Kenneth Irby, longtime KU English professor and poet, dead at 79

Longtime Kansas University English professor and poet Kenneth Irby died July 30 at age 79 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the university said in a release.

Irby, a 1958 KU alumnus, first took a teaching position with the school’s English department in 1985, the release said. He was promoted to full professor in 2012.

“He was stunning in his American Poets of the 20th Century class and really opened up (Ezra) Pound and H.D. for me in a way I would not have found on my own,” said Genna Sue Hibbs, one of Irby’s former students. “He made the maze of allusion penetrable, and he reminded you that poetry involved engaging all human experience.”

Irby was awarded the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2010, the release said. During his career he published nearly 30 books, chapbooks and broadsides and more than 300 poems and works of prose. He also contributed photographs to two books by poet Charles Olson.

“He was one of the great American poets of the late 20th century, which sounds like hyperbole, but there are a lot of great poets of the late 20th century — American and otherwise — who would second that opinion,” said KU English professor Joe Harrington. “His loss leaves a gaping hole in the Lawrence and U.S. poetry community, not to mention in our department. He was a delightful friend and esteemed colleague. My heart is heavy.”