Dorsey: Writing resolutions for the new yearWritten by John Dorsey | | email@example.com
Happy New Year, Toledo! This time last year I had a whole list of resolutions for the new year. This year, I have only one. Everywhere I go, I tend to read aloud at least one poem by someone who has inspired me. More often than not, someone comes up to me later in the evening and thanks me for introducing them to the work of a poet they’ve never read before. Really I’m just doing what so many friends have done for me, I’m paying it forward. So my New Year’s resolution is simply to carry on that tradition.
It’s with that in mind, that I mention the work of Kell Robertson. A prolific poet, Robertson passed away in November in Santa Fe, N.M., at the age of 81 and I would guess you’ve never heard of him.
Born in Codell, Kan., in 1930, Robertson was the son of a saxophone player who walked out on the family when his boy was a toddler. His mother later remarried. Well on his way to becoming a “hood,” Robertson was kicked out of the house at the age of 13, but not before his mother took him to hear Hank Williams. It was Williams’ music that led him to a life filled with poetry and music.
Robertson was the author of a number of collections of poetry including “Oh, I’d Sing Alright,” “Outlaw Fires,” “Bear Crossing,” “All the Bar Room Poetry in this World Can’t Mend this Heart of Mine Dear,” “The Levelling Wind,” “Mailbox Boogie” with Ann Menebroker and most famously, “A Horse Called Desperation.” This collection of selected works was published by Aspermont Press in 1995. He also edited the mimeograph publication “Desperado” and was a noted singer/songwriter of country music recording for several independent record labels. More than anything, he was a mentor.
I first came into contact with his work nearly 10 years ago, and was floored by his honesty. How he could take a simple narrative, a single memory, and turn it into something beautiful. This first reading led to a correspondence and later a friendship that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
When I met Kell in person in 2006, he told me about music, poets he’d known, and even recited Samuel Taylor Coleridge while sipping malt liquor out of a teacup. After that visit the letters continued, always filled with some wisdom or advice in Kell’s slow easy style. Kell was certainly in a position to talk from experience; he had more stories to tell than most. He told me about the time he was kicked out of the offices of a major record label drunk as a skunk, right before he was supposed to have signed a contract that would’ve changed his life, about his time as a bit player in Sam Peckinpah’s classic western “The Wild Bunch” and so much more.
He was inspiration to so many young artists like country recording star Jason Eklund, the Ohio band Blonde Boy Grunt and the Groans, and countless poets across the globe. City Lights Bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti once called Kell “a damn fine cowboy poet” but in my opinion that was selling him short. Kell was a lot of things: a singer, a poet, a father, a central member of both the Beat and Outlaw poetry movements and a friend. The best advice he ever gave me was to read the word and share its meaning. It’s with that sentiment that I hope you’ll seek out his work on the Internet in 2012 and if you ever need a reading suggestion feel free to ask. Ride easy, Kell.
Until next time … keep your pencil sharp.
John Dorsey resides in Toledo’s Old West End. His work is widely published and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Tags: Ann Menebroker, Blonde Boy Grunt and the Groans, City Lights Bookstore, Hank Williams, Jason Eklund, John Dorsey, Kell Robertson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poetry, Sam Peckinpah, Samuel Taylor Coleridge