January 16, 1963

16 Jan 63[1]

Your unexpected & very welcome letter got to me this morning, forwarded from NY — I want to get some sort of answer off to you right away, but there won’t be as much as I’d like to go into, with final exams breathing down my neck in abt 2 days & more to do than I want to even admit to myself. So, well, anyway — it is good to hear from you — god, I intended more than once during the more than year it’s been since I saw you last, to write — but first the army,[2] which ended up sending me to the Pacific on the atom tests for abt 4 months last spring & summer,[3] then this place have contrived to keep me from doing much of anything but drudgery — I seriously doubt I can hold out here past this year & god knows why I should really, but we’ll see what happens; for whatever, I’m just not an academic type & can’t be even enough to go through the motions here. Anyway, I have thought many times to write you, but like writing to Olson,[4] such a letter is not one I wanted to dash off without thinking a lot first abt what I wd say — the care, at any rate, the concern such a letter would mean — you know what I mean. So anyway, enough of apologies.

I’m glad Jones liked what I sent him — they look less impressive to me the more I reread them, but then, yeah — he asked me to send him some more, which I did — he said he wanted to use them for the April issue, if he can get it out.[5] It was a great thing for me, anyway — I mean, a tangible support at a time when it was needed. & just the week before the New Mex Quarterly took one poem too — so, wow, all at once a breakthrough.[6] I feel, I know there is so much work for me to do just as a beginning really, in order to ever write any even one thing worth a damn, that to stay here much longer seems impossible — all my energy going into learning Japanese & Chinese & the history — when I don’t have the real knack for language nor even the beginnings of the historical insight necessary to produce a great work (& god knows there needs to be one on China, yes). Anyway, though, not to go on abt this. The point is my increasing commitment to writing, that Harvard, nor any such place, can’t foster (or prevent). Clearly. But the commitment is there, for better or worse. I’ve got so fucking much to learn.

So — the Malin[7] books.[8] The name & address you’ve got is the man alright — his books are several, & for the most part only available from him. […] [T]he major book, I guess, the one I find I keep looking over & over again & again is called The Grasslands of North America,[9] which amounts to a commentary on all — scientific & historical — that has been written on the great plains as geographical area — from explorations to ecological treatises. The bibliography alone — abt 60 pages — is a great thing to have. That one is avail. from Malin — I think the cost is abt $4.00 or so. Winter Wheat in Kansas[10] was published by the Univ of Kansas Press, is still I think in print (pretty sure, I only got my copy last year). A book of essays mainly on late 19th cent in the mid-west, Confounded Rot About Napoleon,[11] is from Malin himself again, as well as some other things I figure. His earliest book, the one which made his reputation, so to speak, is titled John Brown & the Spirit of ’56, (? I think that’s it — put out by Am Philosophical Soc, or Am Historical Society, or something of that sort,[12] I don’t have my copy here & I’ve barely looked at the book since I got it in the summer.). So, I guess to write to Malin himself at that address you’ve got would be the best thing, & the Grasslands book esp. as what seems to me his greatest thing, & the most useful for coming to grips with what is there. […] [I]t seems to me he’s one of the few people writing about the land, the country there, the land, god, that you can go to & learn from, tangible things, directly & to the point.
                                                                                                                                                     Libraries might have his things —though the privately printed stuff like the Grasslands bit (new edition last year) might not be in them.  — Will write more about Malin when finals are over & I’m more or less free again, hopefully.

Maybe it’s only my feeling for my own country there, Kansas, but anyway, so it is. Bob[13] should still have somewhere a copy of the Kansas Historical Magazine I left with him, with an article in it by Malin on where the people came from who settled in Kansas, during different decades of the 19th cent.[14] Another point of concern. When you see him in February, you might ask him to try to find it.
        & say hello from me, too; I haven’t heard anything out of him for a while now, figuring he’s busy as hell on the novel[15] & school, etc. So, well.
                                                                                       I got up to see Olson once briefly in September, rode up to Gloucester on a Lambretta w/ a friend of mine[16] & nearly froze my ass off, but the trip was worth it — after finals are over next week I hope to get up again. He spoke abt yr prose in particular when I was up there, with a great deal of praise. Yr things in Kulchur & Yugen[17] lately have been greater to read than anything else prose-wise I’ve come into lately or for a long time — the more here in Boston & out of my natural country did they speak greatly to me. Well hell, I can’t say anything that will say more clearly, this damned Japanese clouds my brain completely. I hope the anthology of contemp. Am. Prose will be out before too long, & can get at more of yr stuff. Any hope for another bk of poems?
& what is the bit you’re doing on the West? I’d like to know more about that too …

So, I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll stick in one thing, one of the poems Yugen took.[18] The thought in it is pretty loose & wobbly, too generalized, but that’s what to work out of, to go on away from. & the try, by god, the try I don’t give up on, yet.
Let me hear from you again, wish I could write more now, but no time. My best to Helene & the kids[19] — & wishing to hell I was there in Idaho instead of here in Cambridge next to the Hertz RentaTruck

  Hope the reading in Vancouver[20] goes w/ great things.                                  best, as always
                                                                                                                                                      — Ken

Elie Dorfman[21] also sends her best wishes, etc., when I talked to her briefly tonight. Her cat — named after Corso[22] — I’ve taken in because of her roommate, is crawling all over me as I write this — reason among others for the frequent mistakes & flubs — but a great cat.

 Till later —



1. Kenneth Irby to Edward Dorn, 16 January 1963, Ed Dorn Papers, series I, box 1, folder 17, Courtesy of Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries.

2. See the chronology included in this special issue, as well as Irby’s short account of witnessing the detonation of a nuclear warhead in his poem “For Round Dances,” in The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962–2006 (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2009), 50.

3. [Irby’s handwritten note:] got out of the Army in August

4. Charles Olson (1910–1970).

5. LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka (b. 1934), editor of Yugen from 1958 to 1962 (with Hettie Cohen, coeditor for nos. 6–8); coeditor, with Diane di Prima, of The Floating Bear from 1961 to 1963; founder of Totem Press, active from 1958 through 1962; and coeditor and critic for Kulchur from 1960 to 1965. Dorn’s correspondence with LeRoi Jones is extensive, see: Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: the Collected Letters, ed. Claudia Moreno Pisano (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2013), as well as “Edward Dorn, American Heretic,” Chicago Review 57, nos. 1/2 (Summer/Autumn 2012).

6. Irby’s poem “Madrid, New Mexico” was published in the New Mexico Quarterly 33, no. 1 (Spring 1963): 68–69.

7. [Irby’s handwritten note:] (“Barbed Wire” Malin he’s known as)

8. James C. Malin (1893–1979), historian and author of The Grasslands of North America, among much else, whose writing had a heavy influence on Irby’s poetics and sense of geography. See Irby’s prose pieces on meeting Malin (and Carl Sauer) elsewhere in this special issue.

9. [Irby’s handwritten note]: this must be the one Bob mentioned I’d shown him

10. Malin, Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas: A Study in Adaptation to Sub-humid Geographical Environment (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1944).

11. Malin, Confounded Rot about Napoleon: Reflections upon Science and Technology, Nationalism, World Depression of Eighteen-Nineties, and Afterwards (Lawrence: James C. Malin, 1961).

12. Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-Six (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1942).

13. Robert Creeley (1926–2006).

14. Irby is referring either to Malin’s article “Housing Experiments in the Lawrence Community, 1855,” Kansas Historical Quarterly 21, no. 2 (Summer 1954): 95–121, or “The Turnover of Farm Population in Kansas,” Kansas Historical Quarterly 4, no. 4 (November 1935): 339–372.

15. Creeley, The Island (New York: Scribner, 1963).

16. Robert Grenier (b. 1941). See Robert Grenier’s essay in this feature.

17. See endnote 5, (“January 16, 1963”). Dorn’s seminal essay “What I See in the Maximus Poems” was published in Kulchur 4 (1961), and his “Notes More or Less Relevant to Burroughs and Trocchi,” as well as his review of Michael McClure’s The New Book of Torture, were published in Kulchur 8. Dorn’s prose reflection “Notes About Working and Waiting Around” was published in Yugen 8 (1962).

18. Jones’s involvement with Floating Bear ended before the issue containing Irby’s “Grasslands of North America” would be published; the poem was instead published in Robert Kelly’s magazine, Matter 1 (Jan 1964): 5.

19. Dorn married Helene Buck in Seattle on July 1, 1954. They had a son, Paul (b. 1954), and Buck had two children from a previous marriage — son Fred (b. 1949), and daughter Chansonette (b. 1952). From 1961 to 1965, the family lived in a refurbished chicken coop on Ray Obermayr’s ranch outside of Pocatello, where Dorn taught at Idaho State University. Dorn had met Obermayr in 1950, when he enrolled in the latter’s painting class at Eastern Illinois University. Dorn attended Eastern Illinois for two years before dropping out and, at Obermayr’s suggestion, enrolling in classes (initially as a painter, not a writer) at Black Mountain College in 1954. For further information, see Tom Clark’s Edward Dorn: A World of Difference (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002).

20. Dorn gave a reading at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in February 1963 (recording available online at Pennsound and the Slought Foundation).

21. Elsa Dorfman (b. 1937) — Cambridge-based photographer.

22. Gregory Corso (1930–2001).