Willian Bronk was an American poet, born 17 February 1918, died 22 February 1999.
William M Bronk was a graduate of Dartmouth College and spent most of his life in his home in Hudson Falls, Washington County, New York. In 1981, when the University of New Hampshire began collecting Bronk, he had had ten books of poetry and three books of essays published by small presses, but he was still relatively unknown outside of the small world of the intelligentsia. Hugh Miller, a book seller in New Haven, Connecticut made the following statement about Bronk's literary reputation: "Bronk's first two books, LIGHT AND DARK (1956), published by Cid Corman's Origin Press and THE WORLD, THE WORLDLESS (1964), published by New Directions, did not bring him a wide reputation. He mentions in one letter that he received only one warm response to LIGHT AND DARK, though that was from Charles Olson. Otherwise, the response was a disappointment to him. This and his own inclination toward solitariness have hampered the development of his reputation as a poet of national stature. He recounts at times in the letters a number of his dealings with publishers who proposed and then abandoned projects for bringing out books of Bronk's work. It is only in the last ten years or so as Jim Weil's Elizabeth Press has continuously published Bronk's books that the nature and importance of his work has begun to be recognized. With the publication of his COLLECTED POEMS, the recognition of Bronk's work will continue to grow."
Miller's prediction was fulfilled in 1982 when Bronk won the American Book Award for Life Supports. In 1991 the poet was presented the Lannan Literary Award for poetry.
In 1976 Cid Corman wrote a book analyzing Bronk's poetry titled “William Bronk, An Essay”. Numerous articles have been written on Bronk, for such publications as The New York Times Book Review, Southwest Review, The Saturday Review and The Michigan Quarterly Review. Some quotes from some of Bronk's reviewers will give a flavor of how he is received and respected by the literary community. In the “Times Literary Supplement” from 1971 Charles Tomlinson writes that William Bronk, “published LIGHT AND DARK with Origin Press in 1956, and since then has confirmed Corman's and Creeley's recognition of him as a very pure writer.” Mr. Tomlinson adds that William Bronk, is “one of the finest poets now writing in English.” Paul Auster in The Saturday Review said of Life Supports his work of collected poems, “William Bronk’s poetry stands as an eloquent and often beautiful attack on all our assumptions, a provocation, a monument to the questioning mind. It is a work that demands to be read.” The Southwest Review of Life Supports adds, “If Aristotle or Bernard Loengan wrote meditative verse, it would sound like William Bronk, only not as good. He is brilliant...he's the metaphysical Eliot asked for, mind and guts one thing.” Sagetrieb, Talisman and Grossteste Review have each produced a special issue in Bronk’s name.
William Bronk was born on February 17, 1918 at a house on Lower Main Street in Fort Edward, New York. He had an older brother Sherman who died young and two older sisters, Jane and Betty. William attended Dartmouth College, arriving there at the age of 16, and after graduation spent one semester at Harvard. Bronk served in World War II first as a draftee but later, after attending OCS, as an officer. He was discharged from the Army in October 1945 and started teaching English at Union College, Schenectady, NY. He left Union in June of 1946 and returned to Hudson Falls. There, during the later half of 1946, he completed work on The Brother in Elysium. In January 1947 Bronk took over management of the Bronk Coal and Lumber Company which he had inherited when his father died unexpectedly in 1941.
It is not enough to say he was a genius, as surely he was. There is so much more. Some flavor of the man as a personality is gained when you consider that he has never had a drivers license, and has only driven a vehicle once, an Army Reconnaissance vehicle at an Army post in Virginia during World War II. Yet he was rarely in need of travel beyond where he could walk or ride his bike, and then taxi or bus or train sufficed. Bronk’s long time friend and lover, Laura B. Greenlaw of Fort Edward, NY, (who upon her death in April 1996, left many original Bronk works and letters to the University of New Hampshire) for many years was the driver for the pair. Bronk and Greenlaw had known each other since 1930. He went off to college and then the war, she married and he never did. After the death of her husband, Bronk and Greenlaw became lovers and remained so until Greenlaw's death, but being the independent souls, they always maintained separate homes. He was an excellent cook and wine lover, had traveled extensively throughout Europe, South and Central America. His travels led him to Machu Picchu and then over the Andes to the Amazon in the 1950’s. His experiences from traveling, especially into South America, come out frequently in his poems and prose. He lived in a large Victorian house where he cooked on a coal stove. Artists and sculptors decorated his home and garden with their original works of art. His range of friends stretched over many literary, academic and scientific fields, and from twenty year olds to eighty year olds. He treated all people with gentleness, dignity and respect, and he loved a good conversation or piece of gossip. He assisted many a young person to get started in life with a helping hand, a needed loan or sage advice.
He attended one semester of graduate school at Harvard and “decided I couldn't take any more of that.” He taught English at Union College briefly and enjoyed it a great deal, but he knew he would need a graduate degree to go on with it. After his father died in 1941, he decided to return to the family business temporarily. He ended up staying more than 30 years. “I never planned it, but it worked out very well for me,” he said.
He believed that if he had stayed in teaching, he never would have written anything worthwhile. He said he put so much energy into the teaching, that at the end of the day, nothing was left. On the other hand, he felt his years in the family business Bronk Coal and Lumber Co., worked out well for him, leaving him the creative energy to write and giving him the financial security to write what he wanted. “I never had to calculate the effect,” he said. He wrote without asking himself if the work would sell. “I could write what I wanted to write without worrying about all that.” He retired from the business in 1978.
Bronk said that the poems were created in his mind as he went through the business of the day. When one was ready, he put it on paper, working in longhand rather than at a typewriter. As his manuscripts attest, he seldom rewrote, or even modified, a poem once written on paper.
William Bronk died Sunday, February 22, 1999.