POESY

po·e·sy n. pl. po·e·sies 1. Poetical works; poetry. 2. The art or practice of composing poems. 3. The inspiration involved in composing poetry. [Middle English poesie, from Old French, from Latin posis, from Greek poisis, from poiein, to create; see kwei-2 in Indo-European roots.]

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24 -- Weldon Kees



Weldon Kees c 1954, Photograph by William Heick


Weldon Kees February 24, 1914 - July 18, 1955


Nebraska-born Kees was a poet, short story writer, journalist, painter, art critic, musician...

Kees graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1935. During the last years of the Depression he was widely published in literary journals, and his reputation as a poet and short story writer grew.

In 1943 Kees and his wife moved to New York, where he wrote essays and reviews for magazines and newspapers. He took up painting and successfully presented one-man shows. He published his second volume of poems in 1947.

A cross-country move in 1950 brought the couple to San Francisco. Kees collaborated on films, continued to paint and write poems, tried songwriting. In the mid fifties, his wife became severely alcoholic and suffered from mental illness. They divorced in 1954.

Kees became dependent on amphetamines, his life consumed by numerous projects. He worked on a radio film review program, a film company, a theatrical enterprise, and with Bay Area jazz and blues musicians. He wrote screenplays and played piano with jazz groups.

Becoming increasingly depressed, he told a friend in the summer of 1955 that he had considered suicide. He also mentioned starting a new life in Mexico, the way writers Hart Crane, Malcolm Lowry, and others had done.

On July 18, 1955, his car was found abandoned on the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. He left no note. No one is sure if Kees jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge that day or if he went to Mexico. Suicide is presumed.

He was 41.

Poet Donald Justice noted that Kees "...is original in one of the few ways that matter: he speaks to us in a voice or, rather, in a particular tone of voice which we have never heard before."


Poetry by Weldon Kees


Colloquy

In the broken light, in owl weather,
Webs on the lawn where the leaves end,
I took the thin moon and the sky for cover
To pick the cat's brains and descend
A weedy hill. I found him groveling
Inside the summerhouse, a shadowed bulge,
Furred and somnolent.—"I bring,"
I said, "besides this dish of liver, and an edge
Of cheese, the customary torments,
And the usual wonder why we live
At all, and why the world thins out and perishes
As it has done for me, sieved
As I am toward silences. Where
Are we now? Do we know anything?"
—Now, on another night, his look endures.
"Give me the dish," he said.
I had his answer, wise as yours.



Covering Two Years

This nothingness that feeds upon itself:
Pencils that turn to water in the hand,
Parts of a sentence, hanging in the air,
Thoughts breaking in the mind like glass,
Blank sheets of paper that reflect the world
Whitened the world that I was silenced by.

There were two years of that. Slowly,
Whatever splits, dissevers, cuts, cracks, ravels, or divides
To bring me to that diet of corrosion, burned
And flickered to its terminal.--Now in an older hand
I write my name. Now with a voice grown unfamiliar,
I speak to silences of altered rooms,
Shaken by knowledge of recurrence and return.



The Beach

Squat, unshaven, full of gas,
Joseph Samuels, former clerk
in four large cities, out of work,
waits in the darkened underpass.

In sanctuary, out of reach,
he stares at the fading light outside:
the rain beginning: hears the tide
that drums along the empty beach.

When drops first fell at six o'clock,
the bathers left. The last car's gone.
Sun's final rays reflect upon
the streaking rain, the rambling dock.

He takes an object from his coat
and holds it tightly in his hand
(eyes on the stretch of endless sand).
And then, in darkness, cuts his throat.



The Bell From Europe

The tower bell in the Tenth Street Church
Rang out nostalgia for the refugee
Who knew the source of bells by sound.
We liked it, but in ignorance.
One meets authorities on bells infrequently.

Europe alone made bells with such a tone,
Herr Mannheim said. The bell
Struck midnight, and it shook the room.
He had heard bells in Leipzig, Chartres, Berlin,
Paris, Vienna, Brussels, Rome.
He was a white-faced man with sad enormous eyes.

Reader, for me that bell marked nights
Of restless tossing in this narrow bed,
The quarrels, the slamming of a door,
The kind words, friends for drinks, the books we read,
Breakfasts with streets in rain.
It rang from europe all the time.
That was what Mannheim said.

It is good to know, now that the bell strikes noon.
In this day's sun, the hedges are Episcopalian
As noon is marked by the twelve iron beats.
The rector moves ruminantly among the gravestones,
And the sound of a dead Europe hangs in the streets.



The End Of The Library

When the coal
Gave out, we began
Burning the books, one by one;
First the set
Of Bulwer-Lytton
And then the Walter Scott.
They gave a lot of warmth.
Toward the end, in
February, flames
Consumed the Greek
Tragedians and Baudelaire,
Proust, Robert Burton
And the Po-Chu-i. Ice
Thickened on the sills.
More for the sake of the cat,
We said, than for ourselves,
Who huddled, shivering,
Against the stove
All winter long.



The Smiles Of The Bathers

The smiles of the bathers fade as they leave the water,
And the lover feels sadness fall as it ends, as he leaves his love.
The scholar, closing his book as the midnight clock strikes, is hollow
and old:
The pilot's relief on landing is no release.
These perfect and private things, walling us in, have imperfect and
public endings--
Water and wind and flight, remembered words and the act of love
Are but interruptions. And the world, like a beast, impatient and
quick,
Waits only for those who are dead. No death for you. You are
involved.



1926

The porchlight coming on again,
Early November, the dead leaves
Raked in piles, the wicker swing
Creaking. Across the lots
A phonograph is playing Ja-Da.

An orange moon. I see the lives
Of neighbors, mapped and marred
Like all the wars ahead, and R.
Insane, B. with his throat cut,
Fifteen years from now, in Omaha.

I did not know them then.
My airedale scratches at the door.
And I am back from seeing Milton Sills
And Doris Kenyon. Twelve years old.
The porchlight coming on again.



Robinson

The dog stops barking after Robinson has gone.
His act is over. The world is a gray world,
Not without violence, and he kicks under the grand piano,
The nightmare chase well under way.

The mirror from Mexico, stuck to the wall,
Reflects nothing at all. The glass is black.
Robinson alone provides the image Robinsonian.

Which is all of the room--walls, curtains,
Shelves, bed, the tinted photograph of Robinson's first wife,
Rugs, vases panatelas in a humidor.
They would fill the room if Robinson came in.

The pages in the books are blank,
The books that Robinson has read. That is his favorite chair,
Or where the chair would be if Robinson were here.

All day the phone rings. It could be Robinson
Calling. It never rings when he is here.

Outside, white buildings yellow in the sun.
Outside, the birds circle continuously
Where trees are actual and take no holiday.



--
Cat