I believe I first knew of Kenneth Irby by way of his early 70's book, To Max Douglass. The book, which had caught my attention in part because of its mention of David Bromige in the opening, also served as my introduction to the late Max Douglass, whose collected poems were published not too much later by Chris Weinert's small press, with an assist from Andrea Wyatt. When I spoke at the University of Maine's conference on poetry of the 1970s, I made that book and those three poets the center of my paper, looking at the shift from the "New American Poetries" into the yet newer.
I got my first, and so far only chance to hear Irby read a bit later, when he read in Baltimore. Barry Alpert offered me a lift over from D.C. Barry's interview magazine, Vort, had done a special issue on Irby. I'd read that with real interest, and the special issue of Credences also dedicated to explorations of Irby's works. That's where Robert Kelly taught me the word "deictic."
In the following years I made a point of following Irby's books as they appeared. I read Riding the Dog while riding the bus. Seemed appropriate. What I didn't see much more of, though, was strong critical response to Irby's poetry. He remains one of those poets who really should be better known.
And maybe this will help. A while back I got an email from Billy Joe Harris alerting me to the fact that there would soon be a Collected Irby. I expected a good sized volume, what with it being a collected, but when the book arrived, with its gorgeous cover, I was taken aback by just how rich an offering this book proved to be. Despite my previous readings, I'd not known just what a sizeable iceberg had been signaled by those few books I'd gotten my hands on over the years. My experience is in some way summed up by the lines of one of the poems:
"to be claimed in the end by the fate of some old poem
dying its life
the unprotected sop of experience for size
hotter, for having been off on its own for 30, 40 years
You can order the book here. Sorry to say there's no Kindle edition; but the thing earns its heft.