Robert Kelly Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Robert Kelly was born and reared in Brooklyn, in a stimulating urban environment that nourished much of his early poetry. Quite precocious, Kelly entered the City College of New York at age fifteen and entered Columbia University at age nineteen as a graduate student of medieval studies. The stability of his life as a professor at Bard College, beginning in 1962, afforded Kelly a reliability of circumstance to devote himself to poetry on a prodigious scale. Furthermore, the professorial role at a small college has meant that his daunting intellectual fortitude has been at the service of his poetry rather than diverted into formal scholarship as such.

At the beginning of his career, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Kelly was associated with a circle of poets that included Paul Blackburn, David Antin, Jerome Rothenberg, Armand Schwerner, George Economou, Diane Wakoski, and Clayton Eshleman. Kelly and Rothenberg in particular rose to some prominence as exponents of Deep Image poetry, a short-lived but effective stance for young unknown poets to take, insofar as their manifestos commanded respect and their poetry was taken to be a rich demonstration of the theory. Kelly edited two ephemeral magazines in the early 1960’s—Trobar and Matter—which helped establish him as a proponent of the free-verse line of poetry indebted to Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Louis Zukofsky among then-living masters.

From 1967 to 1973,...

(The entire section is 454 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Robert Kelly may be the most prolific major poet in contemporary American literature. He has published more than fifty books of poetry and several of prose. He is also well known for his editorship of three literary journals: Chelsea Review, Trobar, and Matter. Along with poet Jerome Rothenberg, he cofounded what has come to be recognized as a uniquely American school of poets who practice what they call the poetry of “Deep Image.”

Robert Kelly was born in Brooklyn in 1935 to a middle-class family. His father worked for the city of New York, and his mother taught elementary school for many years. Because both parents worked, young Robert spent much time alone, reading the books he borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library. During the years 1943 and 1944, however, he seemed to be losing his eyesight, and his parents forbade him to read any longer. The family later discovered that he was suffering from a simple case of myopia. A greater loss, though, was the loss of the family home as a result of financial problems; the family subsequently moved to a poorer neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Kelly pursued his secondary education at Brooklyn Prep, a prestigious Jesuit high school. Though he experienced some typical teenage alienation—he began to skip school until the law intervened—he discovered writers who would continue to influence his spiritual and intellectual development for the rest of his life: T. S. Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ezra Pound, the French Surrealist poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He also discovered during these years the great musical sources of his inspiration, composers such as Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Alban Berg and the operas of Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, and Vincenzo Bellini.

During his years at the City College of New York, he met his first wife, Joan Lasker, and fellow poets Rothenberg, David Antin, and Jack Hirschman. While later studying in the graduate program at Columbia University, he came under the strong influences of seventeenth century scholars Marjorie Nicholson and Pierre Garay and medieval scholar Roger Loomis. He maintained his interests in these areas, and much of his poetry shows direct...

(The entire section is 925 words.)