December 26, 1965

Ed Dorn (photo by John Friedman).

26 Dec 65[1]

 c/o 623 Clay St.

 San Francisco


ED —

             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,[2] how close to the sea, I thought, & then thought, probably not really, not there — but is it? Anyway, & most, yr novel[3] — 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[4] & seemed very enthusiastic abt them. When is Geography[5] to be out?  /  Kelly writes he’s finished a novel, THE SCORPIONS,[6] 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.[7] 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[8] 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[9] still maybe interested in a book of mine?

                                                                                                                                                HANG LOOSE!                                                                                                                          


                                                                                                                                                                          — Ken

& 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,[10] 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,[11] Witchcraft, contemplation, viz., where the poem herein, on the ‘Plateau Province,’ goes as the end[12] — 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[13] in Northumberland? or have you? Goddamn I was reading his poems again the other night (& that SPOILS[14] 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?)[15] 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 —           

  love       Ken


1. Irby to Dorn, 26 December 1965, box 13, folder 137, Edward Dorn Papers, Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries.

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).

3. Dorn, The Rites of Passage: A Brief History (West Newbury: Frontier Press, 1965). The book was reissued with a new title, By the Sound, in 1971.

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.

5. Geography (London: Fulcrum Press, 1965/1968).

6. Robert Kelly’s The Scorpions (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967).

7. “Nine Poems by Osip Mandelstam,” trans. Olga Andreyev Carlisle and Robert Lowell, The New York Review of Books, December 23, 1965.

8. Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973).

9. Stuart Montgomery, founder and editor of Fulcrum Press, London, England, which published a number of Dorn’s books in the ’60s. Fulcrum did not publish any books by Irby.

10. See endnote 9 (“April 30, 1963”).

11. Charles Williams (1886–1945), British poet, novelist, and spiritualist.

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”).

13. Basil Bunting (1900–1985).

14. Bunting’s three-part poem The Spoils was published by Tom Pickard (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Morden Tower Book Room, 1965).

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.