Robert Kelly Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although Robert Kelly is known primarily for his poetry, it is his fiction that has generated the most enthusiastic reviews. The fiction consists of one novel, The Scorpions (1967), a fanciful travelogue, Cities (1971), and several collections of stories, including A Transparent Tree (1985), Doctor of Silence (1988), Cat Scratch Fever (1990), Queen of Terrors (1994), and The Logic of the World, and Other Fictions (2010). Kelly has consented to many published interviews, has written prefaces for several books by other authors, and has contributed occasional statements on film, poetry, and related topics since the early 1960’s. One collection of such writings, In Time, was published in 1971; this book has taken its place as the most significant summation of Kelly’s poetics.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Robert Kelly has written and published abundantly since his first book of poetry appeared in 1961. Recognized at once as one of the most gifted poets of his generation, he has subsequently lived up to his potential by deviating from his original promise over and over again. The first twenty-five years of Kelly’s career saw the publication of more than three thousand pages of poetry and nearly one thousand pages of prose. What is remarkable is the consistency of the work and the variety of its forms. It seems certain that Kelly’s contribution to the long poem will itself command respect for some time to come. At the same time, he is an adroit miniaturist, a most elegant prose stylist, and a discerning commentator on the work of other poets.

Kelly’s prolific body of work is predicated on the fundamental commitment to poetry as a grand project, shared among all of its practitioners. His work is keenly motivated by a sense of poetry as a monumental structure, like a cathedral, arising through centuries of sustained craftsmanship—involving generations and entire communities. The sense of the poem as an addressing of communal concerns is evident throughout Kelly’s collections.

On a more private level, Kelly’s work is of considerable interest both as the daily registration of poetry and as process. Because there has been no slackening of energy as the decades have gone by, Kelly’s poetry is an invaluable testimony to a demystification...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Christensen, Paul. “The Resurrection of Pan.” Southwest Review 78, no. 4 (1993): 506-528. A close reading of The Flowers of Unceasing Coincidence in the context of the fascination with paganism in modern poetry. Illustrates the influences of Ezra Pound and Charles Olson on Kelly’s poetry.

Kelly, Robert. “Nothing but Doors: An Interview with Robert Kelly.” Interview by Dennis Barne. Credences, n.s. 3 (Fall, 1985): 100-122. This interview focuses on Kelly’s involvement with the periodicals Chelsea, Trobar, and Maller. Kelly comments on many of his contemporaries, their work, and the influences that shaped his own verse and thought. Gives a good portrait of the poet’s career and personality.

_______. “Robert Kelly.” Interview by Barry Alpert. Vort 2, no. 2 (1974). A long and detailed interview in which Kelly touches on his life, his influences, fellow poets, and many other topics.

_______. “Robert Kelly.” Interview by David Ossman. In The Sullen Art, edited by Ossman. New York: Corinth Books, 1963. Kelly examines his notions on what poetry is and how it works. From his position as editor of the poetry magazine Trobar, he discusses other poets, but for the most part, he focuses on his thoughts regarding his own work in relation to that of his contemporaries.

_______. “Twenty Questions for Robert Kelly.” Interview by Clayton Eshleman. American Poetry Review 37, no. 1 (January/February, 2008): 33-39. Kelly discusses “his belief that poetry must be connected to the world by the poet and the reader,” “how a significant loss of body weight affected his outlook and self-perception,” and his depiction of women in his poems, among other topics.

Rasula, Jed. “Robert Kelly: A Checklist.” Credences, n.s. 3 (Spring, 1984): 91-124. Books, pamphlets, broadsides, separate publications, and contributions to books and periodicals make up this list of works by Kelly. An excellent source showing the considerable extent of Kelly’s output.

_______. “Ten Different Fruits on One Different Tree: Reading Robert Kelly.” Credences, n.s. 3 (Spring, 1984): 127-175. A review of Kelly’s career, and a publishing history that sorts through and presents the scope of the poet’s works. Helpful parts of this guide are a list of select poems to introduce the novice to Kelly’s verse, a discussion and chronology of the longer poems, analyses of several books (Finding the Measure, The Loom), and a look at Kelly’s craft as a formalist.

Vort 5 (1974). This special issue dedicated to Kelly predates the publication of The Loom. Contains critical appraisals and personal tributes to Kelly.