On Kenneth Irby's 'The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962–2006'
1. Walking out
Kenneth Irby’s first pamphlet, The Roadrunner Poem, appeared as the fourth issue of the journal Duende in April 1964. Forty-five years later his Collected Poems (2009) appeared as a massive document of one poet’s engagement with the process of the poem and the poetics of its statement. More than a shadow falls between the early and the late appearances of Irby’s poetry. Like most collected poems, this volume defines a career in writing and, when set against the literary history of its time, punctuates its achievement by the influences it absorbs, the modes and fashions of contemporary poetry it either acknowledges or rejects; it registers a poetics of an articulate sensibility driven, or at least dedicated, to making language and poetic form define themselves. Publishing such a book is no simple matter. The book brings together into full public notice the poems the poet accepts. In asking for a fair reading it must acknowledge the risk of rejection, the intemperance of the literary world, while hoping for praise, understanding, and confirmation of the writing life of the poet.
The geography of Kansas and the Great Plains came into the early poetry as a dominant theme, as dominant as the poet’s various relationships with that geography. Many poems began by setting out the scenes, the lines of hill, fields of grass, rivers, and even mountain ranges of the landscape further west. Early explorers and travelers were as important as the streets and families of Fort Scott and Lawrence, Kansas. Irby’s high school days became a point of reference, as did a sense of finding home, more a fluid relationship with geography than a physical building. Relation: Poems 1965–1966 (1970) was the first collection and in it Irby expanded his themes under the directive “We have approached the fact of this land / as body as alive as our own” (118). He explores the relations with the land, with people, history, and his own memory; the attention to “modes of relation” (493) appears throughout the poems. He includes not only perceptions of his attunement with the landscape, but a recognition that the experiences of the early explorers of the West like John Wesley Powell and Clarence E. Dutton are inherent in the energy of the places they walked. In Relation and in To Max Douglas (1971/1974) with reiterations of historians and politicians of the plains, these ideas grow into a complex concept of geography found, for example, in James C. Malin’s book The Grasslands of North America. “Delius,” first published in the journal Io, in 1973, is a pivotal poem in the advancement of this collection. In this poem Irby includes multiple quotations from books about Delius, and cites other references as well, in an acknowledgment that a poem can take place in a field of information which also includes the perceiving poet, but without the interferences of an ego. Irby confirms his position in an actual and an imaginary landscape of his own making as he also confirms the processes of open form composition by quoting directly from the poems and essays of Charles Olson and Robert Duncan.
The following collection, Catalpa (1977), reviews ideas of geography by expanding the habitation westward to Berkeley and eastward to Medford, Massachusetts, and then subsequently further eastward to Denmark. In Denmark (No: a journal of the arts 2003) explores the need to come to terms with personal love and a new landscape. After In Excelsis Borealis (1976) and Archipelago (1976), Call Steps: Plains, Camps, Stations, Consistories (1992) contains poems written 1977–1979 and transforms the geography of the plains to the geography of the imagination. From the start, Irby is a poet with a visionary imagination whose poems insist on a pastoral setting — “Pastoral poetry poetry // that feeds us, pasture (258) — and that setting stimulates the impetus toward the moments of vision and then the memory of the vision. In a “Preface” to Relation, Irby mentions two concerns of pastoral: “a calmness, a quietude of the whole being, derived from all attentions and awareness; and a feeling of great closeness with the vegetation lived among — an ecological calm” (93). Compounding present seeing with later visionary memories pushes understanding into an essential concern of his evolving poetics. He wants to make poems “out of small irreducible sensual wholes” (429). In “Delius” he writes: “These are the duties to find a new vocabulary” (237). Finding the fitting language to express the visions of “irreducible sensual wholes” transforms the poems into meditations about the process of poetry itself, and the inclusive necessity to live a full physical life attuned to the process of recurring points of energetic seeing. Fifteen years separate Catalpa from Call Steps and now seven years separate Call Steps from the next large collection, Ridge to Ridge: Poems 1990–2000 (2001). Again the processes of meditation and finding the language of the imagination pervade these poems as they propose parables as a means of expressing what is certainly without form or substance. The process of the poetry in an open celebration of creative seeing appears in poem after poem, each trying to articulate the things seen. Studies: Cuts, Shots, Takes (2001) begins another cycle of discovering, uncovering the fitting language. A quotation from Robert Duncan — “But this consonance I seek between actuality and the poem is not easy” (565) — leads these “etudes of massive block sonority” (567) from proposal to proposal of a solution to “consonance” in one unterminated study after another. The poems in this section are shorter than the untitled pieces in Ridge to Ridge and follow one after another without a considered narrative; if there is a possible cohesion, that would come from the imbedded process of claiming consonance in the flow of words. Then a section of “Uncollected: 1964–2006” concludes this volume by filling in the record of the cycle, and presumably introducing the poetry of the next cycle.
In a review of Catalpa, Thomas Meyer recognized in Irby’s poetry of vision elements of Gnosticism, which he traced through Zwingli, Luther, Valentinus, Emerson, and Thoreau with references to Pound and Yeats. The poetry of vision, including Irby’s poetry, is part of contemporary American writing. Edward Schelb in another review wrote: “In my mind, Irby remains one of the essential visionary and religious poets of my time, with Gnostic madness and nonsense and paradoxes combined with — above all — a most remarkable generosity of spirit. …” Visionary moments and the process of finding the means to express those moments occupy a major part of Irby’s poems. His is not a denominational vision nor religious in any institutional sense, but it is a perception of the holy. He calls it divinity. At one point he quotes Cicero, “there is in mankind a certain faculty of divinization” (493). Rudolph Otto, in his book The Idea of the Holy, calls such perceptions of divinity the numen, an uncanny awareness of the presence of the holy in ordinary events and objects. This view of the presence gives clarity to the idea without limiting the discussions by conventional issues and terms.
The journey to the vision of home extends from high school through the whole volume. The defining experience appears early in the book:
There is nothing, then, that does not
contain the divine —
in us, from us, into the
only to find
to know it’s there
Pencil lead broken off under the fingernail
trying to clean it, I
looked up and saw the whole green tree
out the classroom window,
moving the green crystal craze in my veins
I felt, was there, but
could not ever see till then — (66)
This experience of the light of a divine presence itself becomes a presence in the poems, a powerful memory and a point of reference. Though expressed in “the green crystal craze” here, the point of vision occurs as a moment like many such moments of seeing throughout the poems:
So the sight at any moment
is complete, needs nothing more
to come into being
the whole centered, as pleasure
is full not in extension
but in being (163)
And later in the same poem, “Looking quietly for the place,” the sense of fullness of life itself expands to an attunement, a revelation of relation to the forces of the world.
easy to think
this moment that the revelation comes
is where the entrance is
when to be here at all is to
have entered the whole world whole (164)
Such perceptions are not minor events, but an “insight of the flow” (331) “mere flow” (331) of life itself. “So there the heart quickens, seeing images of its inner secrets, it had guessed before”(305). The “unattended stray memories, everything, in the throw of the vision, in the catch of us in the vision” (335), which arrive as momentary and fleeing points of light, the numen, without substantial form, obligate the poet to make “allegiances to the clarity” (430), or a clear and telling means stating them in words. The moments are accompanied by light and movement in or out, across and back, East to West or back again but the flow they enact resists visual statement and so inspires both fear and longing — “for solitude and grieving are also instruments of vision” (537). Despite the many associations Irby cites with other poets, he knows that using the language and experience of others moves the momentary experience into the language of others, away from him, so he remains dedicated to generating his own instances of perceiving the visionary numen in the sounds of words.
The idea of the holy numen runs through this present volume, as one poem has it — “through the double reinforcing veils of waking and of dream” (535) — and, as another insists, divine sense of vision permeates the entire collection “through the leaves and branches into and through the dimension, through what stare stares into and through” (551). Geography, landscape, and vision are the most important themes, but, in addition, there are several other key ideas that make up the complex poetics. The early explorers and travelers in the American West, and then the later historians of the people and geography, all contribute to the energy of the place which generates into the present. The relationship with the landscape and with other people, human love, its loss and fulfillment, inform the poems. High school experiences, the search for “home,” and the search for self appear intermittently along with some favorite figures like the wheel, birds — mainly crows and jays — and the movement of spirit “through” a landscape or human meeting. The statement of the poems changes into the process of the poem finding the terms of its own articulation. Final termination of a poem or the conclusive stopping of meditation disappear; in the course of accumulation the poems achieve a process of parables which initiate open forms of expression.
Even while giving a quick overview of Irby’s collection, including coverage of his proposal of an open-ended poetry of parables and process, this essay does not pretend to offer a full discussion of the poems. That is a project for a book-length study. Instead, this essay is more a review and introduction to The Intent On than it is an extended study of the whole volume. The following discussion of some recurring elements and figures of Irby’s poetry borrows Irby’s subtitle “Running Lights” from Call Steps. And this discussion focuses on key terms that provide entrances into the poetry as well as a way of relating parts of the whole collection. The third section, “Applications,” attempts reading three poems, again, as a way of opening passages into the collected poems.
2. Running lights
In “The Roadrunner Poem,” the speaker likens himself to the roadrunner, a figure searching for home, love, self-identity, and a clear relationship with the landscape. The runner seeks self-identity in terms of the plateaus in the distance, the ploughed fields and cottonwoods nearby, and he understands that a human has a place in the landscape:
The land is incomplete
without someone to live
into it. There
it is — in and out
the juice and sluice of energy
from letting nothing be gone
from it (9)
The human’s place in the landscape is interactive, “in and out” or in a later passage “cross and recross”
Where the body parts or thrusts
to be within itself
O where they cross and recross,
the whole journey into the moon
into the plateaus where only
water rushes that we loose, see, find, go on
to those streams
to drink? Who lives
in the moon? (17)
His journey is toward the earth, the forest and mountains beyond “the Pan American highway” (23), but also through the landscape to the moon, or the life of the imagination. The poem concludes that the landscape is the habitation of the self interacting with the earth, but the goal is the illuminated light of the imagination.
that is full of the earth
is full (25)
Irby’s references to the features of the landscape appear in almost every poem, but in the poem “Bandelier” he expands his meaning:
here, this tight canyon
like our own muscles
flexed and relaxing,
the space, the gush
of water and the mountains behind us,
we carry in us.
If we feel home
in these ruins
of Bandelier — the body
does not lie
its ease here — not all
the energy of those
Pueblos of 1250
is lost — (35–36)
The canyon contains some of the energetic presence of previous inhabitants, almost like a residual event, and that energy projects into the present to become part of the energy inherent in a particular place where events took place and people lived.
The poem “Kansas-New Mexico,” after citing an epigraph from Walter Prescott Webb, “the land itself is a survival,” reviews “the disk of the plains” (82) and recites lists of its towns and counties to reinforce the immediacy of the current occupation at the same time that previous events resonate in present events:
Let the plains
take us home. Let the earth
be where we
The reverence for the land demonstrated by setting a poem in specific geographical features expands in the rehearsals of previous events and people who lived within the scope of the poem “To Max Douglas.” E. W. Howe wrote portraits of life on the plains in The Story of a Country Town. “Ironquill Ware,” Eugene Ware, a late-nineteenth-century poet, wrote extensively about Kansas and its people. The land holds “traces / of Lewis and Clark” (189), as well as the schemes of the political boss Cy Leland, and the violent life and times of John Brown remain fresh in memory. The poem also mentions Jed Smith, who will be a subject of a later poem, and Carl Sauer, who, as a historian of the geography, recognized the inherent influence of previous people and activities in a given place. The poem cites Freud as well in a passage that defines the vision of the land:
as well as Kansas and New Mexico, all at once, as Freud saw
all the ages of Rome superimposed in one vision
as on the palm, or heart beat
springs across the belly pit of the Basin West (201)
Max Douglas as a poet, and then Irby, inherits the energetic residue of all the previous ages, action and people of the Great Plains and these forces are operative in the actions of people in contemporary Kansas, so the past superimposes itself on the present.
In the poem “Relation,” Irby lists Clarence E. Dutton, F. V. Hayden, and John Wesley Powell (among others), all geologists and explorers of the inter-mountain West, and later Cabeza de Vaca and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, both Spanish explorers of the Southwest, and the poem makes the point that the efforts of these men adhere in the geography they studied and explored, not so much as the lore of the land but as part of the projected energy of a spiritual life in particular places. In other poems like “Point Reyes Poem” the climatic conditions and the paths and the hills and the landscape come directly into the Sunday walk as if the walker were experiencing the same effect as an earlier expedition into unknown territories. The poem “Moon” pushes toward the visionary awareness of the land: “We have approached the fact of this land / as body as alive as our own” (118), which is confirmed in “Placitas Poem”:
all mountains and all around
grown luminous behind the clouds and shadows, light
beneath and in all landscapes seen, whatever size —
down to these stones under the feet, leaves and samaras (135)
Irby begins Catalpa with several definitions of the word “landscape” and a listing of scholars and their essays and books about the Great Plains, including Edgar Anderson, “The Considered Landscape”; Charles Olson, “Letter to Elaine Feinstein”; Carl Sauer, “The Morphology of Landscape”; and James C. Malin, “On the Nature of Local History.” In other places he mentions Dale Morgan, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West and Josiah Gregg, The Commerce of the Prairies; Lewis H. Garrard, Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail; Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains; and James C. Malin, The Grasslands of North America. Features of the landscape and ideas of geography appear in almost every poem of Catalpa. In To Max Douglas and Catalpa, Irby moves closer to Carl Sauer’s ideas of “cultural geography,” not simply features of landscape but a container of various cultural and historical events.
The thing to be known is the natural landscape. It becomes known through the totality of its forms. These forms are thought of not for and by themselves, as a soil specialist would regard soils, for example, but in relation to one another and in their place in the landscape, each landscape being a definite combination of form values.
Human societies and events of travel, discovery, and founding communities interact with the features of the land to create the cultural geography of the place. In later poems, Irby modifies this concept to include his imagined landscapes, and (as in “Delius”) the ones he creates by superimposing the forms of one place onto the forms of another place.
In Catalpa, after the supplication of the opening poem, “The Grasslands of North America” confirms the relations between the forces of people and the land:
There must be in the juice
and flesh a same plain
as these, the same moving
wave as this grass
the body comes back to
only having heard as they
only heard, by hearsay
and believed it (253–54)
Irby has taken “a long journey across the land” (274) to California, a landscape very different from the uncompromising flatness of the plains, so the poems are full of references to fog, mountains, forests, and vistas, even references to the Spanish Governor Gaspar de Portolá (272) and the great British sailor Sir Francis Drake (259). “Jed Smith and the Way,” a central poem, chronicles a driving trip from Berkeley north through California to Eugene, Oregon and back again. Part of the trip follows approximately the same routes — or at least analogous routes — Smith took in his trip north in the nineteenth century, but Smith’s journey as well as his death by Indians on the Santa Fe Trail are part of the modern trip, inherent in the movement forward. The old trip inhabits the modern trip and is part of the places, towns passed through and rivers crossed. In another section of Catalpa, Irby takes his sensibility of the plains eastward to Medford, Massachusetts, and so the poems struggle with the geography in the movement from Chicago to Boston. Governor Winthrop has a place now as does Giovanni de Verrazzano, who explored the coast of New England, and both exert the same kind of presence as a reappearance of Albert Pike, a Confederate General and a strong supporter of the Masonic Scottish Rite.
Through Catalpa, Irby has firmly established the presence of landscape and geography, but that presence in the poems following — In Denmark, Call Steps, A Set and Ridge to Ridge — becomes more a metaphor in the process of meditation than a sustained demonstration of geographical features. He confronts the new European landscape by viewing it with the memory of the American scenes, even as he celebrates human love, and in the later poems landscape becomes metaphor in the parables trying to define a visionary experience and trying to find a vocabulary of that visionary experience. The sustaining sense of geography and of the relations with the land are subsumed into the developing poetics so that they become intertextual references.
Irby is as much a traveler, “travelling, travelling” (545) — walking, driving a car, riding a bus — as the traveling geologists and historians he lists or cites in poems. He borrows a title from Bashō, “The Journey Itself is Home” (102) to specify “home” as a recurring figure of this collection. To Max Douglas begins with a hike. Home is not only a place but a state of attunement of the body’s energy with the land’s energy, as he remarks:
If we feel home
in these ruins
of Bandelier — the body
does not lie
its ease here — not all
the energy of those
Pueblos of 1250
is lost — (35–36)
In other places, he confirms this view of home as a state of attunement, rest, peace:
We are not at home if we are not at rest
going and coming in —
home is the bed’s
stead, where the rest takes place
all the circulations, out and in
that lead to sleep at last and back, to calm (142)
And in still another poem he asserts the centrality of the idea of home, “the search for home always” (283): it can appear “In the house of friends, on the Northern coast of California, in the grip of the elements, altogether alive” (299). Home is at times a visionary event, “the only place where you can go both out and in // power is stored is home // but every particle” (398). “The calling home, and being called inside, can concentrate” (538) both the desire of the journey and the peace fitting smoothly into the energy of a place or the dynamics of a human situation:
we are this household of
what the body holds of
and gives back
your dream of the trees and pasture
out past the balcony, straight on into
the distance past the door
set with chairs and sofas
having come home to (175)
Finding home becomes the sense of living into life and being fulfilled spiritually and physically:
so dance accumulate, alveolate home deep
in the earth their heart listens
this is their bliss, in this delight the
share in the light (490)
The journey to the vision of home extends from high school through the whole volume. The defining experience appears early in the book. “War I knew came home along the corridors of high school” (277), a time of loneliness, “like the ache of high school graduation night unsatisfied” (345), but also a recurring memory of visionary seeing — “The society of ordinary / high school days, never left, will it? (417).
These recurring figures of the poems are as closely attached to the landscape, the Great Plains, as the “the Great Wheel of the Plains” that “turns under Fort Scott” (226). The wheel is related to the Mayan wheel of time. It also appears in “the great wheel of gulls over Christianshaven” (370) or “roulette on an upturned wagon wheel” (453), or the wheel of fate “upon the wheel we are, but the binding / is together” (167), but its essential function positions the plains of Kansas as the center of the world, turning the “wheel under the plains” (332):
From the Plains
have always demanded of us, You
Male and Female Great
Springers and Great
Shielded Shafted and Helmeted
Swingers of the Center
Wheel of Earth — (347–48)
Or in the following lines:
in the Land of the Hermetic Learning
the Spirit Journey Dances
on the Wheel of the Plains (323)
Two other figures repeated less often, however, occur in the poem — paradise and crows. Beginning with the pamphlet and poem titled, “The Flower of Having Passed Through Paradise in a Dream” (157, 165), paradise appears as a special place of vision in the land, but also as a song title in a memory of high school:
“A Stranger in Paradise”
out of Polovetsia
out of highschool
a return to my uncharted Central (231)
Paradise is a special place of vision, not the home garden plot — “the walk not to the paradise but the old home gardens garden” (567). And that special place of vision appears in scattered passages in this collection:
passed through the fair of worldly
fair and wondrous things
and made the Walk
to the Paradise Gardens (231)
Like the theme of paradise, crows appear now and then especially as keepers of the sacred law, almost a bird of the visionary secrets:
to be most dignity and testament
crows take the crows take the over
to teach us insufficiency (524)
Their powers are praised — “what can be known of the heart any more than of the colloquy of the crows in the field out the window” (527). “Crow calls” (551) come in contrast to the shrill call of the “Canada jays” (135) — “a bluejay shrieks to-be, insatiate, in the next tree” (536).
While the themes of geography and vision, the figures of home, high school, the wheel, paradise, and crows as well as certain key words like “line,” “direction,” and “through” recur throughout this collected poems, Irby’s poetics are also based on ideas of form and the relationship of information inherent in the poem to the internal movement of thematic and formal elements. Sorting out the internal workings of a poem is every bit as important as knowing what the poem says.
Irby’s tribute to the music of Delius was published first in Io (1973). “Delius” is a poem with sections numbered 1–8, like other early poems — “The Roadrunner Poem” with thirteen sections, “Kansas–New Mexico” with six sections, and “Solstice Set” with seven sections. The later poems in sections are not always numbered, so the series in “Etudes,” A Set, and the poems in Ridge to Ridge are parts of a continuous meditation without being numbered as such. The same is true of the eight untitled and one titled poem in “Heredom.” While the numbers give a direction to the early poems, the later series can be entered at any point without the direction of numbers and without violating narrative. In “Delius,” as in the later series, there is no sustained plot or narrative, other than the insistence on finding a means of writing out what has been perceived. Each of the eight poems takes advice from stories outside the poem and each gives a version or a portion of the meditation without adding to a plot or a narrative. The numbered sections provide breaks but not rhetorical connections between them.
Section 1, as a way to explain a dream about Delius’s song, “The Walk to the Paradise Garden,” tells stories from Delius’s fourth opera, A Village Romeo and Juliet, where the song appears. The song from the musical Kismet, “A Stranger in Paradise,” comes to mind as a song from high school days, as old perhaps as a Russian “Polovetsia” dance tune. In remembering the opera, the section mentions Sali and Vreli, Romeo and Juliet, meeting the dark Fiddler who warns them not to cultivate a field; the whole scene moves from a church resembling those in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. The young lovers are fully enthralled with one another in preparation in their “ache of savored regret,” to love one another or perish. The section ends with a quotation of Delius’s response to “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring”: “This is the most heartbreaking music in the world” (232).
Section 2 is a commentary on the first section, mainly to the “sensualist” (232), Delius, who risks sentimentality in the opera of young love, trapping “the pain of parting / the endlessness of the moment of leaving / this world, this only world” (232). The section ends, again with a quotation, this one from the program notes for Delius’s composition, Requiem; “human life is like a day in the existence of the world” (233).
The third section takes a different tack to explain why Delius is so haunting in another area of the “sentient,” “beyond his music” (233). Irby imposes one landscape on another, here the landscape Delius walked in Norway during summer visits onto the landscape of the Coast Range of California. Delius’s remarks about his walking in the mountains were recorded by Eric William Fenby, a British composer who helped Delius with his writing when Delius’s health would not allow him to work. Fenby later published a book, Delius as I Knew Him:
but it would be the younger man
who hiked each summer over Norway
untiring on the trails of the Coast Range
in August and the hills gone golden brown
closest to the genius
of the region (233)
With the juxtaposition established, the next part of the section (separated by a small emblem) quotes Walt Whitman about his difficulty in finding what he wanted to say, and so inserts him into the imaginary landscape of Norway/Coast Range inside the conversation at Delius’s house at Grez-sur-Loing in France. The following part lists quotations by Delius about overcoming the difficulties of writing music, about the necessary persistence of composition at the piano, even with “his too long fingers” (235), according to Fenby’s account. The next part begins “lost in the night music of the Loing / or in the redwoods at Hendy” (Hendy Woods, Mendocino County, California) or in the joining of the imaginary geography, then with a report from Philip Haseltine (aka Peter Warlock, British collector and composer of songs) that Delius said California would be better for D. H. Lawrence “than Florida” (235). With references to the song “Hy Brasil” and then the Irish Islands, the poem joins Norway and Mendocino, where, in this imagined landscape, Delius (who in his old age was crippled by syphilis) was carried to a mountain “exactly at the moment of sunset” (235). The next two parts again quote Delius’s views about finding his means to write music first at “Sloane Grove” in Florida and then in France. The poems superimpose the cottage at Solano Grove on a cabin of a friend, Lowell Levant, in the Coast Range, and end with an incomplete statement: “the direct line in whose gaps” (236). The next part is another quotation from Delius, via Fenby. “A sense of flow is the main theme” (236), while the final part reports that Arthur Hutchings, in Delius: A Critical Biography, joins Delius’s choral composition, Song of the High Hills, with a section from Richard Jefferies’s The Story of My Heart called “The Hill Pantheist” as if the two “confluences of an English contemplation” (236) were the figure of an explorer sailing “South” “to the furthest reaches of the continents” (236). The section finds relations between actual and imagined landscapes, and marshals several quotations from Delius as well as Whitman into the meditation about the impulse to create whether in words or in music.
Section 4 directs the poem and provides the informing statement for the entire collection. In “The Roadrunner Poem” Irby quotes a passage from The Grasslands of North America: “No line on a map can be drawn to represent in any realistic manner the actual conditions in nature” (13). The word “line” recurs in the poems to specify the means of depicting imaginary and actual events. For Malin, depiction is incomplete and so a version of a physical event. Many poems touch on this theme; the previous sections of “Delius” have made observations about the difficulty of writing poetry and music, but this section lists eight “duties to find a new vocabulary” (237) to express the momentary visions, which, since high school, have appeared in Irby’s writing. The first, “Du mußt dein Leben ändern” (237), comes from the final line of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Torso of an Archaic Apollo,” and demands a change of life in order to fulfill life. Four quotations follow about seeing the “gap between the world,” the “twilight,” about the attraction to the “voluptuous longing for the beyond,” about seeking “vision with aggressive and adventuresome masculinity,” and about challenging “the limits of expressibility” (237). Despite being in quotation marks, these directives are probably Irby’s commands of accountability to himself in the manner of Robert Duncan’s “Imaginary Instruction” from his “The Venice Poem” quoted in Irby’s poem “[‘the Heron of Oblivion’]” (441). These directives are meant to find a new vocabulary to express the visions seen, and not to use the expressions of others. These directives are then followed by three more quotations by Delius reported by Fenby. The new theory of writing, of depiction, will emerge with profound relations with Delius’s authority in composition.
Without a proper transition, the fifth section (in nine parts), begins with the lines:
This is the golden beech
in the last dream of morning (237)
The “golden beech” is a structure made up by the imagination combining the “West Coast biome” (237) with dream matter, combining summer and “the winter rains.” As another version of the meditation to find a new vocabulary of the visionary experience, the second part introduces the story of the sheepherder Vanamee from Frank Norris’s novel The Octopus, who loses his lover and suffers severe loneliness. Vanamee drives his sheep along some of the same routes taken by Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, mentioned earlier, in the poem “Relation,” who in 1776 made a trip from Santa Fe to California and back. Vanamee experiences “ravaging voices, wordless at the top of the mountain” (238). Those voices are then compared with “Delian choruses,” which are then described as attempts to “join cosmology and continental geography.” Vanamee is imagined as “hearing voices” (238) in the same landscape described by Edward Abbey in his book Desert Solitaire. Delius combined with Vanamee in an imagined landscape described by Abbey; still both search for the fitting vocabulary — Vanamee with “stern aloofness” (238) and Delius in a Fenby quotation, “a continued reaching out of himself” (239). Richard Jefferies, through his autobiography The Story of My Heart, now enters the pattern of joining and condensing. Jefferies in his description of English landscapes, like Delius in his music and Vanamee in his sheepherding, was:
possessed by a longing so immense
it shot the wholly sensual through
with holes of an altogether other light (239)
The immense longing helps explain Vanamee’s trips “South into Mexico with the sheep” and then “the Great Circle back to California” (239) — “A great / circle without touching California” (123) from “Relation” — as well as Delius’s move to Solano Grove south of Jacksonville and Arthur Conan Doyle’s references to St. Augustine in his story “Five Orange Pips.” Similar travels appear in John Buchan’s espionage novels: “crossing and recrossing / the natural mystery” which then contrast with Charles Olson’s withdrawal from the journey in “Maximus of Gloucester,” “my balls rich as Buddha’s.” The journey is nonetheless still “burgeoning” (239). After another reference to Jefferies’s The Story of My Heart — “we are murdered by our ancestors” (239) — “their [Delius and Vanamee in sexual matters] feet joined is some instant // triskelion wheeling beyond longing” (240) again go past (“wheeling” like the Great Wheel of the Plains) the “longing” that initially motivated them into a medium of perception without a vocabulary. The next part consists of five quotations again from Jefferies about the mystery, the immensity of the imaginative effort and the following search for a spiritual meaning beyond physical existence and beyond immortality. As in other sections of the poem, the quotations are brought into the poem as part of the process of infusing the poem with a body of information. This practice led Jed Rasula to call Irby “a sort of angel of the quote.” The section ends with a single quotation as yet unidentified: “I have always loved the far, wide distance” (240).
Even after all the examples of journeys and joining of them, the search goes on. In section 5, Irby has joined and combined the work of people, attempting to find one in the other or to find a common longing in the necessity to create. In this section, he cites Percy Grainger’s remark that “he heard in Ellington likenesses to Delius” (241). The connections were already established. In the second part, he maintains that Ellington actually “really liked to hear / his own music” (241), but the poem speculates on Ellington’s posthumous album Reminiscing in Tempo (1975), and finds influences of Delius’s compositions in Florida and examples of the early influence of Grieg and of the German romantic composers on Delius to make “as melted / pot as America ever said it wanted” (241). Then the poem shifts around to find a “dance band sweetness in Delius, or perhaps a reference in Ferde Grofe’s ‘On the Trail’ (a section of Grand Canyon Suite) in Koanga” (242) (an opera by Delius) to “renounce” the idea of Bix Beiderbecke playing one of Ellington’s solo piano compositions, “In the Dark,” and then playing songs he had performed to great acclaim on his cornet. Such an evening at Delius’s house at Grez would be something like Hart Crane, after the death of Harry Crosby (publisher of the first edition of The Bridge), reading his own poem The Bridge “pilgrimaging on his way to the Mediterranean” (242) where Melville travelled, not with Hart Crane, but always with the presence of Whitman around.
Section 7 offers another joining, this time of Delius and the geography of the Coast Range. His struggles with syphilis are thought of in terms of crossing the Coast Range so that his accomplishment in music and following his longing rearrange “the felt directioned lines of force” (242), an actual accomplishment but fulfilling neither the idea of the “Old World” nor European principles of order and achievement nor “Atlantean,” ideal accomplishment in an ancient manner.
Section 4 begins with the directives, or duties, “to find a new vocabulary” (237), and section 8 near its ending quotes that statement as “to find a new vocabulary” (243). The meditation in this final section is again located in the Coast Range, and in highly metaphorical, and even dense language, stretches for the new language of the visionary experience. The poem seeks the “Western Ridge” (243), the California coast whose mythologies of belief, the cosmology, have been decreated — “bloodred in the sky as the Spider woman of the North and South.” The desire for such stories has not faded but sustains itself:
what man has matured as a creature of, ice
the Climatology of Attention is not the Extension of Empire
an Elephant palm we might say, nursing its dying with a nuzzling trunk to reach
Deneb in the Swan over Bolinas the umbrella of the unquenchable reach (243)
The densely packed lines could be saying something like: the study of man in the various ice ages is not the same as the American desire to extend its empire through to the Pacific Ocean, but that desire for empire could be something like a humanized, dying Elephant palm trying to reach the stars, which appear as the star Deneb in the constellation Swan (Cygnus) forming an umbrella over Bolinas. Even such desires lose their way for “that barely remembered home,” a visionary attunement with the landscape. The “Leader of the Wind” shows a magical sign for entry into visionary wonder on “a painted hand” (243), a sign similar to one in To Max Douglas, “as on the palm” (201), or “the palm of the hand held up to the setting sun” (333) in “of the Sons of Morning.” However, the “wind that holds Direction” — “felt directions of force” (366) in a later poem, “ROBERT: ‘where we only once’” — withholds the keys to the language. The direction will be found not by scrutiny of physical fact, “the mound underfoot,” but in “the starry horizon.” The poem ends by quoting the final line of Richard Jefferies’s essay “On the Downs”: “the soul knows itself, and would live its own life” (243).
“Delius” is a complicated, highly referential poem. After taking up Delius as a sensualist in his opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, the second section shifts to Delius’s Requiem. Other sections follow this pattern of depiction, a stop, and then another version starting in the next section without formal transitions. The poem imposes the landscape of Delius’s Norway onto the Coast Range of California, “as if on Tamalpais, exactly / coincident with that peak in Norway” (235), in an imaginary act bringing Delius closer to home. The poem then establishes Delius’s authority by giving him a voice in the poem with directions quoted from Fenby’s Delius as I Knew Him and references to Arthur Hutchings’s Delius: A Critical Biography, and Richard Jefferies’s The Story of My Heart. The individual meditations in this poem occur surrounded by rich information which enters the poem and stretches the range and depth of its statement. The fourth section lists quotations without connections in separated lines, but these enter the poem with ease based on the previous series of quotations and references. The directives for a new language clarify the directions of the meditations. So the quick shift to Vanamee in Frank Norris’s novel Octopus is not startling; the concluding quotations from Jefferies’s book present it as another version of the same meditation trying to uncover a new language attuned to the landscape of California. Finding relations, or unearthing one frame of reference inherent in another, pushes the meditation, then Percy Grainger finding Delius in Duke Ellington leads to another stretch of Delius’s authority in the history of jazz, with associations with Hart Crane, Harry Crosby, and Walt Whitman. With Delius’s story imposed on the geography of the Coast Range, a shift takes place “widely rearranging the felt directioned lines of force” (242) of both the landscape and imaginative actions that invented that landscape. The shift then appears in the process of the poem in its final section seeking through a series of dense metaphors to exact the activity of a new language instead of trying to put the vision forward as a clear visual image. The sensualist power of Delius will “live its own life” (243) in the process of language articulating itself.
The process of language clarifying itself repeats in many poems, but especially in the poems in the section of Call Steps entitled “Heredom,” a subsection of Orexis. New aspects of Irby’s poetics reveal themselves. The poems tell stories, perhaps parables, construct imaginary scenes and events to demonstrate the process of the mind seeking ways of articulating the visionary experiences or aspects of the visionary experience. Familiar themes also appear in the poems as do new ways of importing referential materials into the poems. “Heredom,” for example, is the title of a journal devoted to research in the Masonic Scottish Rite. The first poem contains the lines:
gathered, the branch of acacia
fused through with green swirled
Egyptian thorn milk waters
raised, itself, of the lost and gathered body of mastery
or all the high school years again, unslept, reviewing the annual faces over and over
till they run green in the movies after the eyes are closed
and still as distant as they were in person (417)
The title of Ezra Pound’s essay “I gather the Limbs of Osiris” lies underneath the first four lines and so the story of Osiris and Isis becomes a parable about gathering the parts of the poem and bringing them back together. And that act of magic and of recovery of “high school days, never left” (417) appears in the final three lines which reenact a version of the first vision in high school from the early poem “A Set for Roy Gridley”:
Pencil lead broken off under the fingernail
trying to clean it, I
looked up and saw the whole green tree
out the classroom window
moving the green crystal craze in my veins
I felt, was there, but
could not ever see till then — (66)
The memory of the early experience remains active, informing the contemporary view with the past perceptions within the duality of “releasing and attracting” (417). This version tells an imaginary story of regaining the action of the memory as an aspect of the poetics of finding the new vocabulary. While the poem relates itself to a previous poem, it relies on the process of seeing and remembering, not a casual plot. The enactment of the process allows the poem to simply stop without the generous consideration of the unities or a sustained narrative inside the poem or among the following poems. The so-called fragment then becomes a valuable unit of poetic composition.
A similar process appears in the poem beginning “from the Camp the cries of burnt Templars.” The poem starts out as if a speaker were telling an old story of the Templars, another connection with the Masonic information about the cries rising over the tents of the “tengu,” Japanese spirits of the fields and forests. It begins in a fanciful way, not with realistic depictions, and then continues, as if the speaker were talking to his audience:
you’ve probably caught sight of the Camp at times
coming unexpectedly into a clearing and looking up
the quick flags
thinking a fairy ring of mushrooms
or Kim’s Red Bull on a Green Field (422)
The camp becomes the camp of Kim’s father’s regiment in Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim, identified by the Red Bull on the Green Field of its flag. The scene of the camp fades and returns as a vision does in its momentary appearance, which then leads to the speculation that has something to do with “an old high school friend,” which turns then into more explanation about the camp from the speaker, “it is said” that the troops move around, but then that scene changes into a speculation about a golf shot, not to a hole on a green but “to any hole in the hand / or the eye” (423), and then the concluding lines:
The Camp if it is a camp rotates slowly on its axis
not the Grand Commander or the Mill of Heavens or the Transparency of the Tree
or all the Years of Reunion Rituals
that are the pole of the body (423)
The speaker again questions the nature of the camp, or whether it is even a camp at all, but certainly it is not the Commander of the Scottish Rite, nor the Mills of Heaven which are said to grind finely but slowly, not the transparency of the world ash tree, nor the years of high school reunions, and then inserts a positive assertion about the reunion which is the support of “the body.” The poem, then, proposes a series of images of what has been seen, complete with some characteristics, and rejects them as explanations of the vision moment, “discrete moments” (29), as an inadequate vocabulary borrowed from sources other than the speaker himself. Then the meditation stops without coming to an enlightening conclusion, or a passage on to the next poem.
The poems from Ridge to Ridge continue Irby’s progress to contain and then project the process of visions in a new vocabulary. The poem beginning “a life into a few vegetables” (523) starts with a series of precisely described scenes. The first is a view of vegetables in a setting for a still-life painting which fades, “but in the words past the breeze through from the bedroom window up the short hall to the feet, and through again” (523). The words might be informed through and through by a spiritual awareness but they do not contain the scene, so another scene arrives of rocks and spray, which stops with a question of how “far away do you have to be to see, to be able to hear / the poem” (523). This additional loss of perception is punctuated by rain dripping “on the balcony behind the back.” There is a “gap left” between the actual scene and the articulation of the scene. In the third poem after this one he writes “to measuring, across the gap” (526) and “body clasping body across the gap” (527), finding the medium of attunement between the seen thing and the stated thing has the same relationship to finding meaning in the physical attunement between lovers. In the poem’s series of scenes, the next is quoted from the Spanish poem “Romance del Conde Amaldos.” A sailor sings from a ship, and quiets the waves, but refuses to give the secret of his song to those who don’t follow him. A gap separates the scene and the containment of the scene in words. The final scene of staring at a “hanging scroll one long wet Sunday afternoon” in a shelter but this one first recoding the “gap,” “the soul is elsewhere,” concludes with the lines:
here there is a butterfly in the knowing of that shelter that would return to change
but being there together
ascent by ink and in the black ground black hidden metallic lusters up out of
each stroke of the pen (524)
An act of the imagination, “a butterfly,” ascends “up out of / each stroke of the pen.” The gap is measured, overcome not in the substance of what gets written about the hanging, the rain and the shelter, but in the process of writing about what is seen.
The poems in Ridge to Ridge, covering the years 1990 to 2000, achieve a process of poetry as an enactment of the mind seeking its own articulation in words that answer, at least partially, the plea from A Set to “the impulse, the sudden absolute necessity to speak, beyond articulation, beyond speech itself” (513). The necessity to articulate the “discrete moments” (29) of vision moves insistently through the poems. These late poems cling to the activity of language forming itself in place of either a prophetic stance or a dogmatic position. The disappearance of what Charles Olson called the “lyrical interference” of a controlling ego releases the poems to make themselves in a huge field of information and authority in which the poet is an equal and participating agent. Predeterminations of formal structures also disappear so the poems are free to move into the lines and rhythms they create themselves. The variety of line lengths and forms of expression should and does indicate that the sounds of words and accumulation of the stories they tell measure out the forms the poems take. The poems do have common concerns, like the forces of geography, multiple relations with the landscape, history, memory, and circles of friends. The transformation of the concepts of the geography of the plains to the concepts of cultural geography found in the work of Malin and Sauer brought a major shift in Irby’s poetry. It allowed him to make up an imagined geography by imposing one set of forms on another and then reacting to its existence as if it were actually physical. The imagined geography helped to move the poems toward the process of thought. Beyond a fixed idea of geography he could imagine new places for his favorite themes. The themes recur like the wheel of the plains and the cry of the crows as elements assisting the impulse to find that vocabulary of expression to contain and even project those fleeting moments when the numen arrives and then disappears. Stephen Ellis comes to a similar conclusion when he notices that Irby embraces process and “no sense of closure”:
Irby’s poetics are, again, the result of an exchange, in the give and take of all relations, as cycles of resurrection rise and are resolved in, further senses of giving and of interplay, i.e., there is no sense of closure in the work, except as each piece leads into the next; the one consistent thing is a sense of ecstasy and accuracy combined that borders on distortion, a tearing away from old orders to new ones.
The appearance is itself a process of tearing down old orders and ideas to embrace new ones, and by choosing a related process of finding the vocabulary of vision, the poems come closer to expression than using a visual image. The poems can be considered fragments, and they might be as fragmentary as the vision itself, but they are reliable enactments of the perceptions.
Irby’s poems begin before the publication of most of Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems and before the publication of Robert Duncan’s Roots and Branches (1964) and Bending the Bow (1968) but the thinking of both poets appears in Irby’s poetics. This is not a situation of straight borrowing, but Irby reading out what relates to his poetics in Olson’s and Duncan’s and then adapting it for his use. The concepts of open forms, the poem achieving its form from the inside and not from predetermined standards, the fragment as a viable medium, and the positing of a group of poems in a series without a sustaining narrative are essential aspects of Irby’s poetics. So is the situation of conceiving the poem as taking place in a field of information. Irby would have found such a situation in The Maximus Poems but also in Robert Kelly’s The Common Shore and in Gerrit Lansing’s The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward. Cultivating poetry with accompanying information was a feature of Io, a magazine where Irby and many poets published, along with Alcheringa, edited by Dennis Tedlock and Jerome Rothenberg. Irby managed his own procedures of bringing information into the poem as part of the activity of conceiving the poem, not as awkward footnotes.
The principles of poetics mentioned here place Irby’s poetry in the direct line of modern poetry from Ezra Pound to William Carlos Williams to Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Robert Kelly. Other poets, like Irby, not on the center stage of the literary world, arrived at similar concepts of serial form; they include Theodore Enslin, John Taggart, Susan Howe, Michael Palmer, and Nathanial Mackey. In the 1980s and 1990s Language Poetry seized center stage. Lyn Hejinian published Irby’s pamphlet Archipelago (1976) from her Tuumba Press but that connection was based on writing, not ideology. The ideology came later with essays and poems by Charles Bernstein, Barrett Watten, and Ron Silliman, but Irby was not part of that movement, and even declined invitations to write about that group in the 1980s. Ridge to Ridge: Poems 1990–2000, the period when Language Poetry held the loudest microphone, came forward with a proposition of a serial, visionary poetics to participate in a group of poets who have asserted major and consequential accomplishments in contemporary literary history. Some of Irby’s early poems appeared in Io, and now Richard Grossinger, Io’s editor, returns with his North Atlantic Press to publish Irby’s The Intent On. The great wheel of the plains turns again.
1. [All quotations from Irby’s The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962–2006 (Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2009) are cited with page numbers in parentheses in the main text. — Eds.]
2. James C. Malin, The Grasslands of North America: Prolegomena to Its History with Addenda and Postscript (Lawrence, KS: Malin, 1947; Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1967).
3. Thomas Meyer, “Our Neglected Study: Irby’s Catalpa Considered Obliquely,” Credences 7 (February 1979): 29–38.
4. Edward Schelb, “‘Race of readiness before o’ertaken’: The Allegorical and Pastoral Art of Kenneth Irby,” Notus 10 (Spring 1992): 2, 214.
5. Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational, trans. John W. Harvey (London: Oxford University Press, 1969).
6. In an interview, Kenneth Irby mentions Adolph Bandelier’s book The Delight Makers, about the canyon which is now part of a state park bearing Bandelier’s name. See Barry Alpert, “Ken Irby — An Interview,” Vort 3 (Summer 1973): 57.
7. The reference to Freud also confirms the place of Carl Sauer in Irby’s thinking. Sauer wrote in his article “Recent Developments in Cultural Geography,” to make the point that cultural landscapes are made up of “the forms superimposed on the physical landscape” (2, 209).
8. Carl Sauer, “The Morphology of Landscape,” in Land and Life: A Selection of Writings from Carl Ortwin Sauer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 337.
9. Irby would have also found this idea of “cultural geography” in the writings of James C. Malin, for example, in The Grasslands of North America: “Treated in its own right, the history of a geographical area includes a consideration of all that has been present or is present within the bounds chosen. Proper subjects of study, from this point of view of geographical area, are its geological history, its ecological history, and the history of human culture since the beginning of occupance by primitive men — in the case of the Western United States, some 10,000 years since man reached the Folsom cultural level. The term culture, as used here, is that of the archaeologist and anthropologist and denotes the sum total of a way of life” (471).
10. Albert Pike, born in Boston, later served as a General in the Confederate Army. Before the Civil War, he was elected Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, and after the war he retained that title in a career as a lawyer and writer; he published the book Morals and Dogma of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in 1871. Irby celebrates Pike in his poem “Homage to Albert Pike” (343), and his later poem “from The Camp the cries of the burnt Templars” refers to the Templars as well as to “the grand Commander” (422–23). Heredom is the title of a publication of the Scottish Rite Research Society; the name appears as a subsection of the book Call Steps, and later as a title of a poem (440), just before a reference to “the old degree” (441), another reference to the rituals of the Scottish Rite. The poem “[Reunion]” refers to “(Knight Rose Croix),” an advanced degree of the Scottish Rite; the poem also contains the lines “did Pike read Boehme? / out of the fire of Wrath and Civil War” (500–01), which is a quotation from Pike’s book Morals and Dogmas (above). I would guess there are many more references to Freemasonry and the Scottish Rite in Irby’s collection.
11. In his very perceptive essay, Edward Schelb calls the same stories I call parables “allegory” (1). He may be right. In a strict literary sense an allegory posits a one-to-one relationship between image and idea. Or, Good Works equals good works. I associate parables with the stories Wallace Stevens tells, of Canon Aspirin, for example, as possible ways of understanding an interaction between imagination and reality. In any event, Irby’s parables have the same propositional nature as Stevens’s.
12. In an article, Peter Bertollette cites Henry Corbin’s books Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth and Cyclical Time in Mazdaism and Ismailism in support of a very useful comment about Irby’s idea of home: Irby’s use of homeplace and “the heartland” “fits in with Corbin’s notion that the home is an organ of perception, where the heart lies, a place to be planted in, and shoot forth from.” See Peter Bertollette, “Ken Irby,” Credences 7 (February 1979): 28, and Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi’ite Iran, trans. Nancy Pearson, Bollingen Series XCI:2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977). Don Byrd also adds a fine perception about Irby’s idea of home: “To make a play stay put by knowing what its uses is what Irby means by making a home.” Don Byrd, “Ken Irby and the Missouri-Kansas Border,” Credences 7 (February 1979): 9.
13. Eric Fenby, Delius as I Knew Him (London: Bell, 1936).
14. The idea of a “gap” is familiar to readers of the poetry of George Oppen, who thought the gaps between words and between the sounds of words contain rhythms and meanings that reinforce the actual words of the poem. Irby uses the word “gap” as a space between a physical landscape and an imagined one. In another reference to Oppen’s poems, to the title Discrete Series, Irby writes about “discrete moments” of vision in his own poems. He continues sounding very much like Oppen: “Thus in the sequences as they piece by piece go and return, quietnesses, the pauses, the spaces between, are toward regeneration too” (29).
15. Arthur Hutchings, Delius: A Critical Biography (London: Macmillan, 1948); Richard Jefferies, The Story of My Heart: My Autobiography (London: Constable, 1947).
16. Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems, ed. George Butterick (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 473.
17. Jed Rasula, “On Ken Irby,” Credences 7 (February 1979): 44.
18. Dale Smith mentioned that the reference to “Climatology of Attention” might be a reference to Henry Corbin’s discussion of the “Eighth Climate” in his Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth. (Dale Smith, email to the author, 21 April 2011). Corbin writes: “The Eighth Climate is the mundus archetypus (’ãlam al-mithãl), the world of Images and archetypical Forms. Actually, the only universe that possesses dimensions and extent is the one that is divided into eight climates. Seven of them are the seven geographical climates with dimensions and extent which are perceptible to the senses. The eighth climate is the one whose dimensions and extent can only be grasped by the imaginative perception” (126–27). That Corbin’s discussion has a geographical basis provides another correspondence which would make more feasible a reading that says that the study of the various climates of perception is not the same as studying the extension of empire. With that noted, it might be permissible to quote “the mountains surrounding our universe” are “formed entirely of emerald, like the reflection which produces the color green” (Corbin 74) and relate the color green to Irby’s high school vision of “the green tree” and “the green crystal craze in my veins” (66). In addition, Irby’s ideas of paradise could contain more than the spirit of Kansas and Christianity. Corbin could add: “The way of seeing the Earth and the way of seeing the soul are the same thing, the vision in which the soul perceives itself; this can be its paradise, and it can be its hell” (82). See also Peter Bertollette’s comments above.
19. Richard Jefferies, “On the Downs.”
20. Ezra Pound, Selected Prose 1909–1965, ed. William Cookson (London: Faber and Faber, 1973).
21. I suspect this could also be a reference to Giorgio De Santillana’s book Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on the Myth and Frame of Time, which was a much-read book of the period.
22. Charles Olson, Collected Prose, eds. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 247.
23. Stephen Ellis, “Observations On, and Ruminations Over, Kenneth Irby’s Call Steps,” Lift 14 (April 1994): 2, 21.
24. Robert Duncan’s poetic thinking with quotations from his prose and poems, especially his ideas of the numen, and the search for a fitting language, appears more than other poets to inform Irby’s poetics, including the unacknowledged, italicized quotation from Duncan’s “Go, My Songs, Even as You Came to Me”: “& would it be body to / make zealous liberalities a gift taken from” (477). Duncan, Groundwork: Before the War (New York: New Directions, 1984), 122. In the preface to Movements / Sequences Irby quotes Duncan’s statement about “‘the dwelling of the imagination in the speech,’” and then continues: “I would follow Duncan in what he shows me of that process, as best I can” (29).
25. While Irby mentions only a few contemporary poets, he was as aware of the various writing scenes as he was aware of the company of poets he thought part of his poetic geography. A partial list of the poets mentioned in this collection includes: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Walt Whitman, Arthur Rimbaud, Friedich Hölderlin, Walter de La Mare, Virgil, Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Grenier, Thomas Meyer, Jonathan Williams, Gerrit Lansing, Robert Kelly, Larry Goodell, Thoreau, S. T. Coleridge, Dante, Thomas Vaughan, Ezra Pound, Paul Metcalf, John Moritz, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Eugene Ware, Gérard de Nerval, Harry Martinson, Johannes Bobrowski, HD, Lao Tzu, Gunnar Ekelöf, Rainer Maria Rilke, Louis Zukofsky, Frederico Garciá Lorca, Edward Dorn, Osip Mandelstam, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Richard Lovelace, and Ron Loewinsohn.
William J. Harris Kyle Waugh