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,...
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