September 12, 1963

Ed Dorn (photo by John Friedman).

12 Sep 63[1]

Ed —
       Yrs of the 8th to hand (to paraphrase Pound’s formula) — & when were you here? I’m indeed sorry. But then, it’s all done, & the thing’s to get up to Idaho anyway, so that wd be there to do, no matter.   
                I’ve seen the Creeleys[2] a couple of times — heard a no. of the tapes from Vancouver,[3] which are something fur shure — the readings, the discussions, tout. It will take a long time (not having been there) to hear, listen to those tapes & begin to assimilate them. But they’re there, on tape, saved, preserved — & that’s something. All in all that conference must be taken as the only “literary conference” ever almost, god knows a big big monument, milestone, mt. peak, whatever.
                                                                                                                                                                                  So — yeah — I’m through w/ the academic, least as a student, for good I think. I’m not going back to Harvard, leastways, at any foreseeable date — don’t want, no need for, a PhD (or PhooD as one type called it). I can get more done after or during an 8hr office job day — which leaves none of the residue of guilt abt it that letting college work go to do other things has had — than I cd batting my head out on Japanese & history seminars that demanded 200% of my time or nothing. It was a hard decision to make, to make finally — but I’m happy. I’ve got a job (god forbid) w/ Sandia Corporation, working in their library now, that pays well & isn’t energy-sapping. God knows I don’t come to working for such a concern, easily: but I battled that problem of how much guilt out when I was here in the Army, equally in the nuclear rat race — even, then, in the Pacific exploding them …[4]
                                                                                                                                                                         So god knows how long I’ll work here / till I save enough to do something else, that’s why I took it 1st off. Nothing is easy, I reckon, & like Rilke I begin to think maybe it’s better to embrace difficulty than try to sidestep it & never solve the whole mess. i.e. I’m involved w/ what happens everywhere, no matter where I am.
                         Which begins to sound like so much bullshit & is I reckon. I’m here because I need the money, & like the country, & there’s some people here I know — that’s it, no need for mouthing a lot of b.s. to coat it!
       Anyway, yas, & on — I’ve heard from Kelly — a good, long provoking & sustaining letter (which I haven’t been able to answer) — & he said there he was going to start a mimeo sheet a la Floating Bear & Change[5] — & wanted [to] use that Grasslands of N. Am. poem of mine in it[6] — is that where he’s going to use yr Idaho Out? (I hope, so I’ll be able to see it). I begin to like Kelly more & more — I met him briefly in NY in April, & he was a good impression then, but esp. his letters are proof. (as equally I come to 1) knowing what he’s up to on this “deep image” bit, for real not what G. Sorrentino says he’s up to; & 2) his poems — more closely & understandingly. God, it’s important to know what is going on around one, esp (Kelly being only a yr older than I am). What one’s contemporaries are up to.

     I’m glad the things I sent  pleased you. Creeley liked the long one esp., too, which was a pleasure to know, as were yr comments. I sent that big one also to Duncan & Kelly & Loewinsohn,[7] but no other word yet. As you say you don’t know how I do well, god knows I don’t either. That poem did come all at once w/o premeditation as to length — I had been reading Duncan’s “Apprehensions”[8] that night, & I’m sure more than just that quotation got inside me & worked back out — the sorts of shifts — from section to section must have been unconsciously derived from my impressions of his mov’ts. But anyway — the important thing finally to me was the feeling abt Fort Scott[9] that was the basis for the poem at all: — that I was able to come home (“again” contra Tom Wolfe, but I don’t know that I’d ever really been home before, not in this clear, aware way), I found I had suddenly stopped fighting the place, what it was (i.e. who I was), & simply took it, accepted it’s being there & my being in it (at home or away; but “the home of my mind”). Oh yes I got questions, but they’re of details, specifics (“Who is Frank Moore?”),[10] by comparison. (God I can remember weekends I was home from Ft Leonard Wood, Mo., when I was early in the Army — Nov. it was, rainy & all the leaves gone down — wandering the whole damned town, looking at the oldest bldgs. particularly, just trying to get into that place (what in the hell is going on, I guess I kept wondering, why is this place here, why the hell am I in it?) & feeling generally morose & sorry for myself & resentful I’d been done it by it, all along from adolescence on.
                                                                      That had to take place first, clearly, before I cd simply drive back one night in July & know WHAM like on the back of the head, I was home. There was nothing to fight. Again like Rilke felt it, all that had to bloom “invisibly” w/in me, before it emerged.

     So there’s Fort Scott (yes! & Pawnee Station[11] too!) — which, like this mt. here, gathers light to it, & because I look there.
                                                 Malin’s books […] keep w/ me there — The Grasslands of N. America, Winter Wheat in Kansas.[12] So that I’ll be able to come to the least blade of grass even, & be there, place it, place us two? (God, grass is a mad subject no matter which-a-way you look at it!) But it has to go way on past all that even, & I know it. Or I do, anyway.                                                                                                                                                                                        I’m not after writing, trying to, the Kansas Maximus Poems, that’s sure — I couldn’t, nor wd I want to try copying Olson a-tall. But I can’t help being influenced by his poems & his ideas. Yr comments there on how he holds together, yes, come to me straight on (I had just picked up Maximus[13] to take to work w/ me this afternoon to read on the sly, when yr letter came) — & yr comment that the only limiting factor to him is his life span — i.e. in a sense, his form is his life(’s)time — maybe a corollary to what Kelly said abt a man’s lifetime being only barely enough to master his craft, achieve his form.
                                                                                                                                 OR, we keep going, yas.
                                                                                                                                                                              Or simply, I dunno.

So yes, hell, the past year has really  been the first time of serious & committed work, poetic work, for me — I mean the decision for real, not simply said or thought was there. So there is so much still to do (forever!!) — that is only now starting to come out of the woods of all manner of being mixed up, fucked up, screwed around, uncertain & afraid. Somewhere back a few months you wrote abt finally I wd come into the country, place, where men are (where men are, where one is certain of one’s manhood), & maybe that is the direction, more certainly, now.
                                                                                                                             Duncan is I think right in calling the poem an adventure — but it certainly is of the whole self, body, mind, cock, guts, heart, soul, not simply of the mind alone, as, god knows, he doesn’t restrict it. If being there, as open as we want to be times we aren’t (or as drunk or as in love, whatever?) It brings me to who where what I am so intensely I cd not avoid anything of what I am (& so why I was hit like betwixt the eyes by that interview of yrs in The Sullen Art,[14] that you do so beautifully & clearly state that, that I felt, there, that our concern will be more & more to what we say, rather than so much to how — & the whole thing — & why, in their completely different ways I thought Kelly’s & Ginsberg’s[15] came to the same pt).

     Well, anyway, enough I guess. I was supposed to go to Fort Riley, Kansas 15–29 Sep for reserve camp (my only obligation during the year), but no orders yet — I called them & things apparently are screwed up, I don’t know if I’ll go or not — they shld call back tomorrow. I wd welcome the trip back to Kansas even if it is drive all night to get there — esp to Ft. Riley, the N. end of those wonderful Flint Hills (where the woodlands break into the high plains, the borderland, the fusion of both — where Malin centers his Winter Wheat book).
                                                                                     The trees are coming to fall slowly here, so much rain this summer they aren’t dried out at all. But soon the mt hillsides & pastures will be yellow w/ aspens, against those undendingly dark evergreens — the maddest of autumns, much more so than Vermont’s incredible maples. I think of DH Lawrence every time I see those yellow aspens & the pines. … Ah yes.                                                                                                                                                                                                 Well — hang loose, don’t work hard. I’d like to get up there a-fore the winter blizzards, but all depends on company & leave time here; at any rate, yes, let me keep hearing from you. I’ll read Creeley’s novel soon as I get a copy & will show him yr letter tonight hopefully. (guy named Fred Wah here now at UNM — was at Vancouver — plans to start a mimeo-sheet, so things are moving maybe).[16] The one below took abt 2 minutes to write & shows it, but maybe it’ll go along w/ yr beer tonight a la hors d’oeurvres (or however hell it’s spelled). So BANZAI & ACHTUNG & go.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  love to all
                         — Ken

Have been reading — did I mention? — Andy Adams’ Log of a Cowboy[17] — a pretty good ’un (Webb mentions it I think in the Great Plains)[18]

                                                                                  for D. C. Franz

What d’you give me credit for?

I ain’t never had a drink

for real, before.

                                   & I — hrrragh —

know now why fire

in fire water.


Could be charted or talked about


out of everyone

ever took a drink.


Would lead to that

heron standing in the headlights

like a weed

& took off.

//   this for an old highschool drinking buddy — now a school principle
      (!!) in Maryland

13 Sep — Saw Bob & all last night — & heard the tape of yr Feb. reading in B.C. w/ Idaho Out & all[19] — & was very moved by all the new one, I hadn’t seen or heard at all before. (Oh that mad one abt Merriweather (sp?) Lewis on the Natchez Trace!)[20]
                                                                                                          Bob also mentioned you wd quite probably be coming down here to read sometime this (fall? spring?) — which is very good — maybe I can get leave time then & go back to Idaho as you go back — a thought, anyway, & certainly to see you here.

So, ok, nuf for now (got a call from reserve types today, & no trip to Ft Riley, least not right away). So, I can build bookcases this wkend (if I get paid) I reckon.

     Anyhoo — don’t work hard — & you got any loose copies of anything lying around send them on —

     So the sky isn’t bigger in Montana?![21] Shucks ….

                                                                                                          — Ken



1. Kenneth Irby to Edward Dorn, 12 September 1963, Ed Dorn Papers, series I, box 1, folder 17, Courtesy of Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries.

2. Robert Creeley (1926–2006) and Bobbie Louise Hawkins (b. 1930).

3. See endnote 20 (“January 16, 1963”).

4. See endnote 2 (“January 16, 1963”).

5. See endnote 5 (“January 16, 1963”).

6. See endnote 18 (“January 16, 1963”).

7. Robert Duncan, Robert Kelly, and Ron Loewinsohn.

8. “Apprehensions” is collected in Roots and Branches (New York: New Directions, 1959), 30–43.

9. Fort Scott, Kansas, Irby’s hometown, county seat of Bourbon County, established as a garrison by the US army in 1842.

10. See: “The Librarian,” in Charles Olson, The Selected Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 86–88.

11. Pawnee Station, Kansas, a money order post–village twelve miles to the southwest of Fort Scott, is a frequently mentioned place in Irby’s early poetry.

12. See endnotes 8 and 10–12 (“January 16, 1963”).

13. Olson’s The Maximus Poems (New York: Jargon/Corinth Books, 1960).

14. See endnote 15 (“April 8, 1963”). Ossman’s interview with Dorn was reprinted in Edward Dorn, Interviews, edited by Donald Allen (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1980), 1–5.

15. Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997).

16. Fred Wah (b. 1939), founder and editor of the magazines Sum, active from December 1963 to April 1965, as well as Island, active from September 1964 through 1966. The latter was also the name of Wah’s Toronto-based press. For further info see Clay and Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side.

17. Andy Adams, The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days, illustrated by E. Boyd Smith (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1903).

18. Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains (Boston: Ginn, 1931).

19. Dorn read at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in February 1963; an audio recording of the reading is available at PennSound.

20. Irby is referring to Dorn’s poem “Death While Journeying,” which had been published in Folio 25, no. 3 (Summer 1960), and is collected in Dorn’s 1964 book Hands Up!. The poem is about Meriwether Lewis’s last trip, alone, on the Natchez Trace, along which, at a place called Grinder’s Stand, most historians believe Lewis committed suicide, but some contend, as Dorn’s poem envisions, that he was murdered.

21. Cf. Dorn’s poem, “Idaho Out,” which takes its epigraph from Sauer’s influential essay “The Morphology of the Landscape” and is dedicated to “Hettie and Roi” Jones. The section Irby is referring to reads: “the sky // is not / bigger in Montana. When / for instance you come / from Williston / there seems at the border a change / but it is only because man has / built a tavern there.” Dorn, Collected Poems (London: Carcanet, 2012), 160–161.