Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Poet Dave Kelly and Red Shuttleworth

Red Shuttleworth and Dave Kelly
Lake Michigan, 1976

Few poets blasted into the seventies with the firepower of Dave Kelly.  His Instructions for Viewing a Solar Eclipse (Wesleyan University Press, 1972), a dark-dark-dark sardonic take on the world, was much too bleak for critics.  But young writers loved Kelly's poems for their keen, dead-on, tough, beautifully wrought portraits of an America leaving the road at ninety, totally out of control.

The cover of Dave Kelly's Instructions for Viewing a Solar Eclipse

Kelly's book had just arrived in book stores.  The night I bought it I stayed up all night... reading it over and over.  A bright new poetry star had appeared in the heavens.  After I wrote a fan letter to Kelly, we began corresponding.  We became friends.  Kelly (and his Michigan State friends and classmates Jim Harrison and Gary Gildner) became a strong poetic influence.

Dave Kelly has not had a commercial or university press book since the appearance of Instructions for Viewing a Solar Eclipse.  His work no longer appeared in the poetry establishment's prominent journals, like Prairie Schooner, Atlantic Monthly and The Nation.  Kelly became a renegade poet of the small press scene.  His poems --bullets and jagged glass-- were not for reading at family Thanksgiving feasts, not if you wanted your mother-in-law to remain civil.

Dave Kelly is the most neglected poet in America... a great poet left out on the least hospitable edge of the frontier, a grim contrarian.

Dave Kelly... 1976

Books and chapbooks by Dave Kelly include:

Dear Nate  (Runcible Spoon, 1969)
Instructions for Viewing a Solar Eclipse  (Wesleyan University Press, 1972)
At a Time  (The Basilisk Press, 1972)
Did You Know They'e Beheading Bill Johnson Today?  (The Stone Press, 1974)
In These Rooms  (The Red Hill Press, 1976)
The Flesh-Eating Horse and Other Sagas  (Bartholomew's Cobble, 1976)
Poems in Season  (Texas Portfolio Press, 1977)
Filming Assassinations  (Ithaca House, 1979)
Northern Letter  (Nebraska Review Chapbooks, 1980)
Great Lakes Cycle  (Steps Inside, 1980)
Talking to Myself  (State Street Press, 1994)
When You Tell Them About Us  (Igneus Press, 2003) 

Dave and Sylvia Kelly
Lake Michigan, 1976

1 comment:

  1. Ah! Dave Kelly is a difficult poet to track down! I have owned a treasured copy of "Poems In Season" for, oh, 45 years? It was one of the first volumes of poetry I ever bought and it has stayed with me, literally and figuratively, ever since. My favorite poems in it are "Evening" and "One Day." Today i am working on a poetry "prompt" I do weekly, featuring a list of words taken from a particular poet or songwriter, and people write new poems using some or all of those words. Today I am putting together a list from "Poems In Season." And while searching (again) for Kelly or his work in the wilds of the internet, I found a place selling his books and ordered two of them. I am very happy about that!