0 item items

Robert Kelly

2016 Season

Robert Kelly has read at ‘T’ Space on three separate occasions. First on September 7, 2013 for the opening of Columbia University’s student group exhibition, The Architectonics of Music, Kelly read ‘T’ Space commissioned poem, What I really want to say (for Steven Holl).

On May 25, 2014 for the opening of Carolee Schneemann’s exhibition, Flange 6rpm, Kelly returned as the recipient of the 2nd Annual ‘T’ Space Poetry Award and read from Winter Music, published by ‘T’ Space Editions.

And again on July 2, 2016, Kelly read excerpts from his poem, Phases of Earth, his second ‘T’ Space commission, for the opening of The Ex of IN House. 

Just like a field
it goes on into sky
horizon is a kind of breath
around the visible, keeps us
in our place.

The acres change
keep changing places
there is no order
there is no center
but where you stand
right now under the sky

Here and there a tree
stands up, rebuking my presumption,
but showing me roughly
how the land lies.
But the land never lies.
That’s why we have to be here,
stand here, to understand anything.
To know a place
keep coming back.
A field gives you everything.
A field hives itself.
Snow hummocks
and what lifts them so,
the secret earth itself
on which you build.
We build — isn’t
it our business to turn
space into language
so we can live in it?
Architecture of the future
begins here in this gentle
heft of pasture and woodlot—

the road down goes up
Everything is going to the sky.
That seems to be the secret.
Heraclitus to Heidegger they
All seem to say so.

There is a road that goes there,
a line to follow, trees
and other sentinels assert the way.

To say the way
is to protect it.

We go as far as we can –
that is who we are, we are the ones
who go as far as we can.

We follow any tree.
A tree is what Dasein
actually says.
or sings.

Men argue about whether
there’s anything on the other side
of the sky, some other
sort of being. Or Being.

But we keep going. This picture
grows lighter as you look at it,
the dawn is coming, make sure
we get there in time.

Or sunset. Only fools
think there is a difference –
It is the same light

constantly growing.
Wherever you look.
Already the trees are all behind you.

Hard gossamer the brittle air
leafless branch enmeshed
in god’s own crinoline
detected – this
is a man’s heart

a man like me
half wood half will
a greenish kind of red
you suck my blood

freemasonry of being touch

the eye that saw this image
is inside a man
sees the pretty cobwbs of my appetites
a flyless web bereft of predator
cotton candy caught in amber sympathy

it knows I want to
get sticky with you
“whoever you are”
who saw this waiting, calling,
wanting in the woods

it knows it knows
it knows what I want
it rebukes me for my shtick
I invented something no one wants
a word instead of a loaf of bread
but it leads me everywhere

in the murk of ordinary seeing
leads me to love

my vague persuasion my broken stick

Gravity determines
how I look at you
the eyes are the level

pnei hayyam, the plane of earth,
face of the sea.

I want to look at you
where my eyes are

touch nothing – leave it to the air

so we sat down and thought about it:
air is a mineral

what you show behind the trees
is a kind of polished stone
tourmaline we breathe in
colors flourish us

water is a mineral too
we turn into each other


crines aurae
hair of the air
the light around the skull
from which the thought disseminates throughout the world
and through which it feeds

hair of the great trees

but a stick is nothing with a hand to hold it

desire is the mineral in which the animal moves

tourmaline problems the whole
earth a shiny pebble
you snug into your pocket

one look and then
how hard it is to find the world again.

But it is geometry at last
shows gravity the way to go

down where the dogs are
down where the unborn children
tease us in our sleep

down where Ariadne
dries her tears for Theseus
and rises higher,

love affair with a god
the twice-born
whose juices surge through man and tree.

blue pools
Light misbehaving.

Light, you
took our things away
not even their shadows
are to hand, you
left us just yours self
and that much of that

your radiance all umber’d
and all the brilliancy
condensed to three blue pools

(color of the square halos
of Byzantium, dignity of devils,
every being bad or good
has its own glow)

the dark keeps answering

And then I see it could be woman
could be rocked loins could be breasts
the parts of promise
shimmer pools
becoming the dawn sky
and storm light at the margin
margins of desire margins of thought

and we remember the great poet
who sailed past us two dozen years ago
into the luminous uncertainty,
strange light, light misbehaving,

yellow-green light of earthquake and Golgotha

that a woman stands in darkness
firm against equivocation

what can they be
who speak to me?

Look longer,
set the buried caverns free

personate wall
and all time is burin’d in my hide.

The Theory
If you saw a color
and opened it up
you’d find another color
and in side that
another and on and on
and never find the sky

We are already
on the inside of the sky
what we see
are the refraction patterns
of our tears

the smudges of words on feelings.

What I Really Want to Say
is about poetry (always)
is about architecture I mean music,
yes. How can I tell them
apart? I’ll try.


How they use us
to make us become ourselves.


What I really wanted to say
is about poiesis
the Greek verb poiein means to make
so anybody who makes anything
has to be a poet


so when we were evicted by spirit from the caves
we moved into houses
structures built by the first poets,
the architects


isn’t the house the first thing they, we, really made?


So poetry and music make time pass
and architecture makes space pass
into meaningful form.
I mean architecture makes music stand still.


That’s more like it:
here time turns into space


Space and place, can they be the same?


Place happens to space,
is architecture in a place
or does it make the place
itself happen to space.
The way music happens to time.


So there is usually a street and sometimes a fountain
—a thing that moves up and glistens
while the eye reaches out and out—
and there’s a girl walking by and another eating lunch on a bench
because a place is a plaza.


But what I really wanted to say
is that the poem stretches on and on
like an avenue of mysterious buildings
who on earth lives in all those houses
apartments single rooms
who climbs down the stairs or stumbles at midnight,
who opens the brass letter boxes o my god
who are all these people
eating their lunch in the middle of the poem
and looking at each other and wondering what it all means
and then they come to the end of a line and decide
well enough of this it’s time to go home
home to their room
home to their own place.


What I really wanted to say
was that the word ‘room’ really means ‘space’—
like German Lebensraum, space to live in—


is there room for living
in this poem you’re writing
o poet and o composer
are you leaving space in your music
for someone to live in, really and truly
be alive inside your music,
not just some background noise,
not just some sad background-life while you drone on?


I know it’s not polite to ask
but we sort of know what architecture does
rough and ready we inhabit it
and when we’re lucky it changes us,
guides our footsteps and the way
we feel about doing
whatever we’re doing that brings us there,
swinking or swiving, a building holds all.


So what I really wanted to say
was that these arts do something to time as it goes by
not just make it pass
as Beckett had his losers say, the time will pass by itself all right,
it knows how to do that,
or that is all time knows.


And do we know more
than what music tells us as it flows past?
We sit in the plaza on a marble bench and read poems to one another
whispering or waving our arms and why not,
somebody has to make things move,


make the shadows dance in and out
of the shadows of great buildings.


But does time ever really pass?
Isn’t time just a superstition,
a flaw in our attention to the permanent?
And if time passes
can we learn how to stop it
and make it pool out around us
so that we stand or sit
in the shallow water of moveless time,
this static stream


or time might be a fountain
springing up and falling down
a salmon-leap of time out into space,


into room,
so that when we see a building we know that time is safe there,
an artist’s hour hammered into place
and we can be, just be.
Has he turned time into space?


What I really wanted to say
was there and back again,
the swell of music
held in the mouth of the poem
spoken to the girl eating her lunch
in the great nest of plazas
of many levels Steven Holl
built in China, a city in a city,
a poem someone is reciting,
annoying the poor girl eating her lunch,
my god how can I look at that plaza
and not start writing a poem,
a poem with musics and levels and fountains and food,


it’s hard work to eat
chewing and swallowing
all the inward mysteries thereafter,
hard work
the poem and the song,
Hegel infamously remarked a building is a frozen song,
well yes, but everything is,
what I really wanted to say
was that everything approximates music
but a building is exact,
demands space move its hips and shoulders
this way not that way,


or is architecture also a chanceful music,
turning space into space
so that we can get lost for a long time,
in a long song
of corridors and pentagons and Moorish geometries,


the way John Cage’s 4’33” turns time into time,
our dear Christless fundamentalist,
our sweet raw Pythagoras,


daring to turn common time into pure time-
time transmuted by attention—
he’ll never let us be sure
if he was the great Alchemist or the Wizard of Oz,


but the time changed. And stays changed,
he moved on to the next town
and left us with an empty room full of pure time.


We shake our heads and say Next time we’ll do better,
we’ll be ready for him, and dance to his tune.
But what does “next time” mean?


Can there be another time
after this time?
That’s where poetry comes in,
and if quoting myself I should say again
time transmuted by attention
a measured, noticed time
is as much music as Heinrich Biber’s,
the glorious whine of whose archaic strings
won’t leave you alone for a second,


she looks up from her paper plate
and hears the time singing round her ears
spoken by the shapes and shades of great buildings
and now she knows, and now she’s only now.


Can a poem, though,
such as I’m trying to make
or bend your way now,
can a man outlast time?
Can it get where it’s going before I get there?


When I was a child the greatest thrill
was riding on the escalator
Macy’s Gimbel’s Wanamaker’s
floor to floor and always rising
and no one to stop
even a child from going up
and watching the people
on the way down, clutching bags
neat brown packages, content,
descending into ordinary space
while I rose up, finally reaching
the dim cool floor where furs were sold
and I turned back from the fear of dead animals,
what could it mean to live in a world
where animals die and their skins
rest on lovely women of a certain age,
that’s why we hurry down again
to the ordinary floors, the street,
the paper plates littering the gutter,
she’s closed her book and gone back to work,
the half-eaten sandwich, the poem
read halfway through and never finished.


But something was always going up,
even if we didn’t have the wit or will to endure its beauty,
like James Tenney’s electronic For Anne, Rising,
where the sound goes up and up and never stops that climb
but is always present, or Joan Tower’s wonderful Platinum Spirals,
violin conquering time by rising always in one place,


or when the thunder walks through the valley
and everybody and everything knows itself
suddenly walked into by that sound,


invaded, persuaded, frightened, spared—


What I really wanted to say
was that I’m tired of poetry being a blueprint not a house
I’m tired of music being something that comes and goes
I want the word to be a house
and the tune to be something you climb on and travel
but how can I say that?


What I really wanted to say
is how can words make you hear
how can words make—


a poem is something made
can it make a place you can actually walk
around in, stretch out in,
reach a wall you can lean against
warm in sunlight and close your eyes?


What I really wanted to say
was that poetry wants to close your eyes
so you open them suddenly in a new space,
the way doors and windows do
o these architects these poets
who can build an opening
anywhere they choose
can open space and let us in


but can I break open even a single
word to make you see?


Robert Kelly (b.1935, Brooklyn) is a poet and fiction writer educated at CCNY and Columbia. Since 1961, he has published more than fifty poetry books. Kelly has also written collections of essays, manifestos, and volumes of short fiction. He has been especially interested in collaborations with artists and other poets. Kelly is the Asher B. Edelman Professor of Literature at Bard College.

Back Previous artist Next artist