Robert Kelly 1935–-
American poet, novelist, and short story writer.
A prolific poet, Kelly has also garnered considerable attention for his contemporary short fiction. He has produced a large body of short stories, much of which is experimental and focuses on different modes of expression. Kelly views creative writing as a return to the primitive self, a way of finding the primeval center of modern humankind.
Kelly was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1935. By age thirteen, he was writing poetry. Kelly dropped out of school when he was fifteen and attended City College, where he completed his B.A. in 1955. Kelly began graduate work in medieval studies at Columbia University, but left after three years without obtaining a degree. Kelly earned his living as a translator while writing and soon published his first short story “Ring: Fragment of a Novel Entitled ‘The Moment of Sound.’” Since 1960, Kelly has been employed as a teacher. He has taught German language at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and has served as director of poetry for Milton Avery Graduate School, as well as professor of English. Kelly has been a visiting professor and resident poet at several universities and is known for his promotion of other writers by developing writing courses, holding workshops, and co-founding several literary magazines, among them The Chelsea Review (1957), Trobar (1960), Matter, and Sulfur.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Most of Kelly's volumes of short fiction are collections of previously published material from a variety of literary magazines. A Transparent Tree (1985), his first major agglomeration of stories, comprises work originally published from 1972 to 1983 and includes Cities (1972) and Wheres (1978), both also published separately. The stories therein consider the return of modern man to the primordial self, the actualization of one's true center, and the journey to human solidarity. In Doctor of Silence (1988) Kelly continues this thematic exploration. Here, he describes alternative methods by which the individual can return to the primary and many of the stories depict animals as intrinsic to this process of reinvention and reintegration. Cat Scratch Fever (1990) is a collection of what Kelly refers to as his “Russian Tales.” Although the range of material covered in this tome may seem disjointed, some critics have commented about the stories' cohesiveness as vehicles which approach the elemental ‘other’, and that are structured as varied fables, instructions, legends, and poetic narratives.
Kelly's writing is considered by certain commentators to be obscure, ambiguous, and difficult, although others believe that this obscurity allows a more cursive interpretation. Kelly's experimental prose style has been favorably compared to the forms and patterns of poetry which requires the reader to concentrate on words and images and to observe the emergence of motifs and thematic designs. Critics have remarked that as Kelly attempts to negate the normal associations of fiction in order to express the confusion of life, his stories—which may seem simple initially—reveal themselves to be complex and sophisticated, even Byzantine. Scholars have praised the brashness of Kelly's fictive technique, and some reviewers believe he deserves greater critical recognition than previously received.