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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

More from Vanished Act: The Life & Art of Weldon Kees

I'm at the point in this biography where Kees has achieved some success as a poet, and some success as a painter. He has not yet tackled jazz, but is on the verge. On the one hand, he seems to be struggling with notions of fame, deliberately trying to downplay his attractions to it, and on the other he craves it more than anything. Or perhaps not fame so much as acceptance--the answer to the question, "Is what I'm making any good to anyone?"

Comforted by this.

And here's an example of Kees doing what many of us have been doing lately, as evidenced by our posting of tentative TOCs, possible MS titles, etc.

A Late History, the working title of the new book, came together in April.* Kees wished Getty could have come to Brooklyn and given him a hand with the arrangement of the poems before he sent the typescript to his new publisher, Harcourt, Brace, which had recently bought out Reynal and Hitchcock. This had turned out to be a much harder book to put together than The Fall of the Magicians. He spent many hours "shifting" the poems around "without getting anywhere in particular." He wondered if they added up to "a unit" and if anyone even read books of poems that way anymore. He knew that they did not. The thirty-five poems that composed A Late History struck Kees as more personal than his earlier work. He told Getty that "1926" was "patently autobiographical." The poems also struck him as being on "a higher level" than those in The Fall of the Magicians, and there was, to him, "the undeniable fact" that the book was "much more somber in tone than The Fall, which had a moderately heavy emphasis on satire and the exterior world." He also resigned himself to their lyrical quality and to his incapacity to write a long poem. He only salvaged a portion of a hundred-line, centerpiece poem in "The Coming of the Plague," which made up for what it lacked in length in the enormity of its approaching catastrophe.

Comforting, right? Knowing Kees second-guessed himself and spread his M(es)S all over his office floor.

Then I remember his car was found abandoned at the Golden Gate and he was never heard from again.

*Fighting the near irresistible urge to edit this book as I read. I really wanted to change that clause to "as the book was known by its working title," or similar. And throughout Reidel makes (what seem to me) wild leaps from a set of factual circumstances to a questionable emotional conclusion. I'll have to get more specific about these when I write a full review. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the book.

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