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Michael O’Brien

About Kenneth Cox

This piece is 317 words or about two printed pages long.

There’s a sentence in his translation of Federigo Tozzi’s Eyes Shut

The road, where at points the wind raised swirls of white dust without itself being felt, was as lonely as though no one had ever been along it.

that has the objective sadness of the book — nothing personal, this is just how life is. The sentence is disinterested in the way that his essays are — he loved poetry, but he read it in a strikingly disinterested way. As he said about Lorine Niedecker,

Her silences derive from an intellectual conviction that art, like science, demands total concentration on the object of attention.

All (all!) that was required was intelligence and patience.

There was also, sometimes, a kind of dry, restrained admiration, not at all common, as when he writes, again of Niedecker,

At length her versification came to consist of nothing but syllables placed one under another at different angles and different distances.


She saw her poems on paper before she heard them in sound or could chew them in the mouth.

He found any kind of rhetorical inflation pernicious, but he knew what mattered. He wrote to Niedecker about a reading of Louis Zukofsky’s in London:

I walked back through the parks — we have two together, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, two miles or more, almost the whole length of my walk home — to keep clear of people and traffic. I was touched to know I could still, though middle-aged, not much hope left, by some stroke of luck or mark of favour be induced to feel truths we knew when young. It made me remember things I had known and thought and pleased me that someone else should be able to make my secrets public.

His mix of independence and exactitude and generosity was very rare.

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