Liz’s Weekly Always Patriotic Poetry Series: Weldon Kees

by lizard

Weldon Kees disappeared on July 18th, 1955. An article in the New Yorker (2005) titled The Disappearing Poet opens with this:

It is almost half a century since San Francisco police found a 1954 Plymouth Savoy on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. On Tuesday, July 19, 1955, a highway patrol reported that the car, belonging to a Weldon Kees, had been discovered with the keys in the ignition. Two of Kees’s friends, Michael Grieg and Adrian Wilson, went to search the apartment of the missing man. There they found, among other things, his cat, Lonesome, and a pair of red socks in a sink. His wallet, watch, and sleeping bag were missing. So was his savings-account book, although the balance, which stood at more than eight hundred dollars, would remain that way. There was no suicide note.

Weldon Kees didn’t get a lot of attention from his peers or later scholars partly because he was more formal when all the cool kids were doing free verse. The tone of a Kees poem, though, is often the tone of a blistering cynic using his bitter poetic alchemy to transform the constraints of form into a formal vehicle of attack.

Take, for example, this villanelle by Weldon Kees (the first in a 5 poem cycle):


The crack is moving down the wall.
Defective plaster isn’t all the cause.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

It’s mildly cheering to recall
That every building has its little flaws.
The crack is moving down the wall.

Here in the kitchen, drinking gin,
We can accept the damndest laws.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

And though there’s no one here at all,
One searches every room because
The crack is moving down the wall.

Repairs? But how can one begin?
The lease has warnings buried in each clause.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

These nights one hears a creaking in the hall,
The sort of thing that gives one pause.
The crack is moving down the wall.
We must remain until the roof falls in.


I thought of Weldon Kees tonight because he also wrote brutal short stories, one titled The Evening of the Fourth of July. I found an excerpt from that story here.

And here it is:

There were explosions everywhere. McGoin decided that it was impossible for him to concentrate any longer on the Bhagavadgita, which he had been trying to read. Putting the book down, he dressed and left his room. On the porch, he unrolled the newspaper to see what was happening in the world. Deaths and injuries from the holiday celebrations had exceeded the wildest prophecies, he noticed. He briefly scanned the headlines. A notorious Continental pervert was being feted in New York. A captain of industry predicted better times and announced a thirty-five per-cent wage cut. There was a picture of him making the announcement. He had a flower in his buttonhole. A ravishingly beautiful Hollywood star was to undergo a dangerous rectal operation at Mother of Christ Memorial Hospital. There were brief accounts of various murders, rapes, swindles, divorces, wars, poisonings, accidents, and beatings, and an illustrated feature story of an interesting child-torture case, in which the torturer claimed to have employed his razor blades and red-hot irons to bring a consciousness of Divine love to his youthful victims.

For another LWPS look at Weldon Kees, read this post.

  1. 1 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Weldon Kees […]

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