Image provided by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE
About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Sept. 2, 1999)
Thursday, September 2,1999 - - _____Page 17
Innovative artist remains in shadows
The cutting edge - it’s where everyone wants to be.
It’s where the action is. It’s where the attention is. It’s where things
happen -'Creativity, expression, experimentation and the like.
If you’re on the edge, you get it.
If ypa’ie not on the edge, you don’t.
For as long as anyone can remember, the location of this imagined
cultural edge has actually carried the geographic connotation that the
idea implies. The edge is New York or California. And that’s that.
In actuality, that was never just that. The edge so many people in the
Midwest grow up hearing about and yearning for was here all along.
The edge was foreseen, developed and sharpened by a Nebraska
man named Weldon Kees.
"Thepprchlight coming on again,
Ea/fy November, the dead leaves.
Raked in piles, the wicker swing.
Creaking. Across the lots
: a phonograph is pla\ing Ja Da
- An excerpt from Kees’ poem “1926”
Everyone loves the hometown hero. They cheer him
on and sometimes they don’t know why. It’s comfort
ing to have a hero, especially one from your neck
the woods. Maybe the next hero will be you.
But how many really know the hero? JjM|
While many Nebraskans harbor a sense of
pride that an artistic innovator like Weldon Kees is
from their home state, few know and/or embrace his (*
He’s easily overlooked, mostly because his art
rarely deals with Nebraska or any of the themes asso
ciated with rural life and middle America. In fact, the
alpremiationed poem is one of only a few that offer a
depiction ©f his hometown, Beatrice.
“I tltihk he’s very well-respected. How well-under- '
; stood he is, is probably a different matter,” said Nicholas
::;Spence$, assistant professor of English at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. “I think here he’s been lost in the shuffle a little
bit, whjch to me makes Kees a lot more of an interesting character.”
Bora . in 1914, Kees grew up in Beatrice and graduated from the
University of Nebraska, now UNL, in 1935. His writings were pub
lished ii the premier Midwest literary magazine, The Prairie Schooner.
Kees later moved both to New York and San Francisco, where he
li|perimented in beat poetry and writing, abstract expressionist paint
ings, collages, Films and even music. He literally ran the gamut of every
Miotic output of his time and is nevertheless overlooked for many of
Not tb say Kees has been completely ignored by Nebraskans or the
rest of the world. He hasn’t. He wrote several novels, published more
than 40 |hbrt stories and wrote for a number of publications, including
Time Magazine and The New York Times. „
Back home, the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery dedicated almost
the entire fall 1998 semester to Kees’ work, including sections specifi
cafiy dedicated to his paintings, poetry, films and music,
f *: Still, there is something about Kees that’s different from other
INcbraskil^liters and artists. There are no UNL residence halls named
after hiip and his work, often dark and somewhat depressing, is simply
Md foyf jf>t of Nebraskans to swallow.
“I thank a lot of local writers haven’t taken up his lead,” Spencer
sx said, ‘liiif f think he’s a great opportunity for us to reflect on the great
culture in pur region of life.”
■" Despite the lack of study given to Kees, one can hardly deny his
' ‘“Thescientists removed their coats and hats
• ; * And climbed upon an antiseptic
A toothless lion suffered in his
' % cage, */
, Ignoring them. The men of
• - An excerpt from Kees’ poem “Report of the Meeting.”
1950s, the beat move- i
ment of San Francisco
made people like Jack
Kerouac and Allen
Ginsburg world-famous, or vice
versa. However, a name often overlooked, but detmitely
influential, is Nebraska native Weldon Kees.
Not only was Kees an important cog in the beat machine, in
many ways he helped build it and was actually the featured reader
when Kenneth Rexroth organized the first beat poetry reading
almost 50 years ago.
“He had a really good instinct for things that were going to take
place,” Spencer said. “In his poetry, he talks about things that are
happening, the way consumerism became more of a big deal.
“Ahead of his time? No question about it.”
While most of Kees’ peers were deeply involved in the avant
garde culturally-elite scene of post-WWII Ajnerica, Kees saw some
thing in pop culture the others didn’t.
“I think he’s one of the first people who took pop culture seri
ously,” Spencer said. “Kees was doing this 20 years before Andy
In 1955, Kees allegedly ended his life by jumping off the Golden
Gate Bridge. His body, however, was never found. A sad, but fitting
ending for an artist who, to this day, has yet to be fully discovered.
“Pick up the pieces,
Throw them away, say amen,
Because likeHumpty Dumpty, •
lean’t be put back together again.”
- An excerpt from Kees’ song, “Pick Up The Pieces”
Editors note: In this weekly series, we explore
the lives and work of notable Nebraska artists
from the 20th century. „ y
STORY BY JASON HARDY
ILLUSTRATION BY MATT HANEY 1
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