Reading more Weldon Kees. A terrific poet. Here's an interesting article by Dana Gioia on Kees's influence & reception. Gioia raises a number of questions about the neglect & "non-canonizing" of this poet, who has been praised & imitated by so many other poets (as opposed to critics & anthologists). But he doesn't really answer them, possibly because Gioia doesn't examine the poems themselves very closely. Donald Justice addressed the issue directly back in 1960, in his intro to the collected poems, which he edited. Referring to Kees's (suicidal) vanishing act, he wrote: "If the whole of his poetry can be read as a denial of the values of the present civilization, as I believe it can, then the disappearance of Kees becomes as symbolic an act as Rimbaud's flight or Crane's suicide."
If we shift the "disappearance", here, to refer to Kees's critical reception over the decades, then Justice's statement makes sense as an explanation for same : ie., there is something in the "whole of his poetry" - in its thematics, in its bitter, painful, satirical, harshly stringent, mournful tone - which makes it very demanding and hard to take. Kees's playfulness skimmers over depths of grief, sour laughter, moral outrage. There's a vertigo of despair & social rejection at work. Yet it's also thorny in another way : Kees can't be typed as a bohemian or dismissed as just another lightweight visionary "poet". Apparently he was careful & conservative in dress & manner : it's reflected in his writing. The surrealist & experimental elements are employed with prosaic clarity & force; the diction is simultaneously plain and baroque; the rhythms are steeped in blank verse, sharpened & enforced by echoes of the iambic beat of Crane, the long measured lines of Eliot. The impact of individual poems is a combination of pleasure & shock.
To repeat : Kees is a terrific poet, from whom many have learned & many more could learn. But his stance, his worldview - its clear-eyed, emotionally-overwrought bleakness - has its costs. It's not something teachable, and it's not something societies of any place or time have welcomed with open arms. To paraphrase one of the former Iran hostage-crisis hostages (who was referring to the new Iranian President), Kees is "not on [anybody's] Christmas card list".
Perhaps Kees himself - the person, in life - was victimized by his own acidic art, the melancholy bleakness of its tone. He was undone by his own vision.
I'm going to be reading & studying him from now on.