect, lead on. I by God, want to live here, w/o rancor — to enjoy myself, by God — & not be an idiot. O, so slow I am —
but anyhow — how are you all there in bloody England — cold as a witch’s tit (now I know why — the Devil & his cold cock, too!) — can you get up to see Bunting in Northumberland? or have you? Goddamn I was reading his poems again the other night (& that SPOILS too) & lord, I respect that beautiful tight, lean, muscular line — how few English (or European) poets ever tell us abt what’s really right around them (specifics, or at least sharp & precise aromas of what’s around them!) — I get more of the sweat of a farm in Northumberland from Bunting than a 100 yrs of all other English poets abt farming anywhere — oh well — fuck propriety, give me details! (not just details, intelligent perceptions — i.e. what are a-happening?). Equally, to yrself, I long to know yr scene & action /
& once again on yr novel, how much it infects my innards & imagination w/ the sharpness of yr placement there — oh lord, as the rains fall, the more — //
how’s the music scene there? any chance to hear American jazz groups, going through, a-tall? (i.e. Ornette, Archie Shepp, Izenzon, the new cats?) they’ve been over there nearby somewhere (sounds like folks back home writing — why don’t you look up so & so some weekend down in L.A. — whew! — so forgive my lack of geo-graphical per-spective) /
My best to Helene & Fred & Chan & Paul — & you all hang loose . Keep well —
2. Dorn held a thrice-extended Fulbright teaching grant at the University of Essex, Colchester, England, from fall 1965 through spring 1968. He’d been hand-picked to teach literature of the American West at the insistence of the head of the department, Donald Davie, with whom he had a falling out late in May of 1968 when the students of Essex, taking up an international movement, occupied their school, renamed it the Free University of Essex, and managed to fire a good deal of the disapproving faculty, of which Davie was one and Dorn was not. Davie was also upset at certain personal choices Dorn had made over the previous six months — namely, his recent divorce (from Helene Buck, his wife of fifteen years, with whom he had a son, Paul) and his subsequent relationship with Jennifer Dunbar, a twenty-two-year-old former student with whom, a few months earlier, Dorn had moved into a house in Colchester. Amid all the upheaval, Dorn spent three weeks in the spring of 1968 in Lawrence, Kansas, as a writer in residence at the university (along with Joseph Heller), as well as the full spring semester of 1969 as a visiting professor, this time with Dunbar, who was pregnant with their son, Kid Lawrence, born in Taos, New Mexico, in early August 1969. It was during these relatively brief stays that Dorn befriended John Moritz and Max Douglas. Dorn and Dunbar were married in late 1969 while visiting the Creeleys in New Mexico, and remained married until Dorn’s death, on December 10, 1999. Throughout the ’70s, especially, the couple frequently returned to England, home to Dunbar’s family (including her twin sister), and to Essex, where Dorn taught on and off as a visiting professor. See the introduction to Tom Clark’s Edward Dorn: A World of Difference (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002); Donald Davie, These the Companions: Recollections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Dorn, Interviews, ed. Donald Allen (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1980); Dorn, Ed Dorn Live: Lectures, Interviews, and Outtakes, ed. Joseph Richey (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007); and my own article, “‘You Are Sometimes in the Trance of What Is Beyond You’: Upheaval, Incantation and Ed Dorn in the Summer of 1968,” Jacket 38 (Late 2009).
4. “Song: The astronauts” and “The problem of the poem for my daughter, left unsolved” both appeared in The Paris Review 35 (Fall 1965), and were included in Dorn’s 1965 book Geography. Tom Clark, a graduate student at Essex studying Pound with Donald Davie, was the poetry editor of The Paris Review at the time.
10. See endnote 9 (“April 30, 1963”).
12. Irby refers to an early draft of the poem “Relation,” later the title poem of his book Relation: Poems 1965–66 (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1970); the poem was also included in the 1973 anthology America a Prophecy; see endnote 16 (“February 12, 1974”).
15. Ornette Coleman (b. 1930), jazz musician and composer; Archie Shepp (b. 1937), jazz saxophonist; David Izenzon (1932–1979), jazz bassist. At the time of Irby’s letter, Izenzon was the bassist of Coleman’s trio, though both musicians sometimes played with Shepp, as well.
12 Feb 71
My God I’m so slow getting this to you — thanks for yr card esp. tht Alex. Ham. brass balls special — I told myself 1 Jan I wdn’t write till I cd send on the poems enclosed — I thought a quick job to get together, but here it’s 1½ months later before there’s anything like done to send — but here they are, howsomever —
look, please tell me any thing you can abt these — maybe especially the one for Max — I’ve been in it since Oct & down so long I don’t know up no more, or out of it, or where — so any thing you can tell me wd be pure gold (or title? any ideas on that?) —
Kelly was here end of Jan & he dug the Max poem a lot thought I shd get it out & into the various heads/hands directly, but it’s not clear to me how I can do that — Jack Shoemaker’s sort of interested, but has abt a 6 month backlog to get through — haven’t sent it to Martin yet, but what can he do w/ just a small bk? Wd/cd Harvey Brown? or wd that be a year or more getting out even if he wanted to do it? Maybe mimeo it myself. Well, hog balls & wormwood, no matter now. I want you to see it, & I’ll fret the other shit later. I didn’t know Max of course — I met him one evening last summer here, at Bromige’s — but I took off for Oregon the next day — so Kelly’s right when he points out Max is emblematic in the poem — not addressed as a friend, really, nor grief of the close parting — yas, I know that — his death was suddenly the occasion for so much to get said — however strung out & hodgepodged — to him, or where he was from, the areal person — suddenly gone —
Well, all that’ll be clear to you w/o me elaborating — violá //
Aside from recent flurries of trashing, car burning, street sashays, etc., things have been quiet (except in LA of course) — the sudden heavy scent of early powerful spring here — cherry blossoms thick & the earth fermenting — always unbelievable for a Kansas/Texas man like me — as Feb must be still a freezer w/ you up thar —
Spring sometimes vertiginous here, as I woke up this morning dizzy, from a dream of catching mice — something I ate, surely! & a heavy smog.
Been rereading all the Sauer Pleistocene pieces, but where does one go from there — any takes on what else has been done, & since? Or any references on, say the Aztec–S.E.–U.S.–Indian/Mound builders trade? Maybe it was the Jews, as I see one man recently’s opining abt some Tennessee rock inscription — rock art certainly seems a next heavily accessary close attention — what’s between (as lines) sites on the map — Sauer suggested St. Louis was the nerve-center of Pleistocene N. America, & Calif. a dead-end drift — but what’s connecting, in between? (So there was Max, who might, in time, have found out, St Joe is such a weird crossroads — alas, who’s up to it now?). Kelly talked abt some guy’s notion that there are literal lines on the ground (visible from air in some cases, still?) connecting all the important early Neolithic centers of Europe (or earlier than that — meso- ?)
I dunno, questions as usual — somehow in my still dizzy brain (& stomach) this spring morning, its bound up w/ the roots of jazz in the Great Plains — Coleman Hawkins was from St Joe, after all, & went to Washburn in Topeka before he ran off w/ Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds c. 1923 (the year C.O. Sauer came to California & joined the freaks & exotica) — & Scott Joplin, I mean! Sedalia! From Texarkana! (if you haven’t, GET the new Nonesuch disc of S. Joplin’s piano rags played by Joshua Rifkin — they are great pieces of the finest sort) — & Charlie Christian from Oklahoma, Buck Clayton from Parsons, before he went off to Shanghai & played in a dance hall from 1934–36 — oh well, all the cross currents & travel lines of jazz in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, down to Texas of course — Walter Page’s Blue Devils, Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy, Mary Lou Williams — & of course the K.C. scene —
but all those lines of movement — in that refractory space of the Plains, focus also on the Ice Age lines of movement — my lord, yes —
well, so it goes — maybe I’m coming down w/ some cunning virus (o Harvey) — all this febrile trembling over the table as I write this —
Anyhow — how are you all? & what’s up? & let me hear from you —
Is the Malin thing still a go? This summer my brother will be out here teaching at U.C. — & I think I cd, using his access to the U.C. Library etc, get the texts together finally, if you still want to collaborate on an introduction & if Harvey Brown will still do the book — I want to, if you’re game —
At any rate, do let me hear whatever, & esp. on these mss. enclosed — ¡Salúd! to you all —
3. Aside from “To Max Douglas,” it’s not possible to determine which poems Irby is referring to, because they are not included with the archived letter. “To Max Douglas” was published as its own book (under the same title) by Tansy Press in 1971. A second expanded edition of To Max Douglas, which included the poems “Jesus” and “Delius,” as well as an introduction by Dorn, was published by Tansy in 1974.
4. Max Douglas (1949–1970) was a poet from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Dorn’s student at Kansas University in 1969. By the time Douglas died from a heroin overdose at twenty- one, he’d published a small volume of poetry, along with numerous poems in small magazines, like Caterpillar. His Collected Poems was published in 1978 by White Dot Press.
7. Harvey Brown, founder of Frontier Press, which published The Rites of Passage: A Brief History (1965; later titled By the Sound), Gunslinger Book III: The Winterbook (1972), The Cycle (1971), Twenty-four Love Songs (1969), Songs: Set Two — A Short Count (1970). Brown was a close friend of Olson, Dorn, Irby, and many other New American–era poets.
8. Irby is perhaps referring to John Michell’s book The View Over Atlantis (London: Sago Press, 1969), or to one of its primary subjects, ley lines, and their earlier discoverers, such as British amateur archeologist Alfred Watkins (1855–1935).
9. Cf. To Max Douglas: “The Berkeley climate of exotica / Sauer’s home // these almost 50 years, Kroeber’s / their houses just across the street from one another // Arch / and Rose // Grenier at one end / Bromige at the other[.]”
7 Jul 66
Here at last are two more copies of that photograph of Red Cloud, all that Brodhead had left. I wish there were more, to proliferate that image all around England & the Continent, but then. Hopefully these will help. / Here everything is very quiet & almost idyllic. I had to go back to Kansas again in May—& while there it not only thunderstormed, as if for me to see it, but it hailed abt hensegg size tearing hell out of the greenhouses and forcing (!) the car dealers into sudden precipitate sales. I’d never noticed till then how different a green the foliage is there, as compared to here, say—how much lighter green it is in Kansas than the very dark here (eucalyptus, evergreens, camellias, fruit trees). On the way back on the bus I stopped off in Placitas, but Bob was still in Europe; the 5 days I spent at Goodell’s were the most peaceful & pleasant possible return to that country — the thirst, appetite, longing, for it, however much submerged & covered over, depressed, by living elsewhere & by the bad things remembered of living there, comes out completely, takes over again — that vista off toward the Jemez, Santa Fe, leave residues forever in one. No wonder Max went back, however desperate Santa Fe is. / Here, as I say, things are very quiet. I wallow sensually in the weather the way some people do in food & liquor. This is the foggy season but there hasn’t been much till lately. Even so, by noon these days its cleared off & like today you can see Marin clearly, Mt. Tamalpais & Angel Is., & SF; 60 out & the sun out. So I sit here writing this, with all that out both sets of windows, the bay on one side & the hills on the other — listening to John Cage, records out of the public library. / The library school here at UC has accepted me, so barring catastrophe (like the GI bill money being screwed up somehow) I shd be set for the next year — they’ve given me a research asstship which with the GI money shd be barely enough to get by on. For one year’s work I get a MLS degree which means I can get a librarian job; that pays, that is; without the degree, nothing. & I’ve abt concluded a library job is abt the ideal for me, better than teaching & with access to at least one major source (category) of information; books etc., by its nature. So. / I’ve also started working on Cabeza de Vaca, with the intent of writing a long poem on, or from, him, his account. I’ve just finished Hodge’s edition of the Relación (T. Buckingham Smith’s translation), & am going through Morris Bishop’s biography; having also read Sauer again (The Road to Cibola), on the western end of his trek; & am trying to get hold of Cleve Hallenbeck’s book on retracing the whole trip (he went out & found that most of the trails are still followable today, were Indian trails used over & over again before & after CdeV). I’ve got Haniel Long’s interlinear here, of course, & I’m pleased (never having read the book before, just looked at it), how much of the central concern that’s brought me to this work, is what Long was dealing with too. It is a study, of course, that could take the rest of my life, and even if Olson says, after 14 years or so on one such subject you’d know it & cd then deal with anything. I dunno how far or long. But already it leads afield, back to WP Webb, of course, and on to Sauer’s new book just out, The Early Spanish Main, dealing with Spanish colonial policy 1492–1519, i.e. up to the conquest of Mexico — as well to a much more firmly grounded botanical study, etc. Well yes. After all, I forget too often, I was born in Texas & lived there almost 4 years before going to Kansas. Maybe this will be, finally, the point I’ve sought & never got to, that will begin to connect all the other points I’ve wandered from & to. / As a poem, I ain’t sure of much, haven’t written anything yet. The specific appetite came from hearing Bunting (tape) read that wonderful “Chomei at Toyama,” that means of using another man’s words & aromas; but what Ill come to I dunno a-tall. I don’t want some “retelling,” a narrative that wd only dilute the much more compelling & vital original. Long’s is all right, it’s his work, really; & its revelation is demanding. At any rate, the decision finally seems (so I feel now) to have nothing to do with me, my self, will, but comes from the substance of CdeV’s account, that country, his acts, the fact of that relation. / I’ve abt decided anyway I don’t have anything original or very profound to offer, my own thought that is; I can best work letting what is around me come out, giving that. Somewhere I remember a statement you made something to that effect — was it? // Not much happening here, but Neruda did read at the campus abt a week ago — Duncan & Bromige came to dinner, & we all went up to hear him — he is a heavy, solidly set man, squarish, with a large, balding head & heavy eyelids. Some actor-fink read the English translations. But Neruda’s own reading was very impressive — he reads in the traditional Spanish dramatic manner, but not melodramatic — rising at times to an almost ecstatic pitch — more like speech, though, than most Spanish declamation ever gets to be. As seems to be typical here, the reading was held in an auditorium that even ahead of time was clearly too small, & many people were turned away at the door; I went out to pee & almost had to fight the ushers to get back in where my coat was on my seat. Ginsberg was there, came over & kissed Duncan, who said, my my people will talk, & Allen sd, o let them. So. / Last Saturday there was a benefit reading for Sinclair & the Detroit workshop, at which I saw Gino, after months — his left arm in a sling — he looked up one evening & some guy’s hand was coming in the window; he rushed headlong to push the window out against this guy, & ran his own hand clear through the window, slicing it up badly. Whew. / Tonight I’m going to see the Japanese movie (from Lafcadio Hearn ghost stories) Kwaidan; & tomorrow night 900,000 people are coming to dinner for curry. Sometimes things seem too quiet & easy (easy?), but they really aren’t, so I don’t worry. /
How are you all? You’re staying another year I hear. Tell Stuart Montgomery (as if he needs to be told) the books he is putting out are magnificent — that Bunting Loquitur is lovely beyond compare. /
So, enough. Creeley I hear is coming to SF for abt a month, next month I guess. Hopefully finally Ill be able to see him again, after missing three times in a row. Let me hear from you. Hang loose.
1. Along the right margin of this letter, Irby has drawn a flower in black ink, with a handwritten note above it that reads: “(Voodoo Lily ~[see July 16 Scientific American]).” Irby to Dorn, 7 July 1966, box 13, folder 137, Edward Dorn Papers, Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.
2. See endnotes 2 and 3 (“April 17, 1966”).
3. Larry Goodell (b. 1935), poet and founder of Duende, which ran fourteen issues between 1964 and 1966, published Irby’s The Roadrunner Poem (Duende 4, 1964) and Movements/Sequences (Duende 8, 1965).
7. Carl Ortwin Sauer (1889–1975), cultural geographer who had a very significant impact on Irby’s poetics. For further information, see Irby’s prose pieces on meeting Sauer and Malin elsewhere in this special feature. Sauer, The Road to Cíbola (Berkeley: University of California, 1932).
10. See Charles Olson, A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1964). Olson writes: “Best thing to do is to dig one thing or place or man until you yourself know more abt that than is possible to any other man. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Barbed Wire or Pemmican or Paterson or Iowa. But exhaust it. Saturate it. Beat it. [//] And then U KNOW everything else very fast: one saturation job (it might take 14 years). And you’re in, forever” (13).
15. Gino Clays, coeditor (with Drew Wagnon) of Wild Dog, nos. 10–18. See endnote 9 (“October 21, 1964”).
16. Lafcadio Hearn (also Koizumi Yakumo, 1850–1904), author of Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1904). Japanese film director Masaki Kobayashi adapted Hearn’s stories for his 1965 film Kwaidan.
17. See endnote 9 (“December 26, 1965”). Montgomery’s Fulcrum Press published Bunting’s Loquitur in 1965.