Bridgette Bates (Safety Book #40)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?

The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees.

I had always loved more dizzying, image-driven poets, but Kees’ crystalline prose-like lines unnerved me with their precision. The dead are named, avenues are numbered, mouths speak extensively with long stanzas of dialogue. So much is illuminated before Kees himself goes missing. The narrative of his life infiltrated my reading of his poems in a way that I typically never read poetry with biography in mind. It is believed Kees either jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge or ran away to Mexico. I like to think he is living in an alcove of the Mayan ruins, finding solace in the cerulean waters.

2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?

I discovered Kees’ and his collected works during my first Midwestern winter of blinding blizzards. It was my first year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I was getting little writing of my own done, so I hibernated with a lot of reading. I was reading Donald Justice’s book of essays, Oblivion. Justice has an essay where he praises how none of Weldon Kees’ poems are flawless. I immediately went to Prairie Lights and bought Kees’ collected works. As a young writer struggling to write, flaw inspired me.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

His poems not only haunted me during the coldest winter of my entire life to date—as I spent one late night shoveling my car out of a pyramid of snow, only to realize it was not in fact my car, I heard his fugue: “Falling night/Will cover all”—but beyond that white trench, I have carried with me Kees’ polarizing enchantment with the world—the ephemeral nature of long seasons, dark humor, the beauty of heartbreak.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

People often critique dialogue in film and books for not sounding believable, which I find ridiculous. I want to be transformed by words on a screen or on a page in a more fantastical way than what I encounter on the street or on my iPhone. Kees was a master at composing utterly beautiful dialogue sequences. Is there anything more breathtaking than this spoken exchange in his poem “Girl at Midnight”?

“Christ, we could die

The way deer sometimes do, their antlers locked,

Rotting in the snow.”

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

I would like to send this to my best friend living in Ohio in honor of the upcoming winter, but she’s a new mom, and that’s such a raw state, that Kees may lead to some type of emotional combustion, so it’s probably best to send her Kees in the summer.