Descended from Jonas Bronck, for whom the Bronx is named, William Bronk was born 17 February 1918, in Fort Edward, New York, the youngest of four children of the late William M. and Ethel (Funston) Bronk. A year later, the family moved into the spacious Victorian house that would be the poet’s home for the rest of his life.
Bronk attended local schools and entered Dartmouth College in 1934, where his instructors included critic and poet Sidney Cox, who introduced him to Robert Frost and had a considerable impact on his decision to be a poet. Following graduation from
Dartmouth, Bronk enrolled in the graduate English program at Harvard. He found, however, that literature “wasn’t treated [there] in any sense as an art” and left the following January to write a study of nineteenth-century American writers, The
Brother in Elysium: Ideas of Friendship and Society in the United States. Published thirty years later, the book presents Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman from the perspective of a poet rather than that of an academic or a critic.
Bronk served in the army during Second World War and was discharged in October, 1945 with the rank of first lieutenant. He taught at Union College in Schenectady, New York, for a year, and then took charge of his family’s business, the William M. Bronk Coal and Lumber Company, in Hudson Falls, until his retirement in 1978.
Bronk’s first major publications appeared in 1951 in the journal Origin, edited by the poet Cid Corman. Origin published Bronk’s first book of poems, Light and Dark, in 1956. His second book, The World, the Worldless, was published by New Directions eight years later. Neither book gave him a wide reputation at the time, but critics now consider both to be among his major works. James L. Weil’s Elizabeth Press published Bronk’s books from 1969 to 1981 in exquisitely designed editions. North Point
Press became his publisher in 1982, and since 1993, his publisher has been Talisman House, which has reissued all but one of the earlier works and will publish his final collection of poems, Metaphor of Trees, in October.
Bronk did not drive and rarely traveled or gave readings from his work. A gourmet chef with a large house of which he was the sole occupant, he was a great host and made his home and Hudson Falls a mecca for poets and artists. A pilgrimage to Bronk’s home was a major rite of passage for many young writers. He was a prominent figure in his community, known especially for encouraging young people interested in the arts. Bronk died on 22 February 1999. At the time of his death, he was working on the following poem, left in manuscript. It summarizes various notions essential to his poetics:
Art isn’t made, it’s in the world almost
unseen but found existent there. We paint,
we score the sound in music, we write it down.
Bronk’s extensive art collection is permanently housed at the Adirondack Community College in Queensbury, New York. Libraries with substantial collections of Bronk’s papers include the libraries at SUNY Buffalo, the University of New Hampshire, and
Columbia University, which held a major exhibit of materials in its collection in 1995. Book-length Studies of Bronk’s work include: Cid Corman’s William Bronk: An Essay (1976) and Burt Kimmelman, The “Winter Mind”: William Bronk and
American Letters (1998).
There are special Bronk issues of the following journals: Grossteste Review (1972), Credences (1976), Sagetrieb (1988), and Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Literature (1989, 1995)