Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mad Men (Weldon Kees: Aspects Of Robinson)

Robinson at cards at the Algonquin; a thin
Blue light comes down once more outside the blinds.
Gray men in overcoats are ghosts blown past the door.
The taxis streak the avenues with yellow, orange, and red.
This is Grand Central, Mr. Robinson.

Robinson on a roof above the Heights; the boats
Mourn like the lost. Water is slate, far down.
Through sounds of ice cubes dropped in glass, an osteopath,  
Dressed for the links, describes an old Intourist tour.   
—Here’s where old Gibbons jumped from, Robinson.

Robinson walking in the Park, admiring the elephant.   
    Robinson buying the Tribune, Robinson buying the Times.
Saying, “Hello. Yes, this is Robinson. Sunday
At five? I’d love to. Pretty well. And you?”
Robinson alone at Longchamps, staring at the wall. 

Robinson afraid, drunk, sobbing Robinson
In bed with a Mrs. Morse. Robinson at home;
Decisions: Toynbee or luminol? Where the sun
Shines, Robinson in flowered trunks, eyes toward
The breakers. Where the night ends, Robinson in East Side 

Robinson in Glen plaid jacket, Scotch-grain shoes,   
Black four-in-hand and oxford button-down,
The jeweled and silent watch that winds itself, the brief-
Case, covert topcoat, clothes for spring, all covering   
His sad and usual heart, dry as a winter leaf.

NOTE:  I know so little about the popular television series Mad Men that it is probably silly of me to post something inspired by it.  The impression I’ve gleaned from its constant and voluminous press coverage and word-of-mouth everpresence is that the show is aesthetically similar to The Sopranos in terms of being aggressively styled in Mannerist fashion and also filled with anachronisms that flatter and titillate its audience.   

People seem to really love the series, but even though I was happy to see it providing secure employment to Vincent Kartheiser, an actor I liked when he played the role of Connor on Angel and in the movie Masterminds, I was kind of turned off by the hype (which may be my mistake and my loss).  

In any event, when I encountered the ancient suits of jade ()  illustrated here, which were used as burial rainment for  affluent citizens in 2nd and 3rd century BC Han China (and which are currently on view at Oxford University’s Fitzwiliam Museum), I immediately thought about both Mad Men and this Weldon Kees poem.  

Like other Kees poems, Aspects Of Robinson takes some time to come together and settle.  At first, it seems somewhat unsatisfying and perhaps a little pat, with certain fine lines and images asserting themselves.  

After a while, however, the plan clarifies and sour and sad as it is I think the poem, which was first published in the New Yorker in 1948, is excellent and memorable.


  1. I've never seen Mad Men, but I know a couple people who watch it and they all seem to like it.

  2. I imagine it's very slick and entertaining. And I really like Vincent Kartheiser. What acted as a turn-off to me, I think, are what I understand to be the anachronisms, i.e., imposing today's attitudes and views in what I imagine would be an exaggerated way on characters from another period. Usually that's done to build up today's people and put down the character. But, as I implied, I might be wrong. Someone once called Weldon Kees, the poet who wrote Aspects Of Robinson, the bitterest poet who ever lived. I don't know whether that's true, but I find it super-intriguing. He's a wonderful writer and was an absolutely fascinating person who was talented and accomplished in a number of areas. As for the Han Dynasty jade burial suits, what can I say? Can you imagine? Thanks so much for writing. I've really enjoyed your recent blogs, both for the writing and for the insight you've given me into aspects of school daily life. Curtis

  3. The combination of the beautiful Kees poem -- the "thin blue light comes down once more" reminding me of the "porchlight coming on again" -- and the jade burial suit is stunning. One of the most effective juxtapositions you've ever done.

  4. Thank you very much. I wish the type could have been a little larger and clearer, but Arial Narrow was the font that fit. Your book arrived today. Can't wait. The best part (so far) of an otherwise confusing day. Perhaps if I cleaned off my desk? Curtis

  5. Curtis,

    I have never watched Mad Men either but following in your excellent thoughts on Frank O'Hara a couple of days back you might like this--

  6. You're so nice to say this. Thank you. I'm going through an arduous period (professionally) and it's been an exhausting spring. I'm really looking forward to summer. Hope to be in touch with you A LOT MORE soon, after our local monsoon season lifts. Curtis