Robert Kelly’s first book, Armed Descent, showed some indebtedness to Ezra Pound’s balance of line, presentation of a numinous world through direct images, and rhythmically modulated musicality. Most striking, however, was not the debt but the originality and the confidence. It was a sensuous poetry, a demonstration of Kelly’s proclamation that the fundamental rhythm of a poem was the rhythm of images. Each poem contended in its own way for the proposition that visible realities be read as spiritual clarities. The spirit made flesh was the manifest mystery, but there was a practical injunction as well: “The gateway is the visible; but we must go in.”
Kelly’s imaginistic skills might have easily been directed toward the production of autonomous free association. It was within his means to become a giant among American Surrealist poets. He was engaged in a quest that could not rest comfortably on surfaces, however, nor reside in a simple succession of images. In his 1968 retrospective pamphlet Statement, Kelly stressed that the significant term in Deep Image poetry had been the word “deep”: It was depth that was striven for in poems. Images were simply material agencies and were to be regarded as cues, clues, tangible signs of spiritual intensity.
The sense of depth, in conjunction with the concept of the image, led Kelly to postulate a location “behind the brain” where human lives as experienced through...
(The entire section is 1647 words.)
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