Top

news

Stories

 

KEES TO THE KINGDOM

WELDON KEES HAS BEEN GONE FIFTY YEARS, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY, HE WROTE THE BOOK.WHERE'S WELDON KEES WHEN WE NEED HIM? CHECK OUT THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY'S CRANKIEST EMPLOYEE.

"His effort with the library was kind of a pioneer effort," Reidel explains, "but then Kees got tired of it." He began spending more time on arty conversations over lunch or drinks and less on cataloguing the library acquisitions of the West.

"I wonder if I've written you about Bob Hutchison," Kees wrote to Maurice Johnson, a friend from Beatrice days. "He is the best person, we have lunch together almost every day, he's from a wealthy family, but considered a black sheep. He knows lots of people." Kees and Hutchison spent a lot of time talking about starting their own small literary magazine.

"After a while, I don't think the library was thrilled with him," Phil Tanum says. "He seems to have had an attitude problem--he was an effete snob of sorts; he probably thought he was too good for that situation."

"Vaguely, that was my impression," agrees retired rare books librarian Jane Gould, who attended library science school in Kees's era. "I was aware of how he felt about Denver, too, but remember, this was the Thirties, and wanting to get out of Denver was normal."

"Oh, no, he didn't like Denver," says Estes Park's Robert Harper, who lived in Denver in the late Thirties and became friendly with Kees. "He thought it was a hinterland, and he was right. We didn't have literary circles--a few people with pretensions at the University of Denver, but Weldon didn't care for them."

That was okay with Harper, who, although he later went on to become dean at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, was a bit starstruck by Kees. "He was exactly my age, and yet he had been publishing short stories," Harper recalls. "I had published a few reviews, but still. I spent some time in the remodeled brownstone where he lived--it was a real bohemian-type apartment, decorated in the way bohemian people do. And we would sit around with his wife Ann and have a few drinks and talk about contemporary literature."

Or they'd go to lunch--Kees's favorite restaurant was Beaujo's (no relation to the current pizza place), located in the Navarre Building across the street from the Brown Palace. "It was kind of exotic," Harper recalls. "By the standards of those days, anyway, and those were simpler days."

But they were rapidly becoming more complex for Kees, despite Harper's characterization of him as a happy young married man on the literary move. To begin with, his propensity for manic depression seems to have taken root in Denver. In a letter written in 1940, Kees wondered whether a life of library science could ever truly satisfy him. Then he offered these vignettes of life in Denver: "Berlioz on the radio, the high school student across the hall yells `close the transom, we can't hear the goddamn Berlioz,' the gas flutters, snow coming, psychotic dog barking, the old despair...peacefully floating in the cold Colorado afternoon."

In the poem "Statements With Rhymes, 1938," he wrote of what he saw and overheard on a No. 44 Denver streetcar:

I ride the cars and hear of Mrs. Bedford's teeth and Albuquerque,
strikes unsettled, someone's simply marvelous date,
news of the German Jews, the baseball scores,
storetalk and whoretalk, talk of wars.

"I am alone in a worn-out town in wartime," he observed in June 1940. In fact, he was given a 4-F deferment for being psychologically unfit to go to war. The manic side of his mental state, complete with the typical rapid-fire, nonsensical twisting of words, is revealed perfectly in this fragment:

The droth that crowds our underweir
Is unsysceptical to bile.
Crossing the street for vespers, jeers
Are sounded by the rank and vile.

His relationship with Ann, though so close that Reidel now thinks of them as "male and female the same entity," also had its low points. Contemporaries agree that they drank heavily. Reidel points out that starting with his time in Denver, Kees's address books began filling up with urologists--"who typically treated impotence." Excerpts from letters Ann sent to Weldon at Yaddo during the summer of 1942 show her state of mind at the time:

Viola and I had dinner at the Hilltop, we had no energy to go anywhere else.

Viola's trying to fix me up with someone from Lowry Field.

What do you mean by `you and your soldier boys?'

I miss you terribly. If there is anything wrong between us please say. When you aren't here, I lose my sense of proportion.

An oriental gentleman came to the door. I was in negligee...he gave me a bulky envelope...Now what in the hell shall I do with that? God damn Kenneth Rexroth! If any more of these crazy things happen I will move out.

"I have been able to reconstruct the part about the Japanese gentleman showing up at her place," Reidel explains. "Apparently Kees was involved with Kenneth Rexroth in forming an underground railroad for Japanese citizens, to keep them out of the internment camps."

Ann didn't like the idea of the railroad passengers continuing to come through while Kees was out of town. Her displeasure increased throughout the summer, as Oriental gentlemen and their bulky envelopes kept appearing--and her writing became downright hallucinatory, with strange tales of dogs who talk, a "really beautiful rupture" suffered in the front office of her law firm, and an entire city bus sinking into an open septic tank at Baron Von Richthofen's house. "Tomorrow I shall write a letter to the News," she concluded, "stating that all open septic tanks shall be covered with ebony planks."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...