***Winner of Poetry Society of America's 2010 Shelley Memorial Award
Kenneth Irby has practiced his craft at the center of the American poetry scene for decades, yet is little known to the mainstream. An associate of the legendary Black Mountain poets as well as of the celebrated seventies L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E group of literary experimenters, he was a close colleague of writers such as Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, and Robert Creeley. This comprehensive collection marks the first time the full range of Irby’s artistry has been presented in one place.
Irby’s early career, starting in the 1960s, paralleled the late Beat era and the counterculture, and his blend of innovative wordplay with personal and political themes made him an important voice of that era. At the same time, he was able to forge his own path, conjuring a style that was both universal and distinctly American. Critics and other poets especially have noted his avant-garde use of sound, silence, and unusual sentence structure to seduce readers. His surprising, incantatory style conjures the feel of jazz in a striking blend of heart and mind. As poet Robert Kelly has observed, “No one . . . has ever rooted down and plumbed the mystery of American places, land, name, history of our taking space, as Irby does. No one . . . has so clearly articulated the living fact, that America is an intelligent thing, and that . . . each human being has a root awareness of the inadequacy of this place, and that is vision.”
With the publication of Kenneth Irby’s The Intent On: Collected Poems 1962–2006, North Atlantic Books makes available what is unquestionably a monumental work. In its scope, its gravitas, its emotional nobility, and in the poet’s fidelity to the affective affinities that have made his a felt—a real—life, this collection achieves something immutable, enduring. It is not the fleetingness of life but the longevity of life’s effects that Irby’s poems make note of. The works unfold through the continuous remembering of persons and places loved and known—and known as loved. “Love’s reality is to love,” Irby has written. This is the reality that his poetry—a poetry of expansively and lastingly experienced particulars—has achieved. Magnificently.
In the miasma that has shrouded the public word and too much of our poetry (made up of careerism, social networking, strict self-policing, and hyper-production in which information only rarely makes the leap from consciousness to knowledge), obscurity is a badge of honor. It is 45 years since Ken Irby published his first book, in 1964, and many years before then that he took his cue from Charles Olson to “jump” into the interior of the land and the self and the sound of language, into the mind as it acts in actual space, always measuring signs of the time. This collection is yet another indication of one of the paths not taken in a time of disaster, that point in the 1970s after “I,” as Ed Dorn so cogently put it in Gunslinger, had left the stage. This collection brings us back to a realm of attention Irby has never abandoned, and one we are ever more in need of.
WINNER 2010 Poetry Society of America – Shelley Memorial Award