William Bronk Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although William Bronk was one of the most prolific American poets of the post-World War II era, he also published a substantial body of nonfiction essays that explored the themes that shaped his poetic vision. When still involved with the academic world in the late 1940’s, Bronk authored a collection of groundbreaking essays on nineteenth century American writers, most prominently Herman Melville and Henry David Thoreau, that he would not publish until 1980 as The Brother in Elysium: Ideas of Friendship and Society in the United States. Late in his life, Bronk collected three decades of prose writings in Vectors and Smoothable Curves: Collected Essays (1983). The collection included selections from The Brother in Elysium and two earlier limited editions, The New World (1974) and A Partial Glossary: Two Essays (1974). The essays treat a wide range of topics, including Bronk’s investigations into Mayan and Incan civilizations, his meditations on the relationship between time and space, and his theories on the nature of desire.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Because of the density and the intellectual passion of his poetry, William Bronk for decades maintained a secure, if quiet, reputation as a poet’s poet. Two generations of fellow poets admired and respected Bronk, finding the same satisfying illuminations in Bronk’s investigations into the nature of time, the elusiveness of truth, the implications of desire, the difficult work of defining reality, and the role of art and language within the process of acquiring knowledge as they had in the works of landmark philosophical poets of an earlier generation, most prominently T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. Bronk’s poems are seldom more than twenty lines long, but despite their haiku-like concision, they manage to raise profound epistemological questions about the universe. Bronk, a successful business owner who seldom traveled far from his upstate New York home, wrote verse not to secure academic appointments, to enhance his own celebrity, or to gain financial remuneration, but rather to make his own complicated interrogations into the nature of reality. Bronk’s poetry maintained its narrow, if appreciative, readership until his collected poems, Life Supports, was awarded the National Book Award in 1982. Over the next decade, Bronk’s writings became the subject of much discussion in academic circles. He received the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1991. At the time of his death, he was widely recognized as a major figure in late twentieth century American verse.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Clippinger, David W. The Mind’s Landscape: William Bronk and Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006. Draws on Bronk’s considerable work in American literary scholarship to structure a broad reading of Bronk’s era. Useful because it places Bronk within the context of his contemporaries.

Foster, Edward, and Joseph Donahue, eds. The World in Time and Space: Towards a History of Innovative Poetry in Our Time. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Talisman House, 2002. A collection of challenging readings of Bronk’s generation of poets that clearly centers on the importance of Bronk’s presence and his revolutionary work with philosophical poetry. Talisman was Bronk’s longtime publisher.

Gilmore, Lyman. The Force of Desire: A Life of William Bronk. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Talisman House, 2006. This biography, shaped with Bronk’s assistance, provides helpful insight into both Bronk’s intellectual development and his reclusive life.

Kimmelman, Burt. The “Winter Mind” of William Bronk. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998. Useful analysis of Bronk’s poetry that locates it within a broad tradition of New England nature poetry (rather than philosophical poetry) that runs from Emerson to Frost.

Weinfield, Henry. The Music of Thought in the Poetry of George Oppen and William Bronk. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009. Probing analysis of the tradition of metaphysical poetry in the United States and, using correspondence between Oppen and Bronk, defines the philosophical dilemmas that center Bronk’s poetry.