The Nebraska-born poet, painter, critic, and musician Weldon Kees traced a brief, bright path through midcentury America before vanishing in 1955, an apparent suicide. Among the poems he left behind are a particularly unsettling four that feature the mysterious Robinson: both a prototypical member of the smart set—masking his desperation with urbane savoir-faire—and an alter ego for the troubled Kees himself.
In Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, Fall 2012), Kathleen Rooney performs a bold act of literary mediumship, conjuring Kees through his borrowed character to sketch his restless journey across locales and milieus—New York, San Francisco, the highways between—and to evoke his ambitions, his frustrations, and his skewed humor. The product of a decade-long engagement with Kees and his work, this novel in poems is not only a portrait of an underappreciated genius and his era, but also a beam flashed into haunted boiler-rooms that still fire the American spirit, rooms where energy and optimism are burnt down to ash.
“In an extraordinary act of identification, poet and essayist Rooney improvises on Kees’ most haunting poems, a quartet featuring an alter ego named Robinson. Her loosely biographical, knowledgeably imaginative, and gorgeously atmospheric story in verse portrays Robinson as a dapper, talented, and bedeviled man who conceals his sorrows behind insouciance. […] Rooney’s syncopated wordplay, supple musicality, and cinematic descriptions subtly embody Kees’ artistic pursuits as well as Robinson’s sardonic grace under pressure. An intricate, psychologically luminous homage, tale of American loneliness, and enthralling testament to poetry’s resonance.” –Donna Seaman, Booklist starred review
After Robinson Has Gone
Based on the life and work of the poet and mysterious disappearee Weldon Kees, this 25-page chapbook was published in a limited edition of 100 copies with vintage movie poster covers by Greying Ghost Press in February 2011. It is now sold out.
Oneiromance (an epithalamion)
Selected by Patty Seyburn as the winner of the 2007 Gatewood Prize from Switchback Books, Oneiromance explores the absurdity and divinity of the marriage ceremony through a dizzying dream sequence with playful verse that skillfully blends call and response with Shakespearean odes, romance and cynicism, storytelling and wordplay.
“Kathleen Rooney’s beautifully structured epithalamion is saturated with nuptial terror: the music and friction, zeal and unease, absurdity and profundity of marriage. Oneiromance (an epithalamion) parodies and feasts upon the vain excesses of contemporary wedding culture, but there’s tenderness and devotion here, too a sweetness that’s saucy rather than cloying: “Her breasts seem to him lovely as mud- / daubed birds’ nests.” I’m thrilled by a sensibility so acerbic, funny, sad, sardonic, insouciant, salty, and bittersweet, by poems so rich with slippage, misgiving, loss, and wit. Rooney’s work is animated by a dexterous, inventive intelligence and a fearless imagination: “those pearls / on your bodice are really your baby teeth?” Her poems fibrillate with fine surprises; their originality and edge are stunning. Like “a book in sandpaper” that could “destroy everything else on the shelves,” Oneiromance (an epithalamion) is scary good, wicked good, and Kathleen Rooney is surely one of the most brilliant poets of her generation, a discovery. Her linguistic powers provoke and awaken the page.” —Alice Fulton, author of Cascade Experiment