Reidel, James

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Born in Cincinnati, OH. Education: Columbia University, M.F.A; Rutgers University, M.A.


Home—3195 North Farmcrest Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45213-1111. E-mail—[email protected].


Poet, editor, translator, biographer, and independent scholar. Has worked variously in a nursery and as a truck driver


(Selector) Weldon Kees, Limericks to Friends, Jordan Davies (Brooklyn, NY), 1985.

(Editor) Weldon Kees, Reviews and Essays, 1936-55, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1988.

(Editor) Weldon Kees, Fall Quarter, Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 1990.

Vanished Act: The Life and Art of Weldon Kees, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.

Translator of verse by German writers Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, and Franz Werfel. Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker, Conjunctions, Paris Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, Ironwood, Verse, and New Criterion.


Cincinnati native James Reidel is a poet, translator, independent scholar, and the editor of several books by poet Weldon Kees, among them Fall Quarter and Limericks to Friends. In addition, he shares his knowledge of Kees' short life in the biography Vanished Act: The Life and Art of Weldon Kees.

Written in 1941, Fall Quarter, is the only surviving novel by Kees, who mysteriously disappeared at age forty-one in 1955. Rejected for publication because its subject matter was considered inappropriate during World War II, Fall Quarter introduces twenty-five-year-old William Clay, a recent graduate who accepts a post teaching English at a Midwestern college. Clay's naiveté quickly becomes apparent as his unrealistic dreams are soon shattered in Kees screwball commentary. The plot focuses on Clay's attempts to bed and wed the woman of his desires while his efforts are interrupted by the often-eccentric characters he encounters on campus. Glenn O. Carey, writing in the Library Journal, commented that while "Kees seemingly was successful in his other occupations," Fall Quarterly is a "hybrid novel" that is "deficient as either humor or satire, with Clay's preposterous innocence further weakening the story." Also less than enthusiastic about Kee's fiction, Beatrice Tauss called the novel "merciless" and "labored," and added in her New York Times Book Review appraisal that Fall Quarter "surrealistically evokes the nightmare of disappointed lives. It could have been written yesterday, alas."

Reidel's own work has been much more enthusiastically received by critics. In Vanished Act: The Life and Art of Weldon Kees, Reidel chronicles the poet's life and studies Kees's many artistic endeavors. Kees has been characterized by some scholars as the "nearly" man of the twentieth-century, due to his dabbling in everything from expressionist painting, film-making, and traditional jazz to writing. While Kees was accomplished in many areas—his works appeared in many of the best literary journals of the twentieth-century—he never attained the same level of recognition as peers such as Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. While his primary aspiration was to become a successful writer, bad luck seemed to play a part in keeping Kees in the background: Fall Quarter, for instance, was submitted for publication the day after Pearl Harbor, a clear case of bad timing. In recent years, Kees has attainted minor cult status, helped by "enthusiastic champions like his biographer [who] have determined to alter that river's course," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Michael Hofmann, writing in the New York Times Book Review, stated that "Until I read the poet James Reidel's biography Vanished Act, I had not realized how 'nearly' Kees was, and how far he came, in so many fields of artistic endeavor." In closing, Hofmann praised Reidel's biography a "really good, well-written and thoughtful" appraisal of an underappreciated author.

Writing in Ploughshares, Reidel stated "I have this thing about apprenticeship and performing my service to the muse. So I have conducted my career from a monklike angle, perhaps more than is necessary." "But these are benighted times," the author/editor added, "and I may have left the discovery of my work to others as others have left theirs to me."



Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of Vanished Act: The Life and Art of Weldon Kees, p. 593.

Library Journal, September 15, 1990, Glenn O. Carey, review of Fall Quarter, p. 102.

New York Times Book Review, November 25, 1990, Beatrice Tauss, review of Fall Quarter, p. 18; August 17, 2003, Michael Hofmann, review of Vanished Act, p. 12.


Adirondack Review Online, (October 10, 2003), interview with Reidel.

Ploughshares, (July 4, 2003), "James Reidel."*