At Home In the Unknown, An Interview with William Bronk (image of Bronk's house)

This interview was excerpted from several hours of taped conversations made during three visits to William Bronk's home in Hudson Falls, New York in the fall of 1996. He was suffering from respiratory problems and wed to an oxygen machine with a lengthy cord. Bronk spoke slowly between long pauses and gasps of air. When something reminded him of a poem, he'd boom it out in that unforgettable, authoritative manner which gave his public readings (rare though they were) such power.

William Bronk was born in Hudson Falls, New York in 1918. He is a descendent of Jonas Bronck, for whom the Bronx is named. After attending Dartmouth College and serving in World War II, he took charge of his family's business, the William M. Bronk Coal and Lumber Company in Hudson Falls, which he ran until his retirement in 1978. He lived in his family's spacious Victorian house virtually his entire life. He never had a driver's license. His house was a mecca for artists and poets.

In 1951, Bronk published poems in the journal Origin, edited by the poet Cid Corman. In 1956 Origin published his first book of poems, Light and Dark. New Direction's published his second book, The World, the Worldless, in 1964. He went on to publish nearly thirty books and won the American Book Award in 1982 for his collected poems, Life Supports. Some of his more recent work includes Death Is the Place (1989), The Cage of Age (1996), Manifest; And Furthermore (1996) and All of What We Loved (1998).

In the essay, Native Son, novelist/filmaker Paul Auster writes: "Bronk's is a poetry of extreme positions. Ruthlessly solipsistic in outlook, plain of speech, and ranging in tone from the most bitter irony to the most gentle lyricism, nearly all his work revolves around a few essential problems and themes: the rift between our image of the world and the reality of the world, the force of desire, the agony of human relationships, our perception of nature." Auster calls William Bronk and Samuel Beckett "spiritual brothers."

William Bronk was 81 when he passed away in February 1999. The New York Times called him "a poet of depth and haunting vision." His final collection, Metaphor of Trees and Last Poems (1999), was published posthumously by Talisman House. Recent and forthcoming books on William Bronk include The 'Winter Mind': William Bronk and American Letters (1998), by Burt Kimmelman and Accumulating Position: The Selected Letters of William Bronk, edited by David Clippinger.

Read the Interview

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