Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although the poetry of Weldon Kees (keez) eventually dominated his literary career, he began by publishing more than three dozen short stories in little magazines, such as The Prairie Schooner, that were scattered throughout the Midwest. From his first published story in 1934 (while still an undergraduate) to his last one in 1940 (“The Life of the Mind”), Kees’ reputation grew steadily and impressively. He was frequently cited in annual anthologies such as those published by New Directions. Edward J. O’Brien designated twenty of his stories as “distinctive” in his Best Short Stories, an annual distillation from thousands of stories published in English; indeed, O’Brien’s 1941 volume was dedicated to Kees. Kees’ commitment to short fiction, however, had already waned by then.

In addition to short stories, Kees published a number of reviews in prestigious periodicals such as Poetry, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review. His interests were astonishingly diverse, and he reviewed books of poetry, fiction, music, art, criticism, and psychology. In 1950, Kees served as art critic for The Nation, publishing an important series of articles on the “abstract expressionists.” He also wrote the essay “Muskrat Ramble: Popular and Unpopular Music,” based on his study of jazz, which was anthologized for its insights into popular culture. Kees also tried his hand at writing plays, and he left behind an experimental, off-Broadway sort of play, The Waiting Room (pb. 1986).

Besides writing, Kees managed to make, or help to make, several short “art films” that are representative of American expressionist cinematography of the period. Notable are The Adventures of Jimmy, for which he wrote a jazz score, and Hotel Apex, his own psychological study of urban disintegration. His filmmaking extended to studies in child and group psychology that led to an association with the psychiatrists Gregory Bateson and Jurgen Ruesch; with the latter, Kees coauthored Nonverbal Communication: Notes on the Visual Perception of Human Relations (1956), which contains a stunning series of still photographs taken by Kees himself. Published after his disappearance in 1955, this volume and The Collected Poems are essential for an understanding of Kees’ poetry.