April 30, 1963

Kenneth Irby in Cambridge, 1962.

30 Apr [63][1]

Yr letter came at an appropriate time — I had just gotten back from NY, from seeing Blackburn & Robt Kelly & Roi Jones & Joel Oppenheimer (whom I hadn’t met before) — Kelly had given a reading on the 17th — at which was also Stan Brakhage[2] (who also gave a showing at Princeton that weekend I saw, & talked to him again afterwards — his movies are incredible things to me, the more and more I see them; & he is a very direct & open person — the audience sat after the flicks for 2 hrs or more asking questions & taking in what he was saying — unusual for Princeton types, but then, who knows). A good week in all, & then yr letter to cap it all off, esp. since I had been thinking re Olson just what you were saying there, that his movement formally is very much, totally, a dynamics of construction, not a preset pattern across the page or even out of saying. & not long before you had shown up in some crazy dream of mine, but with crewcut red hair, so god knows what that involved! Anyway, & again, the letter was very good to get — don’t worry abt writing back in answer to this till things clear for you — I’ll be deep in Japanese anyway from now on, trying to catch up & review & retrieve what can be retrieved from a pretty much lost semester. So, anyway, this to keep the lines humming, communications live, the contact there.

I had on getting back here, seminar paper due & no paper done, figured just to say hell completely & leave then & there, money being the only drawback (as always). But I talked the thing over with various sorts of professors, & agreed that in order to get the rest of my scholarship & collect the money for the course I’m grading, I should at least finish up — even if I flunk it’s no worse than leaving, & the money is there. So — the seminar is out of the way by arrangement, but Japanese & Chinese left. Onward & BANZAI & don’t give up, so, on.

That, then, & enough of all this shit of mine re this institution (yr attached bit on the back of the letter was, yes, to here! where the hell did you find it?). I’ve got, as I reckon you have, the flyer from CHANGE, with its very attractive photo of the editors & the fastest car on earth, & (by god, for me you’ll figure, a welcome & not-used-to sight, my name in any kind of print) me among the mentioned.[3] Which is nice of ’em & sustenance in the midst of rainy generally shitty cold spring (?) weather here (god, how much I go or lapse from the sheer presence or lack of the sunlight, but then).

Am, it happens as you ask, reading Fade Out,[4] along with Eastlake’s The Bronc People,[5] right now, so I’ll wait till I’ve finished to say anything. But it does take me along now.

There is a book of photographs I’ve seen you might like very much if the library there’s got it, or some book store (not likely I reckon that) — by Eliot Porter, of Glen Canyon, The Place Nobody Knew,[6] which are of any I’ve seen the finest color photographs as a group I’ve ever seen, I guess, & the quality of the reproductions superb. You probably know of him or know him personally since he has lived in Santa Fe a long time now. But god knows the book is a great one.

So. Here I sit & getting, by god yes, drunk, red wine & the rain & why not & hills hills hills in my mind, the ones you live on, stuck in my memory as gray as this rain because it was early morning when I woke up on the bus & saw them just before the sun, not Pocatello but Twin Falls, like them I guess; & the hills of my 2 yrs in the Army, Ft Riley, the Flint Hills of Kansas that Custer rode out of much as I did an early morning, going myself to the rifle ranges, he to idiocy of a kind he paid for by taking a lot of others with him, generic to army posts & the plains too — & Ft Leonard Wood in the Missouri red clay Ozarks, with pines & nothing but gravel all over the ground — & Albuq & the Sandias; & home of E. Kansas just as wet right now as here probably, long lines of cuesta hills stretching around Trading Post. […]

So, prominences / I no more know why they come & go behind the eyes than why, finally, I came to them, why I lived there around them at all; like Bob says

such geography of self and soul
brought to such limit of sight,

I cannot relieve it
nor leave it, …[7]

In the rain, & wot the hell wot the hell. The urge always to get to the top of the hill — is this the primary drive in mt climbing, the real climbing, that is the Mt Everest etch outfits? The cuestas of Linn County Kansas were like the mesas of the SW to me — how they came up out of the flat lands, farm lands there in Kansas, but the hills equally as the mesas, almost as if separate country. & my desire to get on top of either — that drove me 3 or 4 times to climb the ft path up the face of Sandia Crest, once 3 ft deep in snow with Anderson, the Arkansas type you met that NYr’s Eve in Santa Fe.[8] The urge that only is there when it is those prominences that rise from the plains, though; among the mts proper, in the Rockies, I have no drive to get to their tops. Who knows, or why it is so. Maybe the reactions of a plainsman to see his own country just a little better — when he sees mountains, they’re mts, whether in em or on em — just revel to be there (like Cousin Minnie Pearl used to say on the Grand Ole Oprey, “well sir, I’m just soh pleased (proud)? to be here”).

Or why drunk I’m going all over them now. Anyway.
                                                                                                 Have been reading Powell’s Exploration of the Colorado River,[9] & am convinced he was much more interested in getting to the Indians there & tapping them, than the river & its canyons alone (or, yes, the geology too, I forget that) — the description is interesting cause he is in the midst of first describing, almost, yet he is not innocent to this kind of landscape at all, he’s been around the country elsewhere, so it doesn’t break in on him with complete ton of bricks. & the legends from the indians do turn him on. The worst thing is to realize that all of Glen Canyon as he saw it (& those photographs saw it) is now under god knows how much silt-laden water, backed up behind that damn dam who knows why we really need.

o well shit Ed I could go on & on, & I’m to other things if the wine don’t keep me off it, them.

               There’s a possibility I may do a review of The Sullen Art for Kulchur, but up in air.[10] Would like to try, though to review as a whole involves some effort. But why not try.

So, well, anyway. Glad you like the thing I sent you—little has been going—& one the Harvard Advocate was thinking of printing they now want me to change (how or why don’t know) & am pissed myself, if they don’t want it, don’t fuck with me over it, its not that great nor are they. Oh well. I hope things work for you—i.e. done with the least hang up. Roi said some of yr students were putting out a magazine, Wild Dog (as I remember?), & that’s very good.[11] Let me hear from you when things clear for you — & for sure I hope to see you all in NMex come summer, but will keep in touch all along. Bless you again for those saving letters — they’ve lifted me when I didn’t figure there was a lift going.

                 love to you all

                                                                        — Ken



1. Kenneth Irby to Edward Dorn, 30 April 1963, Ed Dorn Papers, series I, box 1, folder 17, Courtesy of Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries.

2. Stan Brakhage (1933–2003), experimental filmmaker, writer, and close friend and correspondent of Dorn.

3. Irby’s poem “For Thanksgiving 1962” (reprinted in this special issue) was published in Change 1 (1963): 13–14.

4. Douglas Woolf, Fade Out (New York: Grove Press, 1959).

5. William Eastlake, The Bronc People (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958).

6. Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1963).

7. Creeley, from “The Mountains in the Desert,” collected first in Words (New York: Scribner, 1967).

8. Irby is referring to New Year’s Eve 1960, when, having just moved to Albuquerque for the army, he first met Dorn. See the introduction to these letters.

9. John Wesley Powell (1834–1902), geologist and explorer of the American West; explored the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon in 1869.

10. See endnote 15 (“April 8, 1963”).

11. Early issues of Wild Dog — of which there are twenty-one issues in all, published between 1963 and 1966 — were coedited by Dorn, John Hoopes, and Drew Wagnon. See endnote 9 (“October 21, 1964”). For further information, see: Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960–1980 (New York: The New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998), 152–153.