Excerpts From An Interview With William Bronk By Mark Katzman Essay

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Is this house like a second skin to you?

BRONK: Not only skin, it has internal organs. It’s the only place that’s ever been home. I’ve lived outside of it from time to time when I was in college, briefly in New York City and the service, but it’s the only place that I have ever really felt at home in. I wasn’t really comfortable anywhere else.

It’s been such a core part of your writing.

BRONK: Oh yeah. The house is a frequent metaphor with me. I think very likely that when I die it will be torn down. It has a two-wire electrical system. It’s inadequately insulated. The plumbing is old. No modern person would put up with it.

You’ve lived here alone for many years now, haven’t you?

BRONK: I think most people’s lives are pretty solitary. Even people who go to offices or factories where there are lots of other people. I remember a woman I would have said had lived a great deal of her life in a quite satisfactory marriage, had several children. Her husband died, and I was commiserating with her. She said, "I’ve always been alone." ;And I was surprised but the more I thought about it, the more I thought, yeah, she’s one of the few honest people in the world. And she certainly was a woman that not only had that family. She had lots of friends and was not a recluse at all. She was out every day, meeting
people, enjoying them. The woman from next door, whose children were grown, lost her husband, but not too long after that she told me that she was going to marry a man in Florida, whom she had grown up with and gone to school with here. I said, "Nothin’ ;like first love, is there." ;And she said, "Who the hell’s ever said anything about love. She said, I can’t live alone." ;"Oh," ;I said, "I live alone." ;She says, "The hell you do. I don’t know anybody that has more people in his house than you do!" ;It was pretty much true at that time. There were a lot of young people that were here most of the time, coming and going, you know. But I was still living alone. I’ve always had close friends. I may not have had as many casual friends as lots of people do but I think I’ve more close friends than most people do.

When did you begin writing?

BRONK: I began writing things in High School because of a teacher that I had who had a great influence on me. She’s still alive, God bless her. But what I was writing at that time were imitations of one person or another. When I went to Dartmouth my teacher was Sidney Cox. I’m sure that I began writing things for him that were poems and were mine.

At that point did you know that you would follow that course and continue to write seriously?

BRONK: No, I didn’t know it, though it wouldn’t have surprised me. There wasn’t conscious planning or a definite goal. It was simply something was happening that I hoped might continue to happen. Writing is something that happens to the writer. And if it doesn’t happen again to the reader, you might as well not have read it. In either case it’s a happening. Literature is about the reader's experience of the work. It’s the reader that makes the work. Some people expect that the reading experience of the work is going to be made for them. But, unless the reader really makes the work, it might as well not be read. If it isn’t doing something to the reader, it’s not authenticated.

Are you a pencil and paper man when you work? Do you sit at the typewriter?

BRONK: [holds up sheet of white paper bearing a few lines in his spidery script] This was yesterday. I don’t know whether it’s finished or not. I’m not making it any longer but I might need to rephrase something. I hate to type. I’ve never really learned to use the typewriter. I don’t hunt and peck anymore because I know pretty much where the keys are but nevertheless I’m watching. It’s always by hand. Sometimes I hear the whole thing before I even have a pencil or a pen in my hand. Back in the days when I mowed the lawn a poem might happen while I was mowing. It would have nothing to do with mowing. It would start working in my head. That was the way also when I was walking. I tried to remember to carry a stub of pencil with me. I could always pick up an old cigarette package or something and jot some things down so I wouldn’t forget them before the time I got home. Very often now I wake up at night in the middle of a poem or wake up in the morning with something going on in my head and I say, no, no, that’s not a poem. But it keeps insisting, you know, look at me. I might get up, start shaving, whatever, and go, ah, ah go back and get my workbook and write down a few lines. There’s no advanced planning. It comes as a surprise. Oh, oh, is that so? [laughs] When I was writing The Brother in Elysium I pretty much had to plan, but I didn’t always know where I was going. As a matter of fact I can remember I would come to a point at which I’d say to myself, Where the hell do I go from here? And usually that would straighten itself out when I’d be walking. I’d go for a walk in the afternoon and be somewhere out in the countryside and realize, Oh, yeah, I know now. When I write tomorrow I will do such and such. A sentence or a paragraph or a direction would occur to me. It was a way to get away from the desk. I think we have to get away from the desk and do something physical, otherwise we’re in a trap that we don’t see our way out of. If you stay inside it you can get lost. You have to re-approach it. It’s a matter of replenishing your energy. Getting a fresh view of things.

How much do you revise?

BRONK: I revise very little. And the revisions are not really re-writings at all. In most workshops and creative writing classes you’re advised to re-write and re-write. If the poem isn’t there there’s no point in trying to write it. And if the poem is there, leave it alone. Very frequently I think that I’m improving something. I make the improvements and then the next day realize that it was right the first time. Leave it alone.

How do you feel about giving poetry readings?

BRONK: I like to read to a person or two or three here in the house. It’s like having a conversation. Public readings are something else again. I was never invited very often. In recent years I have been invited and have refused because I don’t want to do it anymore. Success is awfully hard to take. It’s corrupting. And we’re all, including me, corruptible.

What’s the origin of the Bronk family?

BRONK: A man named Jonas Bronck came into New Amsterdam in the early 17th century and bought the land which is now the Bronx. An Indian treaty was made in his house. After he died, Pieter Bronck, who was thought to be his son, and Jonas’s widow moved up to Fort Orange, Albany. Her second husband was Arend Van Curler, the founder of Schenectady. But the historian who is now the head of the Bronx County Historical Society says that Jonas Bronck died "without issue." ;Pieter Bronck went to Coxsackie

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