June 14, 2010

Robert Kelly

Robert Kelly [USA]

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Robert Kelly entered the City College of New York at the age of fifteen, and became a graduate student in medieval studies at Columbia University at nineteen. Since 1962 Kelly has been a professor at Bard College, offering him a stability of life that has allowed the production of numerous books of poetry, fiction, and essays.

Kelly began writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, associating himself with a circle of poets that included Paul Blackburn, David Antin, Jerome Rothenberg, Armand Schwerner, George Economou, Diane Wakoski, and Clayton Eshleman. For a brief period Kelly and Rothenberg, in particular, were associated with was described as poetry of the “deep image.” In the early 1960s Kelly edited two short-lived magazines, Trobar and Matter, which brought him further attention and associated his work with the free-verse poetry of the tradition of Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Louis Zukofsky.

From 1967 to 1973, he aws associate editor of Caterpillar, where he featured contemporaries such as Gerrit Lansing and Kenneth Irby as well as introducing younger poets such as Thomas Meyer, Richard Grossinger, and Charles Stein.

Kelly’s first book was Armed Descent of 1961, and over that decade he went on to publish some 19 volumes of new poetry. In the years since, he has continued to produce numerous volumes of poetry and 10 books of fiction. He has received a number of major awards, including the Award for Distinction from the National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1986 and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Armed Descent (New York: Hawk’s Well Press, 1961); Her Body Against Time (Mexico City: Ediciones El Corno Emplumado, 1963); Round Dances (New York: Trobar Press, 1964); Enstasy (Annadale-on-Hudson, New York: Matter, 1964); Lunes/Sightings [with Jerome Rothenberg] (New York: Hawk’s Well Press, 1964); Words in Service (New Haven, Connecticut: Robert Lamerton, 1966); Weeks (Mexico City: Ediciones El Corno Emplumado, 1966); Song XXIV (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Pym-Randall Press, 1966); Devotions (Annadale-on-Hudson, New York: Salitter, 1967); Crooked Bridge Love Society (Annadale-on-Hudson, New York: Salitter, 1967); A Joining: A Sequence for H.D. (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1967); Alpha (Gambier, Ohio: The Pot Hanger Press, 1967); Finding the Measure (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1968); Sonnets (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1968); Songs I-XXX (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Pym-Randall Press, 1968); The Common Shore (Books 1-5) (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969); A California Journal (London: Big Venus Books, 1969); Kali Yuga (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970); Flesh Dream Book (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1971); Ralegh (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1972); The Pastorals (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1972); Reading Her Notes (Uniondale, New York: privately printed at the Salisbury Press, 1972); The Tears of Edmund Burke (Annandale-on-Hudson, privately printed, 1973); The Mill of Particulars (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1973); The Loom (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975); Sixteen Odes (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1976); The Lady Of (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1977); The Convections (Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1977); The Book of Persephone (New Paltz, New York: Treacle Press, 1978); Kill the Messenger (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1979); Sentence (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill Press, 1980); Spiritual Exercises (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1981); The Alchemist to Mercury: An Alternate Opus [uncollected poems 1960-1980, ed. by Jed Rasula] (Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1981); Mulberry Women [art by Matt Phillips] (Berkeley, California: Hiersoux, Powers, Thomas, 1982); Under Words (Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1983); Thor’s Thrush (Oakland, California: The Coincidence Press, 1984); Not This Island Music (Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1987); The Flowers of Unceasing Coincidence (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill Press, 1988); Oahu (Rhinebeck, New York: St Lazaire Press, 1988); Ariadne (Rhinebeck, New York: St Lazaire Press, 1991); Manifesto for the Next New York School (Buffalo: Leave Press, 1991); A Strange Market: Poems 1985-1988 (Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1992); Mont Blanc (a long poem inscribed within Shelleys) (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Otherwind Press, 1994); Red Actions: Selected Poems 1960-1993 (Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1995); The Time of Voice: Poems 1994-1996 (Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1998); Runes (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Otherwind Press, 1999); The Garden of Distances [with Brigitte Mahlknecht] (Vienna/Lana: Editions Procura, 1999)

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

Jesus Speaks to the Wandering Jew


You’re the only one who understood.
We are travelers, that’s all.
Our best instruction is: to be gone.
Shake off the dust of the town.
We leave each other constantly.
No temple, no sacred mountain,
archive, museum, Vatican. Just
people trying to think their way out.


I said: Wander till I come
find you again. But I will never come
back. Always only ahead.

You are the only one who knew me,
knew where I was to e found, never, forever,
nowhere, and found me there,

mist in the trees and surf pounding at night
but no ocean by morning.
I climbed a tree

and you hurried to join me
on some street
where perpendiculars meet.


Hurry is part of it. For me too.
I can’t get there till you come
too. You are the one
I came down to see,
talk to just one minute, flee.

You and only you.
Meet, touch, tell, let go.
Mostly let go.
That is what I mean.


Now when men se you in Adrianople
they say “You look no older than when
their father saw you in Odessa.” And when
men see me in Donegal or Chicago
they say “We don’t know you at all.
Anybody who looks like you
must have gone away long ago,
you have no business with our solid lives.
You are a shadow. We don’t know you.


Maybe we do need a new religion
where to men meet and join and part
linked forever by their little time together

then go their separate ways.
Like the arms of a cross.
Like a cross.


Maybe that is what always means:
they go all ways.

We are gone from each other
into the now.


We had our own strange little story:
you saw me, you spoke whatever
came into your head, I heard, I spoke,

you heard and we are forever.
Like Shams-i-Tabrizi and Rumi
or Po Ya the luetnist and his friend Chung—

when Chung Tzu-chi died
Po never played again.
He smashed his lute.

Sign of the rotted fruit,
apple or pear, soft sweet, really gone,
we put in a friend’s hand,

leave it to him to throw away
This beautiful wasted opportunity.
God is a broken lute. Hurry tell we come.

Reprinted from First Intensity, no. 20 (2005). Copyright ©2005 by Robert Kelly.

For a selection of Kelly's poetry, read by the poet, see the PENNSOUND entry below:

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