Reading Ken Irby's review of Her Body Against Time in A City Full of Voices, I began to wonder if I had come across that review when it first appeared in Kulchur, before I'd read Kelly's book. It's possible... But even as a poetry greenhorn, I remember being impressed by the depth of Kelly's vision and the how his poetry was not only his world but how the world seemed like fodder for his poetry. A condition echoed in lines- purloined from Jed Rasula's excellent "A Book On Line and Measure" in A City Full...- in a later lengthy poem entitled The World, in which Kelly reminds us that "there is no/form not/organic no/mind not mine."
Fast forward half a century and I find I'm once again attracted to Kelly's work, or, at least for the time being, his essays. Call me perverse, but for some reason I've always had a weakness for prose written by poets. Which, for me, makes A Voice Full of Cities such a delight. By the same token, it's invariably interesting to read those who write about Kelly, covering as they do in A City Full of Voices a range of interests and ways of thinking about Kelly's poetry.
Even had I been able to do so, it would have been difficult to keep up with Kelly's incredible output. After all it constitutes a life. As Guy Davenport has written, "There is no end to a Kelly poem...It's a cataract of energy." His essays, reviews, stories and novels (unfortunately his fiction isn't included, but perhaps would constitute a volume on its own) are much more than an addendum to his poetry, while, at the same time, squelching the notion that prose is necessarily a more literal or less poetic form of writing. But here they are, his essays, which, if nothing else, demonstrate once again the breadth of his work.
Now in his late 80s, Kelly has moved from the articulation of a working poetics (deep image) to an autobiographical and investigatory poetics, which necessarily includes the aesthetics of various poets, film-makers, artists, novelists, philosophers, friends, etc.. The common denominator here is the relationship between seeing and vision, turning, as Brakhage did, a physical deficiency into a personal aesthetic. And so Kelly's essays, moving from the late 1950s to the near-present, constitute a map of thoughts and images- if one can separate the two- making these two volumes a celebration of Kelly's poetic life by a range of respondents, each with their own insights, from early takes by the likes of Olson "not imageS but IMAGE," Creeley, Blackburn, Irby, Sitney, Eshleman and Davenport to later writers like Joris, Cockelbergh, Quasha, Silliman, Fisher, Yau, and Chernicoff. Proving that no single person has the definitive word or ability to encompass Kelly's oeuvre. As Billie Chernicoff asks at the beginning of On Robert Kelly's Seaspel, "How does he do it?" To which she says she has no answer. I would agree. One can only shake one's head and wonder, while marvelling at the flow of words, the intensity of thought and vision.
Click on here for a short interview with RK by George Quasha.: https://youtu.be/MB4EcLDg-w4