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.