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Covering Two Years -- Weldon Kees

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1740) 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 corrossion, 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.
-- Weldon Kees
A month ago, I'd never heard of Weldon Kees. Then Anthony Lane wrote an
article about him in the New Yorker [1] and I went out and got Kees'
collected poems from the library and before I knew it another poet had been
added to my ever-growing list of American Greats (and to my order list at
Amazon, sigh!).

The truth is, Kees is not really one poet - he's two. The younger Kees is a
clever enough poet, a product of his time, writing poems filled with wit and
intelligence that impress you with their craft but don't necessarily move
you. There are some beautiful images here, some truly skilled writing
("Distance upon distance, cloud on cloud, / Crayons of smoke that sketch
blue sky / With gray appeals." - Two Cities; or check out, if you can a poem
called Early Winter), his poems have an air of meticulous observation about
them, of quiet detail which make them a rewarding read. But there's
something disconnected about these poems, as if they do not really touch
Kees' heart. Plus there's the Eliot influence which shows through clearly,
and is certainly not compatible with Kees' own style - in trying to emulate
his masters, Kees does himself a grave disservice. If you're a form buff
though you might really enjoy these poems - Kees writes some of the most
skilled sestinas I've ever read, and there are a couple of villanelles in
there as well.

But it's the later Kees that I truly fell in love with. There are glimpses
of this side of Kees in The Fall of the Magicians, but it's only in the
poems he wrote in the early 1950's (Poems 1947 - 1954) and in particular in
his uncollected poems that this side of him comes alive. The poems from this
period are premonitions of Lowell, even of Plath. Kees writes like a man
trying to fight off his demons with the aid of poetry; there is a note of
authentic despair in his voice (even though he struggles to maintain a
distant, almost academic tone) that gives these poems a sense of deep
autumnal urgency.

Today's poem is a good example of this - there are some beautiful lines here
("Blank sheets of paper that reflect the world / Whitened the world I was
silenced by") but what really makes this poem work is the sense of defeat
and dread: the first stanza paralysed and helpless, the second at once a
revival and a surrender, a portrait of a man granted a small reprieve, but
faced (as the last line tells us) with the inevitable return of his
depression. Any man who can dismiss two years of his life in half a line
("There were two years of that.") is a poet: brave, precise and true.


[1] You can read Lane's article at:

There's also a biography of Kees at:

And a selection of his poems at:
[broken link]

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