James Reidel's book Vanished Act: the Life and Art of Weldon Kees, is a more traditional biography which restates the (much more interesting and fuller) material Knoll used, but is worth your time as well. I'll finish it soon and have more to say, most likely.
Kees published stories and poems easily, and in the best journals, though his novels weren't published in his lifetime. He's still a recognized, that is, canonical poet for a single poem, For my Daughter, which most of you have read, I'm sure, or can find online easily enough, so I won't bother posting it. Kees painted as well, wrote documentary films, played barrelhouse piano, and took photographs of professional or show quality. But we know him for his poems, which are dark and odd and unlike his contemporaries.
September was when it began.
Locusts dying in the fields; our dogs
Silent, moving like shadows on a wall;
And strange worms crawling; flies of a kind
We had never seen before; huge vineyard moths;
Badgers and snakes, abandoning
Their holes in the field; the fruit gone rotten;
Queer fungi sprouting; the fields and woods
Covered with spiderwebs; black vapors
Rising from the earth - all these,
And more began that fall. Ravens flew round
The hospital in pairs. Where there was water,
We could hear the sound of beating clothes
All through the night. We could not count
All the miscarriages, the quarrels, the jealousies.
And one day in a field I saw
A swarm of frogs, swollen and hideous,
Hundreds upon hundreds, sitting on each other,
Huddled together, silent, ominous,
And heard the sound of rushing wind.
Kees' disappearance in 1955 contributes to what Dana Gioia calls his cult following, but I'd like to think there are more people out there reading his work and finding pleasure in its singular creepiness and the slow overtaking of your heart rate as a reader, something amply pushed by his pacing in this poem and in many others.
One person I know who's reading Kees is Kathleen Rooney, of Rose Metal Press. Her chapbook of Robinson poems (Kees' New Yorker poems featured a persona he called Robinson) will be out from Greying Ghost Press, and in her book of essays, For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs, she hunts down Kees' haunts and habitations in New York City. Those poems and essays are all well worth your time and money. So there's Kathy and me. Anybody else out there reading Kees? Why?