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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Weldon Kees: Robinson


"Steady" [Profile on a hunting dog (likely a retriever), signaling steady on point]: "Mammoth plate" photo by William Henry Jackson for the Detroit Photographic Co. (later the Detroit Publishing Co.), c. 1902; image restoration by trialsanderrors (Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress)

The dog stops barking after Robinson has gone.
His act is over. The world is a gray world,
Not without violence, and he kicks under the grand piano,   
The nightmare chase well under way.

The mirror from Mexico, stuck to the wall,   
Reflects nothing at all. The glass is black.   
Robinson alone provides the image Robinsonian.

Which is all of the room -- walls, curtains,
Shelves, bed, the tinted photograph of Robinson’s first wife,   
Rugs, vases, panatellas in a humidor.
They would fill the room if Robinson came in.

The pages in the books are blank,
The books that Robinson has read. That is his favorite chair,   
Or where the chair would be if Robinson were here.

All day the phone rings. It could be Robinson   
Calling. It never rings when he is here.

Outside, white buildings yellow in the sun.   
Outside, the birds circle continuously
Where trees are actual and take no holiday.

Weldon Kees (1914-1955): Robinson, from The Fall of the Magicians, 1947

File:Dom dramaturga.jpg

Cave Canem (Beware of Dog) mosaic from The House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii: photo by Radomil, 10 January 2004

"There on the left as one entered...was a huge dog with a chain round its neck. It was painted on the wall and over it, in big capitals, was written: Beware of the Dog." -- Petronius, Satyricon, XXIX


Hazen said...

After reading this, I had to Wiki-up Weldon Kees, whom we’ve seen before here, if memory serves (and often it doesn’t). The term multi-talented hardly does the guy justice. He was an interesting human being—‘where trees are actual and take no holiday.’ That Jackson photo of the “likely retriever” is exceptional. I saw one of those mammoth plate photos in the Met in NYC, a landscape in France, 19th century, with very fine detail.

TC said...


The Kees tales lingered hereabouts for some time, reports of those who swore they'd encountered him in Mexico, & c. Mysterious, probably apocryphal. Certainly an enigmatic figure; and a fine poet in any case.

Weldon Kees: Back

Weldon Kees: 1926

Weldon Kees: The Upstairs Room

The "Mammoth plate" photography of the early masters -- Jackson, O'Sullivan, Watkins -- has been overlooked in the recent vogue of large format work, now often made with the "production values" one thinks of as associated with movies (Burtynsky, Misrach, Gursky). The scale of the operations has obviously multiplied, but I don't know that the results have improved upon those of the originators.

Some examples of William Henry Jackson's heroic work for the US Geological Survey.

(He was, by the way, a distant relation of William Henry Jackson Griffith, creator of Zippy the Pinhead.)

bill keys said...

Robinson here. Just wanted ya to know, I love the poem.