A Faithful Account of Where I Live: The Letters of Cid Corman and William Bronk -- an introduction, by David Clippinger

William Bronk and Cid Corman began corresponding in 1951 at the very beginnings of Corman's now mythic journal, Origin. Over the twenty years of the journal, Bronk was a staple: his work first appeared in issue #2 (Spring 1951) as well as in twelve others including a Bronk "special issue" (April 1967) and the final issue, #20 (January 1971). Without the passionate and sustained support of Corman, Bronk's early poems may never have found their way into print. Nevertheless, the early letters between Bronk and Corman mask a layer of tension that seethes beneath the surface and would come to a head in the first letter of this selection, Bronk's letter dated the 1st of June 1961. The tension was fueled by Charles Olson's professed disdain of Bronk's work and, by proxy, Corman's commitment to publishing Olson and Bronk in Origin. As Olson writes in a letter to Corman (31 July 1951):

I am sick of this sort of thing you show me from Bronk-the green of it, the green-sick, too-the bad-headedness, as well as the manners.1
Olson would, with the publication of The World, The Worldless (1964) revise his opinion of Bronk-so much so that he wrote Bronk a "fan-letter." Nevertheless, the influence of Olson and his "Projective Verse" upon Corman was immense, and while Corman diligently attempted to advocate for Bronk's inclusion in the pantheon of "Projectivists" (a point that is difficult to support and maintain and which Bronk himself could not understand), he also chided Bronk for not being more "open" in his poetry. The tension between Corman and Bronk in the early letters comes to a head in June of 1961, and is emblematic, in a larger social context, of the cultural strain between the "new" (as represented by Charles Olson's "Projective Verse" and Donald Allen's The New American Poetry) and the "old" (The Pack-Simpson-Hall New Poets of England and America).

The friction of this personal and cultural tension catalyzed one of Bronk's strongest statements of poetics as well as one of his most provocative letters, which is where this selection, culled from 1961 to 1973, begins. This twelve year period marked the most prolific and passionate period of Corman's and Bronk's correspondence, an era that would come to a close (reluctantly on Corman's part) with the publication of Corman's loving tribute, William Bronk: An Essay (Truck Press, 1976), a text that thoroughly and carefully reads Bronk's poetry and essays, but liberally includes letters to Corman as a way of deepening the critical discussion. Bronk, an extremely private person, was wounded and felt betrayed by having his personal ruminations on display. As evident by the enclosed selection of letters, some of which were included in William Bronk: An Essay, Corman's "transgression" seems minor. Yet, it was more than likely the experience of having his letters displayed without his consent that prompted Bronk's insistence, when I first began compiling his letters in 1993, that he reserved the right to edit any of his letters for Accumulating Position: The Selected Letters of William Bronk.

Regardless, Corman's "transgression" never erased Bronk's gratitude toward Corman for providing an important venue for his poetry and for being his advocate. Nor did Bronk's brusque removal of himself from Corman's world-an act that Bronk repeated with others who in one way or another had disappointed him-temper Corman's continued admiration of Bronk's work, as evident in a 1994 interview with Corman published in the July/August 2000 issue of The American Poetry Review. While these letters that I have chosen run the risk of repeating past "indiscretions," Bronk's correspondence with Corman shed valuable light upon the rather private and enigmatic person that was William Bronk, but even more importantly, they offer insight into his poetry and prose.

Within the context of the body of Bronk's poetry and essays, these letters document the genesis of ideas, poetic principles, and lines that were transformed into poems. For example, Bronk writes in the letter dated 1 June 1961:

What I am to do is to make a statement which has form which is composed of the contents of the statement. I am after "the weight, the texture, the strength," not of words but of statements, something initially more static than you are, the shape of the rocks as they lie against each other not the sound they make as they tumble over together.
This image of rocks against one another is echoed in Bronk's description in "An Algebra Among Cats" in The New World (1974) of Machu Picchu, which offered a paradigm for Bronk's own work and validated his conception of poetry as the carefully juxtaposed layering of statements:
These stone surfaces have been worked and smoothed to a degree just this side of that line where texture would be lost. Where one stone meets another the surfaces recede slightly forming a small indentation at all the joints. And no doubt it is the joints more than any other one factor which make the perfection. (13)
These rocks with their smoothed "joints" and "weight" are revisited in the poem "Visionary," which elaborates upon a poetics of phrasing via the now familiar image of joints and beams:
Poems don't make by added post and beam
the whole barn or see the barn as built.
The most the poem can do is know within
itself, in a certain joint, this fits with that. (Formalities, np)
In this regard, Bronk's letter to Corman offers historical context for the articulation and evolution of a central principle in Bronk's poetics.

These letters document the processes of the writing life and testify to the value of friendship for Bronk, which also may account for his feeling betrayed by Corman's book since it displays the intimacies of his life. But as Bronk explains in language that smacks of Henry David Thoreau's Walden, these letters testify to the overwhelming desire "to give a faithful account of where I live so far as I am able." Subsequently, images central to many of Bronk's poems-Barber's Bridge, the Locks on the Hudson River, and Sherman's Barn-recur throughout these letters, which situates the poetry firmly in Hudson Falls, New York, where, except for his years at college and a brief stint in the army, Bronk lived, loved, wrote, talked, laughed, cooked, read, and, ultimately, died.

A few necessary but brief comments upon the editing of the letters: I have maintained Bronk's idiosyncratic and inconsistent use of apostrophes for contractions; e.g., "dont" for "don't." More, I have attempted to minimize annotations so as to preserve the rhythm and flow of Bronk's ideas and prose. Like Bronk, I too "dislike a messy page with little crumbs at the bottom," so I have inserted necessary annotations in brackets directly into the text-including any titles of poems referred to in the letter or enclosed. I have opted to exclude only a few paragraphs and/or sentences from the letters presented here, but when a passage has been cut, it is marked with a bracket and ellipses, "[ . . . . ]."

Like nearly all of Bronk's letters, these to Corman were handwritten and signed, which suggests an intimacy, while the enclosed poems, on the other hand, were usually typed. The paper used was his normal 5" by 8" stationery with "William Bronk" centered at the top of the page, and the letters were written in Bronk's small hand in black or blue ink. His letters tended to be short in length (like his poems) but that length did not diminish the direct, personal quality of his correspondence nor his urgency, as he remarks in the final letter of this selection, to engage the emptiness and the silence, the result of which is his poems, essays, and letters-Bronk's legacy.

1--Charles Olson and Cid Corman: Complete Correspondence. Volume 1. George Evans, ed. Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1987, 183.
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