Ken Irby @ 78!

Ken Irby at home in Lawrence, pointing out  a book I'm looking for.
Ken Irby at home in Lawrence, pointing out a book I’m looking for.

Yesterday was Ken Irby’s 78th birthday, and I’m extremely happy to announce that the Jacket2 special feature (edited by Kyle Waugh & Billy Joe Harris) is now live. Happy Birthday, Ken! This feature devoted to the work of Kenneth Irby collects a number of papers delivered at the 2011 colloquium devoted to Irby in Lawrence, Kansas, along with new essays by Robert Bertholf, Dale Smith, Matthew Hofer, and others; a chronology, a poem by Nathaniel Tarn, some uncollected Irby poems, a selection of letters between Irby and Ed Dorn, and a cluster of former student musings; and sound recordings from the Lawrence symposium, including readings by Irby.

Here the opening shot of the Festschrift, the introduction by Billy Joe Harris, followed by the table of contents:

Although Kenneth Irby, a distinguished innovative poet, has recently become better known, he deserves to be much better known than he presently is. In 2009 he published a massive book of poems, The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962–2006, which for the first time provided easy access to the full body of his work and ample evidence of how productive he has been over the years. Before this book, I think, few people realized how prolific he has been. Furthermore, in 2010 he won the prestigious Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America. Among other notable winners have been Lyn Hejinian, Robert Pinsky, Anne Sexton, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings — big books and awards help writers get established, especially awards. Awards, beyond giving writers a little money, make them visible. Ken isn’t better known — that is, isn’t better known beyond a relatively small group of fellow avant-gardists and poetry connoisseurs — for a number of reasons. Coming from the American postwar avant-garde tradition, in particular, the New American Poetry, his friends and supporters do not give out the major prizes (which make one major — yes, it’s that simple). Ken has been happy with and loyal to his friends and the little presses that usually publish him, and finally, he has not tried to push himself into the literary big time: he is not a literary operator. But we feel that his work has been kept nearly secret long enough. Clearly, he is entitled to be more celebrated, and moreover, the poetry public would greatly benefit from being exposed to this learned, musical, and compassionate poet.

To gain a general sense of Irby’s poetry, let’s look at the opening paragraph of Lyn Hejinian’s essay “We might say poetry,” included in this feature, about this Irby poem. Hejinian says:

First, it is a landscape poem — or, to put it in more current terms, it is a site-specific work; it bestows specificity on a particular locale, and in so doing it projects forth from its site a multilayered and emotionally-complex geocultural vision. Second, it is notable for its intimacy of address; one feels one is sharing not only a moment but the affective memories, sensations, and feelings that characterize that moment. And third, it radiates love.

In this brief description of one Irby poem, Hejinian captures the general character of his poetry: it is local, it is intimate, and it radiates love. Ben Friedlander in his essay, “The Walk to the Paradise,” a reading of another Irby poem, helps the reader understand the phenomenological nature of Irby’s poetry — it is a poetry of attention where language makes “contact with the real.” In short, Irby writes a homely but luminous ongoing epic of the everyday world of the here and now: of friends, of dreams, of music and reflection.

Since Irby is both an intellectual and personal poet, one preoccupied with many notions as well as the quotidian moment, there are many names the reader needs to know to fully appreciate his work. There is the UC-Berkeley cultural geographer, Carl Sauer, and the University of Kansas Western and Plains historian, James C. Malin — these two scholars undergird much of Irby’s meditations on geography, a main topic of his. Then there is the long list of poets who figure into his life — his life of the mind and of his poetry — both famous and little-known. Some are the New American poets: Charles Olson, a father figure; Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan — all close friends; another close friend, the Gloucester, Massachusetts poet, Gerrit Lansing; and the two Kansas poets: John Moritz, Lawrence poet and small publisher of Irby as well as others, and Ronald Johnson, the Topeka and San Francisco experimental epic poet. To fully enter Irby’s poetic universe we need to become friends with his friends and intellectual heroes.

On Saturday, November 5, 2011, there was a colloquium in Lawrence, Kansas, celebrating Ken Irby’s seventy-fifth birthday and his career. The scholar-poets Lyn Hejinian, Pierre Jorris, Ben Friedlander, Denise Low, and Joe Harrington delivered cogent papers discussing Irby’s work — all have been published here. Moreover, additional essays by Robert Bertholf, Robert Grenier, Dale Smith, Matthew Hofer, Aldon Nielsen, and Andrew Schelling; a chronology, a poem by Nathaniel Tarn, some uncollected Irby poems, a selection of letters between Irby and Ed Dorn, and a cluster of former student musings have been added. The students, Cyrus Console, Kyle Waugh, Peter Longofono, Jeff Bergfalk, and Monica Peck, have been included because teaching is integral to Ken’s mission: his job is not only to help young writers become better writers but also to help them engage in adventures of the mind and the arts. Moreover, from the conference we are also including a sound recording of Low, Hejinian, Joris, Friedlander, and Harrington reading from their work and the culminating event of the day, where Ken reads from his oeuvre. Following classical tradition, at the end of the reading Lyn Hejinian crowned Ken with laurel. She did this as the renowned classicist and translator, Stan Lombardo, recited the last few lines of Horace’s Odes I.30. First in Latin:

              sume superbian
quaesitam meritis et mihi Delphica
lauro cinge volens, Melpomene, comam.

and then in English:

              Take this just pride
as your honor, Melpomene, and wreathe
my hair with laurel, a Delphic crown.

There are two areas I wish the special feature had covered which it hasn’t: Irby’s journals, the source of his poems, and his involvement with music, a joy in his life and a source of his own poetry. Moreover, even though Denise Low in these pages has initiated the study of Irby’s artwork in her survey of his glyphs and drawings, there needs to be more work done in this area. To not look at his designs and pictures is like discussing the poetry of William Blake or Kenneth Patchen while ignoring their art; that is, you are missing a great deal of the story. I hope these rich topics, in addition to many others, make it into another issue of a journal devoted to the work of Kenneth Irby.

Since Ken Irby should be ranked with such contemporary figures as Amiri Baraka, Robert Creeley, Lyn Hejinian, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, and Rae Armantrout, I hope this feature will cause a bit of a stir, and help introduce this important poet to a larger audience. This audience needs this gentle but commanding presence.

— William J. Harris

Sunflower drawn by Lee Chapman
Sunflower drawn by Lee Chapman
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46 opinions on “Ken Irby @ 78!”

  1. I note Kyle Waugh’s “Chronology” re Ken Irby. I have no criticism of this. However, those of us close in among his undergrad cohort at KU are aware that the first established poet that Ken had frequent, open, and prolonged contact with was Bob Creeley (as Ken referred to him) in the time span of 1961 through at least 1964 or so. Ken wrote me ( and others) of “Bob” being a close personal friend and clearly also someone with whom he discussed his, Ken’s, own work at length and with profitable insights from “Bob”. Aside from personal letters and personal visits, these facts of life may not be conventionally documented at all. The relationship cooled and attained distance by around the mid-60’s. However, it seems to me important in due course to excavate information not conventionally published that will help to establish the full range of relevant facts.

    1. After Ken left Harvard upon getting his M.A. in 1960, he chose to enlist in the Army and was
      stationed in New Mexico. This resulted in his meeting Robert Creeley. Ken wrote me in 1959 that
      Bob Creeley had become a close personal friend. Ken became a presence in the Creeley home
      during much of his, Ken’s, discretionary time. I was struck when Ken noted in a letter to me that
      Creeley had advised Ken about this or that and, what was most astonishing, that Ken welcomed such
      advice. There is little doubt that Creeley rather “adopted” Ken as a younger brother and spent a lot of
      time with him beyond discussing poetry, Ken’s writings, etc. They bar hopped a good bit at Bob’s initiative.
      From things Ken wrote me and mentioned in our occasional personal visits (when he was back in Kansas),
      Creeley estimated that with the right female companionship, Ken could consolidate his heterosexual leanings
      and could inhibit his same sex tendencies. According to Ken, it was Creeley’s percedption that if Ken could anchor to a marriage and a family life, his work in the long run would be enhanced by this. This issue appears to be what put distance in the relationship later on, if nonetheless, they maintained a courteous “across the room” regard for each other that facilitated needed communication about poetry. It appears possible that Ken may have decided to “edit” this aspect of his life out of the awareness of others later on?? Ken certainly had the regrettable egoism to decide that portions of his letters, etc. needed to be “removed” from the record so that he would not be..in his estimation…overall “misunderstood”. This is a huge question mark that hangs over any
      archival arrangement re Ken’s work and life.

  2. Kenneth seemed in his last years in the few congenial contacts I had with him to reflect (as nearly as I could discern) an aversion against placing his work in any contexts such as the psychology of creativity, Neo-Freudian psychoanalysis, the sociobiology of his own ancestry, etc. (?) The transition he made from an academic orientation into a consolidation of his interest in writing poetry seems to have taken place from 1959 through 1962 or so. Letters he wrote that I am privy to suggest a lot of primary source information that if collected now in a timely way should prove of research interest. Perhaps some of those with whom he had sustained communication over many years would be willing to be suitably interviewed in a timely way?

  3. An update now to the previous comments from me (above). As of Dec. 01, 2016, none of the letters Ken wrote
    to Prof. Ed Grier (Edward Francis Grier of the University of Kansas–a Whitman scholar and teacher within modern American literature) in Ken’s turbulent matrix period 1958-1960 are among the letters written to Grier that have been released to the KU Spencer Research Library archives re Ken’s work. Also, it appears that none of the letters Ken write to his older brother, Prof. James East Irby (Princeton), in this vital period are among what thus far has been given over to the KU SRL archives. Having had an active correspondence with Ken in this time frame, I can attest to the revealing content of his letters with respect to his later accomplishments. It requires no emphasis that expurgation of very personal contents in such letters would be taken for granted. I am certain from my acquaintance with Ed Grier, that Ed would never have wished the letters he received from Ken to be closeted, if clearly they likely required some expurgation of content of no direct relevance to the genesis of his later accomplishments. It presents a general concern if primary source materials of relevance to a serviceable archive have been unduly “gerrymandered”. Have they been?

    1. I have been informed from what I consider a reliable source that just a few days ago a
      sale of materials of archival relevance from Ken’s living quarters , his storage, etc , has
      been made to Spencer Research Library of the University of Kansas. But I have clear indication that
      people at KU involved routinely with archival work and directly with this matter of an intended
      Ken Irby archive at Spencer RL were not informed of the letters written by Ken in the turbulent
      matrix period (from Harvard) 1958-60. It is difficult to assume at this point that the KU General
      Counsel’s Office, necessarily directly involved in such a purchase, had made the outreach effort to
      know about what was not included ? Or that the New York based specialized literary and art publisher
      had looked much beyond what was in hand? A “round up of relevant facts” may be much more like
      Dodge City than Columbia University or Greenwich Village….but it is ground-level basic.

      1. The person at Spencer Research Library of KU with whom I had over several weeks a lot of mutually
        productive factual exchanges, appears to have been told (?) not to contact Alan Kimball re letters from
        Ken in the 1958-60 phase and well beyond ( Kimball is a very important interlocutor with Ken, over
        decades ) until the pending contract was consummated? A routine FOIA third party request (relevant to any notable figure who is deceased ) was stymied also, it seems , (?) by a lack of information access to round out the Request beyond just main file searches. If this seems, IN EFFECT, to be somewhat akin to “gerrymandering” (?) that certainly does not imply any human culpability for such an outcome. It may
        well be the complexities of communication and of legal discussions, etc., make such an outcome possible
        without any errors of commission or omission by the persons involved. Observations and questions are not accusations ( unless by persons in the know they get “ink blot” interpreted to be such–?)

    2. “expurgation” or “deletion” of sensitive material is not at all to suggest that the letters/ documents/ themselves
      would be altered. Rather the concern would be to limit general access to some elements in some letters/
      documents. It is a rather routine consideration. In our undergrad cohort at KU, one person—yet living
      and very able and distinguished in academic work, received many letters from Ken during and quite beyond
      the time frame noted above re Ed Grier. Contacts I made certainly suggest that within the University of Kansas,
      persons relevant to the just completed contract ( KU purchasing archival materials originating in Ken’s storage, living quarters, etc transferred to a niche publisher focused on poetry and intersecting arts .) may have been (?) instructed not to contact such cohort sources until this now completed sale had been consummated. It is not clear at all that KU expects to pay such individuals for archival materials they have. Different $trokes
      for different folks? ?

  4. Ken Irby in his first two years or so at KU did publish some things in the on campus publication of the
    Quill Club, called imaginatively QUILL. In a rather turbulent adolescence around age 13 in his hometown
    of Fort Scott, Kansas, it is likely had did “publish” some poetry in one or another of the high school mimeograph
    “publications”. His deepening interest in poetry springs from this time. This dissipated somewhat when his
    verbal skills were allocated (with perhaps his father’s encouragement? ) to the high school debate squad.
    Observations suggest that the steady re-allocation of time toward poetry began with Ken about the summer
    of 1956. However, he kept copious personal journals through much of this time. Whether any of this content
    veered toward excursions into writing poetry is something the archives for Ken might well give witness to.

  5. There is hazard in knowing too much too soon about Ken’s poetry and then imposing relevance upon biographical facts. Ken, for whatever reason/s, had no interest in having a car and driving during his undergraduate years at KU, 1954-58. It remains my impression that he had a car and a driver’s license at about age 30 ? When he would ride with me out to the “acreage” near Lawrence of our debate coach, Kim Giffin, Ken would often ask me to divert a mile or so in order that he could gaze at a specific landscape that “grabbed him”. This was quite before he had encountered the literature re “the grasslands of North America” (Malin, et al. ) But his early on childhood friend, Bill Lehnhoff (Edward William Lehnhoff, killed over North Vietnam on Ken’s 31st birthday ) told me that when Ken’s mother had him along (actually in the back seat giving her orders ) on the frequent trips to the country side to get primo butter, cream, dressed chicken, eggs…Ken would ask her to divert in order that he do a “Wordsworth” on some terrain. In terms of human evolution, Ken, like all males, was by nature somewhat terrain shaped–hunting, searching, defense perimeters. But Ken did no hunting, little or no fishing, etc. Like all people, his first “landscape” was mother’s tummy, nipples, chin, smile, hands….. It got somewhat arrested and elaborated. The “grasslands of North America” were OK for Ken to “Intent On”. But if “Intent On” signifies “Intention” with the “I” removed….well, the “I” of Mother, Oedipus and Ken seems ignored by Ken. But that hardly justifies critical neglect of the matter.

  6. From Ken’s letter to me dated 3 May 1959:
    “…A few comments on the psychology point…In my profession (inset here: history professor) or play or recreation, ok. But my profession or job isn’t going to bring me the insight and meaning regarding life that I demand. It can’t
    be found–not what I want–by dividing and subdividing things.”
    and then “fragment–for Alan Kimball, after reading his ‘Sixty Personal Lines’ ”

    “To never understand, we go down the streets
    always burning a grid into the eyelids,
    full of stubborn shabby loyalty to hatred–I can’t
    learn to end inferiority in front of anyone,
    the fears, running dry, draining within
    to desperation.
    Empty corners are what is left to us.
    Plentitude of rocks I kick, trying to kick what I can hold
    into wholeness–strike down, throw away, kick at the gutter:
    The only methods left, given gratis,
    Did we always have to suffer agony
    to transcend experience, ourselves in any time
    was it always knives in the brain? * * *

    And to Alan Kimball—I am hoping to see HERE your “Sixty Personal LInes” ???

    1. On Jan. 18 Kimball emails re “packet(s)” of letters from Ken to him. He refers to task of getting chronology and
      carefully re-reading them, etc. “before too great a time”. Again, no archive can be adequate without the
      letters Ken wrote in his turmoil time at Harvard, 1958-60. In my view, Kimball’s friendship with Ken and the
      communications within it would be a very great central relevance to any serviceable archive.

  7. Letters from Ken Irby circa 1958-63
    12 Oct. 1961
    “Bob Creeley has become a very close friend.,,I have never met anyone who not only was interested in my own
    concerns, but offered real advice–which pointed to solutions…he was urging me to get married when I got out
    (INSERT here: “got out of the Army…stationed then at Sandia in New Mexico ) ..and create your own world…not an escape..but one’s own circle of relationships that bind, go deep, hold, if they can…As he wrote somewhere…the primary area of allegiance of our time is NO LONGER OLITICAL OR SOCIAL…BUT IN PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS…one to one.
    ***
    Robert Duncan will be here around Christmas time for a fairly lengthy stay–about a month. I look forward greatly to meeting him.
    ***

  8. May 1959 from Ken Irby

    “…I wish to f—–g hell I cold just cry. You know I had a dream last month or maybe September, it skills not, in which I broke down crying, sobbing, letting all this built up burst out, god I never cried so deeply But I can’t in this state, awake. Schubert makes me come close. The tears come but do not flow. I almost wept for the plants, the only living things left almost that live and do not ask and bitch and screw the world up and rape the soul, the lants that we burn into nothing with our f—–g bomb….Let me touch..life while it still lives…the plants, stray dogs, and cats, the only living things that I reach with feeling and find me as I am, that I do not have to act to move among.”
    ******************************************
    My comment 2017: A purchase of archival material that omits cognizance of these sorts of letters written by Ken to several persons…those to Ed Grier having likely been of especially great significance….is more conspicuous for what is missing than for what ha$ been $ecured.

  9. November 1959 from Ken Irby

    “My problems in writing this year have been mainly one of form, though as ever I’ve been too limited in sources of inspiration, myself and little else. But form, for the first time, has become a big concern: I have gone from Charles Olson–somewhat beat, spontaneity of formal construction back to somewhat more regular freeverse. I have even been tempted to start writing in meter and rhyme, using ballad forms and the like. But I will let this insanity go for the time being. Involved formal structure is just now akin to my way of thought and expression, after all this time of writing any way….I guess I come closer to the earlier Auden in my approach than anyone. Maybe. *** “

    1. It was at some point in 1959 that returning to Lawrence, Ks., from Harvard, Ken brought back for the very private enjoyment of him and Ed Grier (KU English Prof. Edward Francis Grier ) some primo Yucatan gold marijuana. Ed commented upon his first time of gaining such altitude–“Where have I been all my life!?” Before leaving Harvard in 1960 (upon very successful completion of an M. A.–history ), Ken had –as I have faintly recalled–made the acquaintance of a female grad student at Harvard who was linked in with Tim Leary’s (then very legal ) research into LSD. What, upon retrospection, appears to have been the context is that Leary was especially focused upon enlisting the interest in, and exploratory use of, LSD by creative persons–none of greater interest to him than Alan Ginsberg, who hit it off very quickly with Leary. It is highly likely that Ken, if not yet an established poet, was networked into this Leary focus. He told me that he had used LSD there, but I can’t recall whether this was in the 1960 time frame that he mentuioned it or whether, in fact, he brought up the matter around 1962 or so. I found that he was indisposed to comment upon the content of his LSD experiences. But this, also, was a reticence that characterized his repeated stark nocturnal dreams/ nightmares/ regarding the death of Bill Lehnhoff over N. Vietnam on Ken’s 31 st birthday. That these repeated “Lehnhoff” nocturnal dreams/ nightmares were of keen fascination to Ken was obvious. But I never got any sense he had ever made mention of content to anyone. Ken never expressed any up close interest in psychoanalysis or in Freudian dream interpretation. He made reference at times to some things he had read about these matters, but he seemed to be a matter he would only view from a distance–never to get close to?

  10. Any writer with access to Ken Irby in recent decades would likely have little reason to question Ken’s factual
    thoroughness regarding such matters as the chronology relevant to Ken’s development. But perhaps Ken came
    to believe some fact editing was called for to avoid general misunderstanding? Perhaps there are other explanations for what those of us in his undergraduate cohort ( and in communication with him subsequent to
    his graduation from KU in 1958 ) know to be seemingly relevant facts that got “lost” along the way. His relationship during the first New Mexico stay (U. S. Army, special status at Sandia base ) to Bob Creeley was especially close, Creeley having become something of a surrogate older brother to Ken. This relationship, as
    noted above, attained distance after Ken went to Northern California, if the relationship nonetheless retained the “across the room” level of courtesy conducive to communication about their creative works. And in one of Ken’s letters to me in the 1958-60 turmoil time at Harvard, he remarks that ” since I was 13, I’ve been reading things just to read them”. There are several indications that Kenneth went through early adolescent conflicts
    of particular intensity and that his later work has clear root in this phase of his life. It is highly likely he wrote
    poems for high school mimeograph “publications” . It is not unlikely that an “adjustment” step encouraged upon him may have been his very active participation in high school debate—something that can be open ended in its
    demands for research and organized communication? Until perhaps late in 1957, his discretionary time at
    KU was mainly absorbed in work attendant to his prominent place in the nationally recognized KU debate team.
    But from early 1957, at least, he seemed to be “borrowing” time from debate for his increasingly frequent discussions with Ed Grier in Ed’s home–with much regard to American literature and its developing edges.
    By the spring of 1958, Ken was visibly conflicted about his life and the forthcoming transition from KU to Harvard.
    Bill Lehnhoff, his close friend since beginning elementary school in Ft. Scott, remarked to one of our group that
    he thought Ken was just concerned about “No longer being the big duck in the pond”. The literal (and a bit
    psychopathic manipulative ) Bill Lehnhoff was a remarkable complement to the poetic Ken. As remote as
    Lehnhoff may seem at first eye blink, he was a very important figure in Ken’s life. The factual “spoon feeding” that usually would be adequate from an author, in Ken’s case seems oddly and importantly inadequate. This is
    heavily underscored by what seems thus far to be the archival vacuum re the intense letters Ken wrote during
    the 1958-60 Harvard turmoil time. That they “ain’t here” is one thing. That they have been perhaps (?) disregarded, would be quite something else….??

  11. From a let ter Ken Irby sent in May 1960

    –for my brother Jim

    My brother’s birthday.
    To owe so many debts
    & send nothing–
    rum-numbed on the bed
    listening
    to Chinese music,
    staring at the
    “Landscape with Yellow Birds”
    on the wall.
    Fantasies, escapes,
    illusions,
    creations–
    and yet kept
    here, thank
    God, in part of the tangible
    world conscious
    of, thinking of your
    birthday,
    my brother.

  12. In a letter from Ken Irby , May 1960

    “Listening to Curmina Burana, 18 May 1960”

    Rain, again, the cries of empty Fate of
    the middle ages on the phonograph
    & the empty feeling after the radio
    turned off–Krushchev’s press conference
    ended & the tightening madness bands
    our head(s).

    The people walk outside falling
    back on the same old clichés of
    governments. Arguments, principles,
    armaments, tough-shit shrugging of
    shoulders.

    What is there to say
    even to myself?
    People go mad
    For Zen & I lose
    myself writing poems. What else
    to do for that
    “great action” you used to write about,
    Malraux?

  13. The Kansas State Historical Society lists as among notable Kansans, William Seward Burroughs. It seems
    relevant now that KSHS should consider Ken Irby for such designation.

  14. Use of internet web pages would be a very important complement to the more conventional function of the KU
    Spencer Research Library (set up about 1968 via bequest)—this in accumulating facts and documents of archival significance. Jim Irby, Ken’s single sibling, was born about five years before Ken–both children born when Craft and “Betsy” Irby were living in Bowie, Texas. The room Jim had in a house on Massachusetts street in Lawrence, Kansas, when he was attending KU (1948-52) is the exact location Ken lived during his first two years at KU (1954-56). Jim while in ROTC for four years was also in the adjunct Pershing Rifles. Ken had (via Jim, presumably) a WWI German Luger and kept it in a metal ammo box within his room. But he never knew how to load or fire it until meeting up at KU with a bright farm boy from Western Kansas who knew all about guns and especially Lugers (from his older brother who returned home in 1946 from U.S. Army service in Germany ). I is not yet clear that Ken ever fired it, but he appears to have relished seeing it used (against an old, abandoned , rural bridge ). It is about the same “close up, but don’t touch” relationship Ken had with automobiles until he got his first driver’s license, about 1965, age 29. But all this is almost an exact metaphorical counterpart to his posture intellectually about Mesmerism (hypnotism) and conventional Freudianism. He was content to “know about it” by peering through the shop window, as it were, but he would never touch the stuff ! And it is a rather apt metaphor for his relationship with females. He notes, candidly to me, in letters in 1958 from Harvard that he “has doubts” about whether he is heterosexual. The often noted (and in poetic creations, as well) “relationship” he had circa 1964-65 with a female was rather self delusional “window dressing”. Ken Irby was never heterosexual–as Ed Grier keenly surmised about 1956 or so.

  15. Ken’s CV noted at least three “publications” in the KU QUILL journal. Ken was a central figure in the Quill Club
    at KU during all his four years–but less actively from about 1956, when in connection with his lengthy dialogues with Ed Grier in Ed’s apartment, Ken started getting outside the then-parameters of QUILL in Ed’s ushering him into Whitman and Hart Crane and b-e-y-o-n-d. But he was central–and notwithstanding faculty sponsor and faculty visitation to Quill meetings–as the dominant intellectual force within KU Quill, 1954-58. While he had only three (maybe four?–one issue is not readily retrievable ) poems published in the conventional sense of the word , almost certainly he read at meetings (?) other poems he had written that did not graduate into formal publication Ed Grier was the seminal influence in Ken’s creative matrix, 1958 ff. It is highly likely from what information I thus far have that many letters Ken wrote Ed were withdrawn by Ken (?) from what has made it into Spencer RL Library (KU) archives…thus far, at least. The letters I received (that I have come by in dusty storage) during the ’58-’60 time at Harvard serve to underscore that enormous stabilizing and supportive role that Robert Creeley had vis a vis Ken’s development during Ken’s Army service (upon his decision to get away from Harvard after very successfully completing his M.A. there in East Asian history ) when he was stationed at Sandia and spent a lot of leave time at Creeley’s home and in bar hopping with Bob, etc. Ed Grier and Bob Creeley were basically very important to the anchoring and commitment that led to Ken’s creative productivity.
    I was astounded to find Ken writing me that “Bob” had advised him about …. and about …. To those of us
    with Ken in his undergraduate days, that Ken would receive advice from someone was absurd. In one of his
    letters to me, he wrote circa 1958, ” I cannot receive…” Creeley saw clearly that Ken might be ushered into
    a heterosexual preference and , according to statements Ken made in letters to me, Creeley was clear to the effect ” Stay to hell away from Duncan”. Ken didn’t.

  16. Further tid bits relevant to memory about Ken’s use of “substances”. As noted, Ken brought back to Ed Grier
    (KU, 1958 or 59 ) some Yucatan gold smoke that led Grier to exclaim, “Where have I been all my life!!??” My own improved recollection is that Ken used psiliocybin in his second year at Harvard and in linkage to a female
    grad student who was herself involved quite legitimately with Tim Leary’s very (then) legal excursions into LSD.
    I got the distinct impression that Ken had also used LSD then and had continued from time to time to take “trips”.
    He had–in characteristic fashion…an art his father, Craft Irby admired..–a reticence and obliquity about legally
    dubious matters. In fact, there is some memory excavation that his use of booze (something that came “on line” for him in Kansas about 1956-57, as per age / and age-appearance/ requirements ) started about 1956—and may have been ushered a bit by Ed Grier. Now, none of this is to deny that Ken and his lifelong buddy, semi psychopathic Bill Lehnhoff (dead as a Wild Weasel over N. Vietnam on Ken’s 31st birthday ), got hold of beer
    as high school students, etc., but as to “at hand” access—that probably began about 1956, was fully legal by
    November 1957 and played its role in Ken’s awakening/ re-direction. ?? When I and a relative of mine visited Ken in Berkeley in August 1964, Ken was routinely rolling smoke.

  17. A really puzzling biographical element re Ken is his reticence (and seeming ignorance ?) re Bible stories , Sunday school experiences, etc. Both parents, Doris Elizabeth (Betsy) East Irby and Addison Craft Irby were intensely active in the Bowie, Texas, Methodist Church. They were in Bowie–A.C. as a highly respected and able M.D. general practitioner (house calls and all that, in a rural Texas town, 1930-39 ); Betsy, as an R.N.–for at least
    nine years, moving to Fort Scott, Kansas, in January 1940 into roles with the Newman-Young Clinic there. But
    Kenneth never alluded to Bible stories. His mother remained very dedicated to the Church , while by external appearances, his father perhaps became more socially ceremonial about it all (?). But it is passing strange that all of any Sunday school experiences or stories read to him on mother’s lap were into The Memory Hole by the time he was in high school, if not well before. It was almost like an unvoiced aversion. ?

  18. Thanks in very large part to the Bouchard Minnesota Twin Project (very significantly funded in part by the
    Pioneer Fund ) any informed biographer is confronted with the awesome role of heritability in what was
    so comfy assumed so long to be the overarching importance of nurture. So, enter the hill country East
    family alongside the Irbys of Holly Springs, Ms. and their Falkner (Faulkner) social peers there. William
    Falkner’s / Faulkner’s/ younger brother ( content to remain a Falkner!), Dean, was a rather close acquaintance
    and friend of young Craft Irby. Ken’s uncle, Pratt Irby, had the not yet ascendant William (still Falkner!) as
    his Boy Scout master. Comments Craft made in the Fort Scott, Kansas, newspaper circa 1985 or so establish
    that Addison Craft Irby, Ken’s father, was Dr. Irby to most people; A. C. to some; and “Craft” only to very close
    friends and tolerated relatives. Ken was always enormously “close to the vest” about specific family details and about what the hell was going on within the prestigious family home at 302 S. Eddy in Fort Scott. Apparently
    Craft’s philanderings were a significant contribution to Betsy’s breakdown? He initiated divorce proceedings against her and remarried. His grave marker ignores her existence. Dora Elizabeth “Betsy” East was from
    a farm family near Elizabethton, N.C., not that far N. of the S. Carolina border. They had relatives in S. Carolina.
    A memory fragment (I always pulled as much information as I could out of Ken re his kinship and what the hell
    was going on inside 302 ) is that some close relatives/ siblings? / of Betsy may have been accomplished in “speaking in unknown tongues” within a rather fundamentalist religious affinity. ?? Reference Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan. Jack’s brother, Holt, was a nationally prestigious debate coach at (exact name?) Southwest Missouri State University (well, located in Springfield, anyhow). One of Holt’s debaters told me about Holt’s “crazy brother” in California. Only when I told Ken about this in a trip we made to Joplin about 1967, did Ken connect Holt (whom he had long known about ) with Jack. I think Jack may have had (??) some interest in
    the fundamentalist Christian now and then devotion to “speaking in unknown tongues” ? The reality is that with women merely dissociated and yet with mild, simple “schizy” emotions and above average mental ability this singing “juggling of syllables” ought to have been of keen poetic interest to Kenneth Lee ( and Jack , et al.). Was it ever? Someone I came across claimed that a few intellectuals at Oxford U.K. had looked into this Appalachian
    “speaking in unknown tongues” as it might have implication for Freudian analysis back in the 1930’s ??

    Jim Irby appears to have “inherited” little or none of Betsy’s simple dissociative “gifts?”…but Ken appears to have been blessed/cursed/ with them. This not quite “burdened by too much here and too little there” gift of Betsy to Ken seems far more relevant to Ken’s creativity than the social links of Irby/Falkner.

  19. “Betsy’s breakdown” Betsy Irby (Dora Elizabeth “Betsy” East Irby) spent a considerable amount of time as an
    in-patient at Osawatomie State Mental Hospital in Kansas. It is relevant to note that Karl Menninger was centrally instrumental in the model upgrading of the Kansas tax supported state mental hospitals and the out patient care system. It is a seamy truth that the Menninger Clinic utilized such facilities–especially Topeka State Hospital right across from the luxuriant Menninger Clinic (in Topeka , back before the withering and transfer of the Clinic to Baylor in Houston) as facilities for the practicum training of their own Neo-Freudian trainees. There was credible speculation from a M.D. physician I knew in Topeka that the CIA was heavily involved in the education and return to practice of international psychiatric trainees getting their psychoanalytic training in Topeka. It may further be noted that by the mid 70’s what H. J. Eysenck set forth in his book DECLINE AND FALL OF THE FREUDIAN EMPIRE was manifest within the Menninger world. (See Karl Menninger’s letter online written by him to Thomas Szasz about ..what?…1992? Amazing revelation—an historical documentation vis a vis Eysenck and other critics of Freudianism.)

    Perhaps this is too elaborate context for Betsy Irby’s “time” at Osawatomie State Mental Hospital. I do recall that about…hmm? 1966? 67? both Ken and Jim were up there to visit with her attending physicians and staff.
    The context for this appears to be brining her back to Fort Scott and the 302 S. Eddy home? Well, from whatever personal chronology in Ken’s life, as he approached his 39th birthday, he returned to Fort Scott to
    live with and oversee her. That did not last long. And she finally agreed to move with him to Lawrence. This appears to have been about 1976 or so. Betsy had been well received in Fort Scott established circles. She
    was always very devoted to her Church. She always had a very heavy near-S. Carolina accent. There is no indication known to me that she had ever had any “mental history” before the events surrounding the breakup of the marriage to Craft irby and her hospitalization (social asylum) at Osawatomie. It is likely she was perceived as being observably closer to Kenneth Lee than to Jimmy, if devoted to both of them. ?

  20. Close in rumor is that in the current yet formative state of the Ken Irby “archives” at KU’s Spencer Research Library, there are in reach distinctly more letters from Ed Grier to Ken Irby than there are letters–especially
    Harvard 1958-60–from Kenneth Lee to Ed. ??? If so, almost certainly this reflects a great deal of “withholding”
    ( shredding?) of letters Ken wrote. He underwent socially manifest–and often enough socially obstructive–
    turmoil from the Spring of 1958 through all two years in Cambridge. As sufficiently mentioned already, he
    completed the M.A. at Harvard in very good standing , but decided to enlist (a draft in operation in those days)
    in the Army. He got stationed at / near/ Sandia in New Mexico and from that physical location became a close weekend/ evening / companion of Bob Creeley and within the Creeley home. By all indications I have and have
    received from conversations re this with Arly Allen and Alan Kimball—Ed Grier and Bob Creeley ( Jim Irby, aside) were the two most influential acquaintances and companions impinging this matrix period in Ken’s work. Creeley was rather explicitly concerned about facilitating a setting within which Ken might consolidate a heterosexual orientation, notwithstanding Ken’s homosexual tendencies . It was during this time of very close elective social contacts with Bob Creeley that Ken did consolidate his commitment to poetry. He wrote letters profusely during the initial New Mexico stay but not with the incessant intensity of the Harvard matrix period,
    1958-60. As previously noted, it was in the early ’90’s that Ken got from Bill Lehnhoff’s mother the letters Ken had written to Bill up to Bill’s death as a Wild Weasel (USAF) over N. Vietnam on Ken’s 31st birthday–November 1967. By available indications at this point, it seems Ken tampered extensively with the primary source gold mine that his letters in the 1958-60 period would otherwise represent within an archival arrangement. And his letters to Jim Irby??

  21. In a letter to me from Ken dated 23 Oct. 65
    **************************************
    Pomegranate seeds, juice pulp
    broken open at the ocean, coast
    rocks, Pebble Beach, the pebbles
    wine colored, the feet red
    from walking on,

    Heat , bump, thorax, bump,
    plumb, teat, spume, axe , rot

    as the waves enter and reverse
    the slush sounds and the sea charge rocks clatter
    afterwards
    tide pools where anemones
    open and close
    the sounds backwards and forth

    the path we make to follow the rocks, reach
    the outermost without wading, falling in
    and the tide rises, coming back
    a different way, longer leaps,
    other fishermen watching

    come back where the lunch is with Alan and Martha,
    We eat the pomegranates

    the ball thrown back and forth, Alan and Philip
    brothers to each other, eyes to each others, slump slush where the pebbles
    verge into grit

    as we leave
    all the pebble seekers
    have already left

    fog comes, sun down,
    toward the north the wind
    the bare feet cold in the car
    fields of pumpkins above Half Moon Bay
    <>
    rise at the last light through the clouds’ rift
    fall to the dark

    the breath and the genitals
    ragged at the turn home

    –23 Oct. 65–

  22. from a letter to me from Ken, dated 10 November 59 / Tuesday/ 10:04 p.m.
    ***********************************************
    Dear Bill,

    I started out to use this sheet to write poetry on, but nothing much–nothing, literally–came out, so I use it to write this letter. A bitter, wasted evening. Two martinis at diner effectively screwed me for doing any work tonight, and by the time I tried to write something I was just dull and empty. It is cold. Winter fidgets to come. Bleakness. Early darkness. I nibble crackers, a half gallon of tankcar red wine in front of me. Behind Segovia makes me disgust my guitar in the corner. Cheese on the window sill outside. Christ….that I were in my bed again…Ah well.

    Someday it will not work. Someday will come the time to write in moment of necessity, and the means will not be forth to use. Necessity, but here, this time, this now, is just as necessary. What I need now to write is just as vital as any moment of emergency. But I do not pretend to say anything. I grow mad by degrees and thus be degrees descend Grofe’s trail, Grand Canyon Suite downward, into the chasm, into whatever it is connections in this dark, dark, rumbled brain. So then bear with me. Do I write ? It comes at any rate in words upon the paper. Yellow paper. And a set of yellow fingers sucking the juice out of my mind. The typewriter masturbates. This , its yellow come. And black bile, black bile, I give away. Well, take what you will.

    I wish to hell I had written before now. I wish to fucking hell I could just cry. You know, I had a dream last month, or maybe September, it skills not, in which I broke down crying, sobbing, letting all this built up burst out. god I never cried so deeply. But I can’t in this state, awake. Schubert makes me come close, the tears come , but do not flow. I almost wept for the plants, the only living things left almost that live and do not ask and bitch and screw the world up and rape the soul, the plants, that we burn into nothing with our fucking bomb. Let me take home a fern, if it dies, at least not alone. Let me touch its life while it still lives…The plants, and stray dogs and cats, the only living things that I reach with feeling, that find me as I am, that I do not have to act to move among.
    Love, love, that I pour on the ground, where they lap, they take it….fullness sitting with you drunk, so drunk, on the concrete wall along the parking lot at Boyds, afriend with some poor cat, that came to me and expected only what I gave it….

    Well, well, dig the sea of ramblings the man gives out! Even the best of us finger the other side of the fabric sometimes. Maybe I’ve turned the whole fucking thing hindside forwards. The pattern is gone then, only empty links. I have no front picture to show you.

    Why do I write ? Or anybody? I have nothing to tell, really. Ah, I am not yet a part of all this around me. Let the army take me. I’m tired, Bill, so goddamn tired I don’t care anything anymore.
    **********************
    The elision marks are by him in the letter. He obviously was very drunk. And these sorts of letters to
    Ed Grier (and others) would have been an archival gold mine. Hopefully, some of the letters Alan Kimball
    has will tap into this Harvard time ’58-’60 of emotional reordering and creative matrix.

  23. 1 Oct — 23 Nov 1961 from a letter Ken wrote me // (were) * penciled insertion into his typed poem
    **********************************
    TWO EXERCISES
    for Bob Creeley

    “Saturday Night”

    Everything matters
    in suddenly finding what it is
    to be alive–that completeness.

    It is not only the ecst asy of flesh
    opened
    or the touch
    of earth–

    but at each moment
    what soars
    at us.

    As on t his bare mesa
    I turn to escape
    the terrible intensity of a party

    & run smack
    against the mountains,

    & the ingredients
    of the moment
    loom up as the only things
    I know.

    “Sunday Afternoon”

    Across this sunlight
    almost gone from the afternoon

    the same people as my body
    walked all the hundreds of years ago
    they lived (were)*. Into this earth
    they came,

    and still are alone
    against it. How can I say

    anything except myself myself
    alone? & yet that

    the ageless turn
    of this sunlight. The footsteps

    impossible to forget, the people
    that might have been here

    God, the love, the love
    missing from everything I do.

  24. Witihn a letter from Ken of late 1961

    FOR THE GIRL I MET AT A PARTY

    It is so easy to say
    there is no one–
    the truth of the moment
    forever.

    because there is no one
    understands
    or goes the way
    to bed.

    Love me, all the slight hopes
    & pieces of love
    love me
    to make me human,

    Because I love you
    give me something

    I love you I love you I love you
    & lost lost lost lost
    save me, keep me
    alive.
    3 Dec. 61

  25. From a letter Ken wrote me in Nov. 1961

    “I come back again to the problem of living with art. I haven’t talked to Bob Creeley about this really–on the larger scale–work–I did ask him what he thought of teaching * * *
    Somehow I picture an ideal arrangement for myself would be living as close as possible to the land–not farming, about which I know nothing & am not anxious to learn but living still on the land, not in some city or even town, except perhaps a small one, some of the villages out here in NM would be ok. Because the kind of peace that comes only from being at the earth–maybe more I feel that out here, where the separation between land an man-made things is distinct & utter–the land basically untouched, the cities something completely separate & else–that kind of peace that I am sure Pasternak must have tapped living there in the pines in his dacha, that is necessary to me*** “

  26. It is unfortunate that a series of recorded oral history interviews were not conducted with Kenneth Irby before he was beset with terminal illness. Of course, he may have been totally indisposed to such interviewing? However, my hunch is that if a few people had encouraged him to do so, he not unlikely would have consented (with whatever conditions).

    He appears clearly to have been very indisposed to having the letters he wrote so profusely during the tumultuous period at Harvard 1958-60 made accessible. But it is more than a bit puzzling as to why any
    library genuinely interested in Kenneth Irby archives would not early on have enlisted cell phone/email / technology to sample adequately from among those in contact with Kenneth from his high school years onward just who might know what of possible relevance to a current archival effort. That Kenneth was a profuse, compulsive letter writer was well known–and that he was such very floridly during his troubling matrix period at Harvard 1958-60 is very well known to a number of yet living persons then in contact with him. The fact is that Kenneth had arrogated to himself the conclusion that such letters would be misunderstood and were, therefore, best out of sight/ out of mind. He is legally privileged to act upon that viewpoint. But this creates the question of whether some sort of prominent NOTICE is publicly appropriate , early on, regarding archives that may have materials of core relevance permanently out of sight / out of mind. ?? And if $30,000 (of public money?) passes hands to get at what Kenneth wanted retained….what is AWOL seems worthy of due regard very early on. ??? There are certain liabilities in having efforts excessively entrusted to a personal “fan club”.

  27. Biographical tid bits seem indispensable early on to having a secure “lay of the land” regarding archival materials and sources. When, himself primed with a few drinks, I once asked Kenneth who among us undergrad acquaintances of his he might consider an intellectual peer, he paused only about three seconds and mentioned (anonymous reference “DR” ) DR. They ended up in an improvisational living together one summer, with another male. like themselves, of the KU debate team. In fact, that was the summer of 1957. DR had the remarkable capacity to get into frames of reference that he personally was not oriented toward. He could, for example , listen to a literate Marxist and ask the questions and make the observations that would incline toward the reflexive sense that he is “one of us”. But any inquiry would enlist the courteous by clear delineations of why he was not–indeed he seemed to me a bit right of Bill Buckley ! Kenneth did not remotely approximate this capacity. He could never have gotten into the frames of reference that would have led Buckley momentarily to sense that “Ken is one of us”. The same can be said for Ken’s “look at a distance” viewpoints about Christianity, Freudianism, the heterosexual extra marital frolics of one of his close relatives, etc. rtc. Kenneth had a near
    phobic disdain for any sense that his personal biography might for many literate persons shed interesting light
    upon his creative work and his personal relations. As one of our ablest members of the undergrad cohort remarked, “Intent On” seems to be “Intention” with the “I” removed. But is it imperative for archivists and
    academics to accommodate this personal passion?? Again, too much involvement by a personal “fan club” can present question marks.

    1. It is pejorative to declare that Kenneth was “secretive” or “devious” about biographical facts of his life. He was,
      however, very internally complicated and guarded with respect to such matters. But the social graciousness much emphasized and honored by his father and mother served adroitly to make inconspicuous the extent to which he did not wish “causes” of his acts and omissions to be conventionally interpreted in terms of environmental impacts upon him nor very much in terms of inborn inclinations. Cell phone technology and the Internet and email are all excellent means of dredging up from former associates and recent ones specific observations and facts that would be the solid building blocks of an adequate prelim biographical factual excavation relevant to Kenneth. But there is no evidence that anything like this is being done—at least on an impartial, widespread basis among those who might know, say, the “when” and” to whom” regarding letters Ken might have written in his matrix time of 1957-63 ff. A biography of Kenneth, adequately done, surely will be of keen interest in relating the “out there” creative effects and representations back to the factually observable features of his life. The observation has already been advanced that his fascination with landscape, etc. likely was well in place before he ever heard of Malin or Sauer or had fastened onto literary celebrations of landscape relevant to his life. It is a parsimonious assumption that the cognitive-behavioral basis for much of his fascination with Malin, Sauer, and Kansas landscape arose simply from his very close and enduring childlike relationship with his mother—his routine car trips into the countryside to procure the choice eggs, meats, cream, etc. for the fine dining of the Irby family table. And his closeness to his mother is an adequate basis to conjecture re the fascination with “landscape” based on the landscape germinal to us all—-mother’s body, face, smile and touch. This leaves perhaps to a competent team effort at biography re Kenneth, the task of “looking back there” to explain the creative attractions and adornments “out front”
      For those of us having known him, it is very interesting how complementary/ indeed integral/ a biography could be to his poetry. But the question gets a bit odd that nearly two years now after his death, there seems little
      indication that archivists have done anything to get the raw primary observations, anecdotes, etc. relevant to
      “looking back there”. Whatever may be brewing or may be neglected regarding biography seems “out of sight and out of mind” to the overt archival content, thus far.

      1. Well, a couple of $20 bills would have persuaded a competent bar maid in
        Lawrence to use her cell phones to call people linked to Ken Irby during his high school
        years in Fort Scott and during his undergraduate years in Lawrence , to see who know
        what about letters he had written, spasms of poetry written during high school and
        during the first three years of his four undergraduate years at KU, 1954-58, etc. etc. . It would
        readily enough have been established that among those knowing him during the KU
        undergrad years, he had after the spring of 1958 exchanged over the next 18 years or so
        a vast number of letters with KU Prof. Edward F. Grier, as well as a lot of letters with such
        persons in his undergraduate cohort as Alan Kimball, Arly Allen, myself, and some others.
        He almost certainly exchanged a vast number of letters with his older brother, James East
        Irby (Princeton ), as well as a good many with his father, A. C. Irby; and several with his
        close friend since age six—the late Bill Lehnhoff (killed over N. Vietnam on Feb. 18, 1967,
        as a member of the USAF “Wild Weasels”. Evading the vulgarity of $20 bills and bar maids,
        the now “established” Irby Archives pale in significance compared to what is thus far missing.

  28. It remains puzzling why as a routine archival contribution , a well informed and drafted FOIA request/ or requests/ was not/ were not/ submitted via the KU Office of General Counsel with respect to the Kenneth Irby archives at Spencer Research Library. Since the FOIA accommodates third party requests for file content held by federal agencies pertaining to a deceased person of cultural significance, it would be taxpayer, voter, alumni
    “friendly” for the University of Kansas to have at least a de facto policy about this. The single letter I received from the Office of KU General Counsel on or about Dec. 16, 2016 ( I don’t have it at hand just now ) , glibly lumps the Kansas Open Records Act (state counterpart to FOIA) with the FOIA. But use of FOIA
    for third party inquiry ought to be a routine matter. Use of KORA for specific questions about the details of handling a particular archive is rather another issue. This letter from the General Counsel’s Office does give
    emphasis to exemptions that are claimed by the University re release of information about archival purchases, etc. , to the Kansas citizenry. But it is not clear to me there is any legal prohibition against an “affirmative action” in this respect by the University making known at its own initiative details surrounding any specific archive held within Spencer Research Library of KU. That appears yet to happen regarding the exchange of money relevant to assembling the archive for Ken Irby there.

  29. FOIA …..reconsideration. It does appear that FOIA is most often not a routine part of archival acquisition for archives pertaining to persons of some cultural distinction who are deceased. One question would be simply
    cost/benefit ratio. One senses that few such Requests yield information of any value beyond what has been otherwise attained more conveniently and at little cost. There are other questions, as well–e.g., coming by important revelations that could only distract and “muddy the waters” for the specific academic focus prompting the Request. It might be that FOIA Requests have evolved (have they?) to be utilized mainly on a third party basis–that is, a friend or relative, say, of a researcher can file an FOIA Request and then on a discretionary basis relay what seems of immediate relevance (?) FOIA Requests do not seem to be standard operational
    procedure, if nonetheless they are known to be occasionally of some useful contribution.

  30. Recent indications are that a good many letters Ken wrote to his father
    were not in consideration within the $30k purchase by or, in behalf of,
    University of Kansas Spencer Research Library of the materials collected
    upon Ken’s death from his apartment and attendant storage, etc.

  31. Letter I got from Ken Irby, 17 March 1960, refers to his decision to put
    writing poetry ahead of an academic career. He notes…”I’ve decided (This was
    during finals, I guess, that I came to this conclusion and started doing something
    about it only about 10 Feb…that writing means more to me than anything else, and I am
    writing seriously and constantly (not a day goes by w/o work ) for the first time really in
    my life”

    1. Ken’s visit during the Spring vacation of 1960 to those he knew at the University of
      Kansas,–then “living” in a two story Victorian house then known as “the Palace”–bears
      witness to his commitment (during the Christmas vacation of 1959 ) to put writing poetry
      center in his life and to tend to his Harvard M.A. work as secondary to the time devoted
      each day to writing. This was implemented on Feb. 10, 1960. One of the people yet living
      who inhabited “the Palace” that Spring recalls seeing him day after day during the short
      vacation, out in the back yard, sitting, writing for several hours at a time—much as though
      he were completing a thesis. The commitment to do this, made during the Christmas vacation,
      almost certainly arose from conversations with then KU Prof. Edward F. Grier. From at least
      mid 1956, the dialogues between Grier and Irby in Grier’s home, attendant to fine dining prepared
      by Grier, are of central gestational significance in Ken’s subsequent creative work.

  32. 25 May 1959

    “…Have been writing a little more, but am very discouraged with everything I have written, ever. I
    sometimes feel deeply that I don’t have a poetic vision at all–in fact I KNOW I don’t, not now any way;
    whether I can develop this remains to be seen. So far all I do is twist ideas from reading & books into
    tortured rhetoric–the feelings aren’t welling spontaneously out of myself or out of the vision I have
    of what I see. Maybe I need to get drunk all the time, or better go on pot. But, well, ahem. ”

    Ha! that we want to live. Muerte sin fin.
    The heavy opaque eyeball weights us down.
    I cannot fly. I cannot sink into myself.
    And where I turn this street glance up toward my room,
    glance outward at the world like yellow birds and landscape on my wall,
    the wall, the wall, beyond me like my hands.

    1. This comment by Ken stimulates regard to the memory that
      only after moving from the Massachusetts street rooming
      arrangement (where his brother, Jim, had lived from 1948-
      52 ) was Ken free to have liquor at home at arm’s reach. By
      the summer of 1957 when he moved elsewhere, he seemed
      quietly to drink more and more–never overtly apparent, as
      no one I know can recall seeing him ever behaving in a “drunk”
      way. A review of letters he wrote in this Harvard time frame
      of 1958-60 are clearly suggestive that under the openness of
      substance use, Ken could be remarkably candid in letters….
      but not very much so in direct personal conversation. As
      noted already, he got into primo reefer from a coed who herself
      was linked into the Ginsburg-Leary LSD pre-research explorations
      at Harvard. Obliquities by him in conversations we had during this
      period are suggestive that he did some LSD within this framework and
      subsequently…perhaps on up to the mid “70’s. It is a challenging
      biographical question of just how Ken attempted to get his feelings
      “welling spontaneously”. This gives rise to the question of whether
      Archives holding his materials have attempted via the FOIA to get
      information regarding Ken that might include illuminations about
      any linkages he had to the use of LSD at Harvard around 1959-60.

      1. CORRECTION: About three/four years ago or so, Ken did get so drunk within a quiet group of his old
        KU 1954-58 cohort that he had to be helped to walk and escorted to his apartment. He was helped
        to get into his apartment by C** M**** H*******n who came into acquaintance with him and some of us
        in the 1959-60 “Palace” year at KU.

  33. Contact with the yet living people who knew Ken early on and those of us yet remaining
    from the KU undergrad days–stimulates recollections of likely significance to an abundantly
    raw, primary source (Online ?) compilation re Ken’s life. He did obliquely and unobtrusively
    refer to elements of Buddhism before he left for Harvard. His focus upon East Asian history
    (and attendant language study) at Harvard linked up to Ginsburg’s references to Buddhism. But
    what emerges in this is Ken’s rather odd and nearly total reticence re Christianity. As a young child,
    he was ushered into keen awareness of the King James New Testament and was into Sunday School,
    and so on. But whether from a personal standpoint or within a literary standpoint, he was very mum
    re Christianity . It remains unclear just when he seemed to “turn the lights off” re Christianity within his
    own culture. In retrospect, there is clear indication that Ken’s poetic gestation was linked to an
    incipient interest in Buddhism– perhaps somewhat idiosyncratic?– that apparently grew over subsequent decades?

  34. It is unclear over more than two years whether the University of Kansas and the Spencer Research Library
    within / interfaced to/ KU / have variously enlisted the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to seek
    records relevant to the Kenneth Irby archive at KU. Kenneth likely was discreetly involved to some extent
    in the Allen Ginsburg-Tim Leary pre-research re LSD at Harvard about 1959-60. Kenneth’s letters note
    his links to a female involved in this activity. His first known use marijuana stems from this
    late 1959-early 1960 period.

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