For Marcel Weinreich
Author: Kenneth Irby
Publisher: Lunar Chandelier (2020)
"Kenneth Irby authored more than twenty books and pamphlets of poetry over his fifty-plus–year career, culminating with the 2009 publication of The Intent On: Collected Poems, 1962–2006, for which he received the 2010 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. Born in 1936, in Bowie, Texas, Irby grew up in Fort Scott, Kansas. The vast and shaggy grasslands of that uncanny intracontinental corridor inform the psychic fulcrum—“the carpet in the back of the head / lit”—of his extensive and compassionate, sensuous yet numinous, body of work. As an undergraduate at the University of Kansas in the mid-1950s, Irby studied history, spending his summers in Mexico City with his brother James, a graduate student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who would later achieve acclaim for his translations of Jorge Luis Borges and José Lezama Lima. After completing an M.A. at Harvard in Regional Studies–East Asia in 1960, Irby was drafted by the U.S. Army and spent two years as a member of the Defense Atomic Support Agency (DASA). Temporarily stationed at the Nevada Test Site and, near the end of his stint, on the remote Johnston Island, in the North Pacific Ocean, where he witnessed the exoatmospheric detonation of Starfish Prime, a 1.4 megaton thermonuclear warhead, Irby did the majority of his service at Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the fall of 1962, he resumed his postgraduate studies at Harvard, pursuing a PhD in History and Far Eastern Languages, but dropped out the following spring and returned to Albuquerque, where he was employed in the Technical Library at Sandia Corporation, and where his first book of poetry, The Roadrunner Poem, was published by Duende Press in 1964. In early 1965, Irby moved to the Bay Area and, over the next fifteen years, wandered the North American continent, staying for extended periods in Berkeley, where he earned a Master’s degree in Library Science at U.C. Berkeley, and Boston, where he began teaching at Tufts University in 1971. In 1973–74, he was Visiting Professor at the English Institute inCopenhagen, Denmark, and traveled Europe on a Fulbright grant. Returning to Kansas in the late 1970s, Irby settled in Lawrence, where he taught at the University of Kansas from the mid-1980s until his death in July 2015."