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Weldon Kees Biography

(1914–55), The Last Man, Non-Verbal Communication, The Fall of the Magicians, Poems, 1947–1954

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American poet, born in Beatrice, Nebraska, educated at the University of Nebraska. After a period as a research librarian in Denver, he moved to New York in 1943, the year in which The Last Man, his first collection of poetry, appeared, and worked as a journalist and script-writer. During the 1940s he also achieved recognition as an abstract expressionist painter. Following his move to San Francisco in 1951 he was variously active as a critic, film-maker, composer, and jazz pianist. He collaborated with Jurgen Ruesch in the writing of the psychological study Non-Verbal Communication (1956), for which Kees also supplied photographs. He disappeared while beset by personal difficulties in 1955 and is assumed to have committed suicide by drowning. He published two further volumes of verse, The Fall of the Magicians (1947) and Poems, 1947–1954 (1954). His most characteristic achievements are fraught with the tension between his pervasive and often harrowingly elegiac pessimism and a tone of equably understated directness. ‘Aspects of Robinson’ and ‘Robinson at Home’, two of his best-known poems, exemplify his use of sharply realized urban detail to create contexts for imaginative treatments of ethical and existential futility. His work attracted new interest in the 1980s following the appearance of a revised edition of his Collected Poems, edited by Donald Justice, in 1975. Kees's letters were published in 1986 under the title Weldon Kees and the Midcentury Generation, edited by R. E. Knoll.

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