Posts Tagged ‘Robert Kelly


Surreal LangPo

All summer I’ve been reading Deep Image poetry and about Deep Image poetry. I’ve focused my concentrations on Robert Bly, James Wright, Galway Kinnell, Robert Kelly, and Jerome Rothenberg. I also read Louis Simpson, who is a fine poet, but in the end, is not a Deep Image poet. I excluded many other fine Deep Image poets as I needed to contain my study, at least in the short-term. I decided to study this poetry and these poets because I wanted to come to an understanding with them and with Deep Image poetry. Over the last 20 or so years, I’ve gone back and forth on them – for instance: Bly is okay,  Bly sucks, Bly is awesome, Bly has a tin ear, Bly’s music is tonal, Bly is innovative, Bly is boring, etc.. The older I get the more I like Deep Image poetry, but still I have some concerns: is the language hard enough? is the music interesting enough? is there music? why are there so many stock words like, “snow,” “teeth,” “shadow,” etc.? why the heavy use of “of,” “of the,” and preposition+”the,” etc?

Each of these poets has a different take on Deep Image poetry, especially those poets in the Bly Deep-Image camp and the poets in the Kelly/Rothenberg Deep-Image camp. One thing that is true of all them is that Deep Image has roots in the Surreal. Deep Image poetry, like Surrealism, tries to include the irrational, the unreasonable, and the unconscious in order to create a poem that speaks to the whole of a person, instead of, for instance, just the conscious, rational side of the person. Surrealism also tries to transform what language can do and/or should do, as does Language Poetry but in a different way.

The Sixities Trobar 2

This leads me to the point of what I want to talk about here. The last few days I’ve been writing in a manner or approach that is new to me, though I’m sure others have tried the same approach. (I hope that by writing about it I don’t jinx myself out of continuing this approach.) What I’ve been doing is trying automatic writing (a writing strategy of the Surrealists where, essentially, the person just writes without thinking or stopping to correct a typo or correcting anything) while at the same time trying to avoid meaning making. Avoiding meaning making is the challenge. It’s more than just putting random words together. It’s putting random words together so that someone can’t make sense of them, which is difficult because the human mind likes to make meanings, associations, narratives, etc., in order to understand and/or interpret. So I tried to write so that another person couldn’t impose a meaning, structure, narrative, associations, etc. on top of the poem. That’s what I tried in the first draft. I aimed for meaninglessness. I aimed to put out words that no longer had the linguistic, cultural, and economic impositions of meanings.

Surrealist Manifesto The Language Book (Poetics of the New)

I, however, am a meaning making person. So after the first draft, which looks like something translated from another language through Google’s translator but even less sensical, I begin my own translation. I translate what I have into something that makes sense for the reader and myself.  I try to create a narrative or associations or sensible stanzas of sentences. However, since the origin of the poems is from such an irrational and shaky area, the sentences end up disoriented or disorienting, which is the ideal.

In the end, the poem escapes the predetermined and expected order of perception and language. The poem makes new meanings, new perceptions, and new syntactical arrangements that don’t evade the conscious mind or the unconscious mind – the poem speaks to both. The poem shakes the reader out of the ordinary, I hope/think. The poem because of how it is written and how the final draft appears also speaks to the whole of the person.

This new approach is what I call Surreal LangPo. (I can’t find evidence of this term being used before, so I hope I’m the first.)

One more guideline/rule: the poet must avoid the Surrealist genitive “of.” That is, try to avoid creating possessive constructions that use “of.”

I hope I’ve provided enough guidance to help you approach perceiving, language, and writing poems in a new way. I’d like to give examples, but I’m reluctant. If I put the poems here, then I might influence you too much. I think these general guidelines will allow you to discover a more personal approach to Surreal LangPo.//


Leigh Anne Couch’s Houses Fly Away (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 11, which was published circa January 2009.


Leigh Anne Couch's – Houses Fly AwayOne of the first things I notice about Leigh Anne Couch’s poems in Houses Fly Away (Zone 3 Press), especially in the wonderful anti-war poem “Trains,” is that they are well disciplined and controlled . . . and patient. Often when we hear “disciplined,” we actually hear “intellectual and without emotion” and maybe even hear “formulaic,” but not in this case. Couch is disciplined because she lets emotions evolve. But there’s more: these poems speak to the mind, body, heart, and soul – which is damned rare to find these days. Couch’s poems will affect you in all of those areas, especially the emotional. Or perhaps  I should quote from“Lazarus” to better explain, but when you read “love” read “poem” and you’ll understand what I’m getting at.

   Till now in the airless dark, Lazarus
   had no idea love means
   thick blood in bursting blows
   to the hands, feet, organs,

   and mind – all coming . . . 		
                                                      (ll 1-5)

So, yes, there is some damned good poetry in Houses Fly Away, and if you want to learn craft, there’s a lot to be learned in these pages. She’s got what Pound calls Techne. And here technique draws from all schools of poetry – Deep Image (both styles, à la Robert Kelly and Robert Bly), Black Mountain, Language, Elliptical, etc. – and combines them all for some superb poetry. Enough said.//




Couch, Anne Leigh. Houses Fly Away. Clarksville, TN: Zone 3 Press, 2007.//


The Lune and Robert Kelly

I used to love Robert Kelly’s poetry. I did my thesis on his book-length poem The Loom (Black Sparrow Press, 1975). (Good luck finding a copy. I found mine in a tobacco and books store in the Adirondacks somewhere. You can try It may be the best place on the internet to find books.) The name of my poetry journal, Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, is a tribute to Robert Kelly, as his selected poems is called Redactions (Black Sparrow Press, 1995). (Also another one that might be hard to come by.) I have #33 of the 100 numbered and signed copies. I’m sure I would still love Kelly’s poetry if I read him again. Perhaps I will this summer.

Robert Kelly, along with Jerome Rothenberg, created the term and school or type of poetry called Deep Image or Deep Imagism. If memory serves me correctly, the initial manifesto was in the second issue of  Trobar on pages 13-14 or 11-12, or thereabouts. 1964ish. (I can’t believe that still lingers in my memory.) Robert Bly and gang then usurped it and transformed into something a bit different, which is fine because something good came of it. (Kelly’s deep image is more linguistic based and Bly’s is more Jungian based.) I wonder if that is why Robert Kelly and Robert Bly despise each other. I’ve mentioned Bly’s name in Kelly’s presence, and it stirred up some negative emotions in Kelly. And I’ve mentioned Kelly’s name in Bly’s presence, and Bly was more vocal in his displeasure with Robert Kelly.

Robert Kelly, I learned today, also invented the Lune. It’s an Americanized version of the Haiku. Robert Kelly didn’t think the 5/7/5 syllabic version worked well in the English language because it had too many words. So he condensed it to 13 syllables – 5/3/5. He also got rid of the nature requirements that a haiku has. “Lune” is French for “moon.” So the name makes sense, because there are 13 lunar months in a year. In mathematics, the lune is a shape that is similar to a crescent moon. “The Lune” also rhymes with “The Loom,” the above mentioned book. You can read more about the Lune on Robert Brewer’s blog Poetic Asides. This is where I first learned about the Lune. In the Lune blog entry, Brewer also wrote his own Lune, which I’m hoping he doesn’t mind me sharing here.

trees never wander
but still spread
across open fields

I like this poem. It still has the leaping qualities of the haiku that I’ve noted in other entries. However, Brewer’s big leap, his jumping-with-sensation leap, occurs after line one and not after line two. But it is a terrific leap. It goes from a static image to a kinetic image, but you don’t realize the kinesis until the poem ends, or at earliest on “across.” The image just keeps unfolding. It’s a solid poem. A solid lune.

So, thank you Robert Brewer for introducing me to the Lune.//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

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