Editorial note: The following pieces were originally published in Isthmus 2 (1973): 54–60, and are reprinted here — transcribed from their original typescripts — for the first time. Carl O. Sauer and James C. Malin are arguably the two most significant nonliterary influences on Irby’s writing, each of their names appearing eleven times in his The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962–2006. To call them “nonliterary influences,” however, is misleading.
KW: Looking at this photo — a familiar view from Ken’s couch — gets me thinking of the small objects, totems, that fill his home. The left corner of the coffee table below, opposite the Martinique rum, is dedicated to such objects.
CC: Arrowheads from Kyle Eberle’s inheritance, Petoskey stone from you and Jackie, indistinct rock from Gloucester.
KW: Polished petrified wood. Agate egg from the Tallulah Gorge.
I have had the peculiar luck of never actually taking a class taught by Ken Irby. In my final semester of undergraduate study, I felt I needed some individual guidance to balance the terrifying prospect of my first graduate-level workshop. I needn’t have worried on that account, but fortune brought us together nevertheless — he as an independent study arbiter, myself as a weekly visitor with maybe an extra page to show for my efforts. That’s how we formally met, but it’s not where I first heard of Irby. That would have been through Cyrus Console and (indirectly) Ben Lerner.
I’m on the phone with Ken Irby. He’s watching Cat People on TV. He’s narrating bits of the picture:
A Siamese cat has just come out of a box. It doesn’t like her, you see, because she is a cat person.
I search Cat People on the Internet to get a visual. Buried among the millions of YouTube cute cat videos, Jane Randolph swims alone in a hotel pool. Shadows move in catlike shapes above her. A loud purring is heard. Randolph screams. Help arrives. She discovers her robe has been clawed “to ribbons.” She begins to sense all is not as it seems.