Kenneth Gross


15 September 2008

Dear Irving,

This is to thank you for the gift of your poems.  They seem to have been with me since I started writing, opening my eyes, asking me questions, testing my sympathies, and trying my ears – stretching my way of listening, my sense of how words work, how people and poems speak or keep silent.  It is those voices and their stories that I always remember most strongly.  They speak in a language that can be at once so raw and so lyrical, so plain and so mysterious, framing over and over again “still unguessable shapes…” which yet seem so bluntly present.  Many come to mind – those brooding, anxious, sometimes childish watchers in the museum in “All of Us Here,” the listening children of Hamelin, their harrowed ears, Needler and Nailer, Hummingblood and Harmingbad, Malke Toyb, May Swenson’s father and her children, Kiss and Tell, those callers and responders on the phone, the mad “laureates,” sleepless Krip, so many others.  (There are so many children in these poems, I suddenly realize – as well as many adults who, as our friend John once said, have put off the wrong childish things.)  They are continuous parables for me, like Kafka’s or Bruno Schulz’s, pitiless but full of charity, full of an uncanny laughter. 

There came to my mind that question Byron asked one of his correspondents apropos of Don Juan – “Is it not life?  Is it not thing?”  Yours poems are, however stark and frightening the life is sometimes, however strange the thing.

And thank you too for your friendship over many years, for your generous responses to my work, for many stories that found no place in the poems, for your company, and your conversations at dinner along the side of the canal.  You have brought some of the spirit of Coney Island to our strange upstate.   

So, Happy Birthday. 

Yours as ever,