Feb 172017
 

Key West Poet Laureate Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

From a collection of war-time letters. Germany. Nurnberg, 1945

Dear Mother:

What a day! I got up early and got some stuff ready to send home, which I hope to do tomorrow, after it has been censored. Later on in the morning I was put on a detail to help evacuate a four-story apartment house.  The tenants seemed to accept it quite calmly. Within five minutes dozens of go-carts and wagons appeared from nowhere, like a too-realistic play. Some filled up one little wagon load and were gone. Others spent the entire two hours that were allowed loading everything from arm chairs to mattresses. It appeared that most of them had been bombed out. This building was a temporary refuge. Two pretty teen-age girls watched and giggled. The housewives did most of the work. One Irish-looking woman kept trying to put about eight ladles into a bucket that was already overflowing with things. She was in too much of a hurry, poor thing, to take time to insert each handle in one side of the bucket. Instead, she tried to set them all on top. Of course they slipped and fell off just about when she got the eighth ladle balanced on the other seven. Finally she lost her temper and took one of the ladles and let it fly fiercely against the pail making a loud clamour as the ladles fell every which way.

Another very old hunch-backed lady walked away with a shopping bag in one hand, apparently all her possessions. A good many seemed only to move in next door to another apartment house, half of which was open from top to bottom to the four winds. It was a relief that no one appeared especially put out, only harried and concerned. The little old hunch-backed one returned again, looking at no one, only occasionally reaching to her bare head and crying out words I interpreted as “My cap! My Cap!”

In one apartment the woman was very elated. She was the last to be shooed out. We went in and told her she must leave. She was ready to go. We walked into the living room. There a sideboard displayed a couple of sets of plated silver serving trays. One of us knew German and through him we told her she should take these things with her because of their vulnerability to souvenir hunters. No, she wanted them left so that the Americans might have something to drink out of. She laughed extravagantly at this. She was either drunk or hysterical. As we walked to the entrance of the now empty apartment building a short, fat housewife with her hair done up in a bun asked if she could get something out of the cellar. It was already past the allotted two hours. We said she could since it meant so much. Out of a great bunch she separated the desired key and unlocked a dark closet. Then began a long, prolonged and extensive evacuation of boxes and crates. Always just one more! Finally we insisted that was all, and I think it was. Then suddenly she pointed to a cellarway outside toward an old man and darted back into the shadows saying with ill-acted pretense at hate, saying, “Nazi!” When she got all her boxes on the sidewalk she remembered, with a screaming voice, “Der Vagon! Der Vagon!” Rather than have her enter the building one more time, we loaded her wagon up for her. Somebody remarked,

“What a line of shit she has!” Someone else remarked that she had tried again to enter another section of the building. Later on I found an evacuated apartment where I spent the evening paracticing the piano.

Kirby Congdon

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Kirby Congdon

Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.


Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.


 February 17, 2017  Posted by at 12:45 am Issue #206, Kirby Congdon, News  Add comments