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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Weldon Kees: 1926


Victor Talking Machine Company 78 rpm recording of Ja-Da (Arthur Fields, tenor vocal; Bob Carleton, composer and lyricist; Josef Pasternak, conductor): recording made 15 November 1918 (National Jukebox / Library of Congress)

The porchlight coming on again,
Early November, the dead leaves
Raked in piles, the wicker swing
Creaking. Across the lots
A phonograph is playing Ja-Da.

An orange moon. I see the lives
Of neighborhoods, mapped and marred
Like all the wars ahead, and R.
Insane, B. with his throat cut,
Fifteen years from now, in Omaha.

I did not know them then.
My airedale scratches at the door.
And I am back from seeing Milton Sills
And Doris Kenyon. Twelve years old.
The porchlight coming on again.

House in Beatrice, Nebraska: photo by John Vachon, October 1938 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)


Lunar eclipse on winter solstice, 21 December 2010, Strathcona County, Alberta: photo by 42things, 2010

1918 sheet music cover of Bob Carleton's Ja-Da: image by Jafeluv, 20 November 2009

Weldon Kees (b. 24 February 1915, Beatrice, Nebraska; d. 18 July 1955[?], San Francisco, California): 1926, from Poems 1947-1954, 1954


ACravan said...

This is even better than yesterday's, which is saying quite a lot. I was fascinated to learn about Milton Sills and Doris Kenyon. Curtis

TC said...

Milton and Doris shall not soon be forgotten.

Amazing what a few perfect lines of verse can do to ensure (relative) immortality... even to a couple of obscure adolescents lost in the Deep Past in the Middle of Nowhere.

(That is, at the center of the rapidly contracting literate universe.)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Cheers to a couple of obscure adolescents lost in the Deep Past in the Middle of Nowhere!

"While heart with crumbled heart climbs in the rose."

Chris said...

As perfect an expression of a waking dream/memory as one could wish for. The squeak of the swing, the porch light coming on again, for ever and ever. It made me think of Jarrell, another great poet of memory. "The Player Piano", e.g.

Hazen said...

Thanks, Tom, for introducing me to Kees. I regret to say I’d not read him before now. He seems a poet exquisetly attuned to time, a man able to inhabit several dimensions at once and bring them all into focus in an ever-present present, seeing beauty and horror mixed with plain facts . . . just the way the world is. “The porch light coming on again.” What a gift.

TC said...


That porch light coming on again, "forever and forever..."


"exquisitely attuned with time..."

You've both reminded me that poetry is the memory Time might have, if it had a mind... and a heartbeat, to keep time with.

All praise to the gods for our resident cinematic librarian, Don Wentworth. Don has just stripped away the mantle of obscurity from
Doris Kenyon and Milton Sills. Who in the epoch of Weldon Kees' tender youth were stars of stage and silent screen. Especially the latter medium in the case of the pulchritudinous Doris -- in fact a certain Mr and Mrs Kappelhoff were so smitten by her that, one fine day in 1924, giving birth to a daughter, they named it Doris Day in her honour. (One presumes it was a daytime stork delivery.)

They each, both Doris and Milton, had many loves and spouses but it was with each other they were finally happily married (they wed in 1926, a fact doubtless not lost on young WK) and were enjoying a brisk game of tennis on the smooth crushed-grass courts of their estate in Santa Barbara on the day in 1930 when poor Milton gave way before the power of Doris's forehand and keeled over dead of a heart attack, there on the courts.

Doris had broken a few hearts, she was one of the great beauties of her day, but we all know the Reaper is no servant to Beauty and so, where is she, where are they now?

Some small token of her dangerous beauty perhaps remains in this furry-folk ritual, Doris Kenyon Whack-A-Mouse

"Still in the greater picture they ARE nobodies, like that flyspeck on the windshield, " quoth the spectre of Doris Kenyon, returning up the teetering steps after having dumped the dishwater to the poor light-starved (but perhaps not so thirsty) impatiens.


The porchlight coming on again. . .
. . .

An orange moon. I see the lives
Of neighborhoods, mapped and marred
Like all the wars ahead, and R.
Insane, B. with his throat cut,
Fifteen years from now, in Omaha.
. . .

The porchlight coming on again.

Such a poem -- thanks for bringing it and the mysterious WK to our attention.


light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, waning white moon in branches
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

idea took hold of pen, urge
to sketch interrupted

something that is more than
such, position, which

silver line of sun reflected in channel,
whiteness of gull flapping toward ridge

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Now I know why this poem is one of your favorites.

Anonymous said...

touching...!! love the pics!

Tom King said...

That's funny I was just listening to the Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton version of Ja-Da with Doc singing

TC said...

Hey, Tom, thanks for the knowledge -- made my week!

Once Don had helped to chase off the cloak of mystery surrounding Milton and Doris (by quoting the best line from Milton's sincere and poignant poem to his inamorata), I had been waiting with baited breath for somebody to grow curious about Ja-Da.

Thought I was going to explode... until you kindly rode in to the rescue.

As late as my own childhood that unforgettable tune remained a sort of barber-shop quartet standard. Impossible to forget once you've heard those nutty jing-jing-jings.

Couldn't track down the Cheatham/Payton version. Did however turn up this bit of Bob Carleton:

Bob Carleton: Hindustan (ragtime piano)

There are a lot of Ja-Da versions out there, from a sedate Basie (who says he recorded it "a thousand years ago") to a ker-fuffling Woody Allen to a German cover.

From the available lot however, my clear favourite, weirdly charming in its way -- and nice arrangement:

Ja-Da (Korean women's choral version)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

TK, you have conjured some memories and evoked another of the infinite strands of connections, TC's Net, that this blog always seems to conjure ...

Before Doc Cheatham's second life at Sweet Basil's in NY, he used to play weekend's at a steak restaurant in the Watchung Mountains in Jersey, somewhere in the mid-70s. I used to go there regularly to hear this charming, smart, amazing trumpet player, who sang like the kind of angel that would make my personal heaven complete.

I started telling friends and our little group of 4 or 5 people seemed to expand and people began to realize that they were in the presence of an at the time forgotten legend.

TC, funny how that kitty seems to know just what to do ...