A Poet Appears, Disappears

I had never heard of Weldon Kees until reading – earlier today – Anthony Lane’s fabulous New Yorker piece “The Disappearing Poet” (7/4/05 issue). What a sad story thoughtfully told. Near the essay’s end, Lane quotes from a series of Kees’s “Robinson poems”:

Robinson afraid, drunk, sobbing Robinson
In bed with a Mrs. Morse. Robinson at home;
Decisions: Toynebee or luminol? Where the sun
Shines, Robinson in flowered trunks, eyes toward
The breakers. Where the night ends. Robinson in East Side bars.

Robinson in Glen plaid jacket, Scotch-grain shoes,
Black four-in-hand and oxford button-down,
The jeweled and silent watch that winds itself, the brief-
Case, covert topcoat, clothes for spring, all covering
His sad and usual heart, dry as a winter leaf.

Lane calls the poem “the portrait of the postwar man of affairs.” A few paragraphs later, he writes:

“The unhappy are most hard to tolerate when they force their discontent upon the rest of us, but Kees was too courteous for that; he simply lacked the Emersonian gift of moral levitation–everything that tells the Robinsons of this world to snap out of it, embrace their wives, say a prayer, and check their stock prices. We should not be misled, by the enigma of his vanishing, into overrating Kees, either as a man or as an artist; he was a major minor poet, yet that very stature, together with his ceaseless lusting to be other or better than he was, makes him a representative figure of his time.”

This was a really great piece. Though I didn’t originally like Lane’s New Yorker film reviews, I’ve come to enjoy his humor and zip. It’s impressive to see him stretch out here with a different topic and hitting very different notes.