On Kenneth Irby and 'Catalpa'

The most important books always got to me through the hands of a friend. I don’t know who put Ken Irby’s Catalpa into my grasp but I suspect Benjamin Friedlander. In the 1980s when we both lived in the Bay Area, Ben was generally out ahead in knowing who was writing the poetry we would need to look towards as we fashioned an emerging sense of our own practice. Many poets in my pantheon I owe to him giving me a book.

Sensory type/topographies

Ken Irby's atlas to the world

Poetry icon Kenneth Irby creates texts of sensory topographies — and so he has changed technology of the page. I remember his long-time publisher John Moritz of Tansy Press fussing about Irby’s long lines and the gap-toothed spacings and typography and original illustrations — all the ways Irby pushed the limitations of ink, paper, and bindings. This was decades ago, and I still see John grumbling as he midwived some of the most remarkable writing of our time. Irby’s collected poems, The Intent On (from North Atlantic Press), covers forty-four years, 1962 to 2006.

Irby's very own North Atlantic turbine

Kenneth Irby, Robert Duncah, Anne Waldman, April 1972 (photo by Elsa Dorfman).

It would seem that Kenneth Irby and his work have forever been firmly located — not to say nailed down — in what Robert Duncan called “Irbyland,” i.e. the great American plains or grasslands with Fort Scott and/or Lawrence, Kansas, as bio-hub.

The walk to the Paradise Garden

Kenneth Irby, January 1985 (photo by David Levi Strauss).

One thing follows another, incessantly. This I would posit as the first principle of Kenneth Irby’s poetry, one of the qualities of attention he shares with Whitman. Accretion matters, but also — and this perhaps is a second principle — the line we cross to meet things matters. Or rather, gives to matter that hallucinatory quality dreams have when they surprise us by waking us up.

For Kenneth Irby / 'The Intent On' (January–May 2012)

Kenneth Irby and Robert Grenier, Berkeley, 1986.

Where to Begin ?  Start anywhere, and lines of ‘connection’ reach out toward other possible ‘brethren’/testimonies/‘betrayers of the truth’ guised in largely-invented-for-the-pleasure-of-the-tale/seeming-pure-relational-relation-of-event-type ‘stories of mine’ … about ‘Past Times’ I truly can’t remember (in very good detail), but will insist on