Whatís the origin of the Bronk family?
BRONK: A man named Jonas Bronck came into New Amsterdam in the early 17th century and bought the land which is now the Bronx. An Indian treaty was made in his house. After he died, Pieter Bronck, who was thought to be his son, and Jonasís widow moved up to Fort Orange, Albany. Her second husband was Arend Van Curler, the founder of Schenectady. But the historian who is now the head of the Bronx County Historical Society says that Jonas Bronck died "without issue." Pieter Bronck went to Coxsackie and built a house there which is still standing. He was very likely to have been a younger brother of Jonas. [pointing to document] This is the Arms of Jonas. All of these elements later became part of the seal of New York City and New York State. The motto is from the Aneid: Do not yield to evil. And when the treaty was made to the Indians in New York City they felt they had to have a seal to seal it with and so they used Jonasís seal on the flag he had flying on his ship, The Fire of Troy. Apparently he was a merchant trader in the North Sea, with a Dutch wife. According to the historian he was a Swede.
Thereís a picture among your archives on the University of New Hampshire web site of your mother. Was she a Congresswoman?
BRONK: She was on the New York State Republican Committee. She was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut and had uncles in Schuylerville, New York. Sheíd come up and spend summers with them. Thatís how they met. My father had a contracting business and had a job to build a lock or a damn or something or other in Schuylerville.
What do you remember most about him?
BRONK: That he was an enterprising and successful businessman. My father was William. Iím William M. Jr. The M is an initial only. It came about because when my father was born they were expecting a girl that they were going to name Minnie. And to their great disappointment my father appeared so they named him William with an initial only M. Minnie came along several children later. I dropped the M and when my father died I dropped the Jr. I like things to be as simple as possible and two names are enough for me.
When did he start the coal company?
BRONK: In 1923 he bought a coal franchise from a widow who didnít want to continue with it. In those days you couldnít just set up in the coal business because no one would sell you coal. He was always interested in new enterprises. Four years later he went into the building material business, lumber and such. He built the lumber company across the road. Then he took on fuel oil. And before he died he started the first concrete business in this area. In the meantime heís been a bank president, but the bank got lost in the Depression. When Roosevelt came into power in the early Ď30s part of the New Deal was to set up state public welfare departments which had not existed before. My father was the first Commissioner of Public Welfare in this county. He had quite a varied and successful business life but was only 52 when he died. I really had very little interest in the business but I did take it over after the war. I thought, Iíll go in it temporarily. His brother had been running it since 1941 when my father died until after the war was over. I thought Iíd find somebody to manage it. We didnít feel confident of his brother. So I was there temporarily which lasted thirty-some years. My sister Jane had been in the business after she got out of college until she got married, which was, oh, 6 or 7 years later. She was like my father. She loved business. She wouldíve made a better manager than I did. I didnít get rich but I made a living and it gave me a great deal of freedom as far as my writing life was concerned. And there were times when I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the people. The customers and the staff. I liked the social part of business. My father was not one to belong to service organizations and neither was I so when the business day was over the business day was over.
Did your mother or your father have sympathies towards writing or poetry?
Was your family religious?
BRONK: Mother went to the Episcopal Church. My father was raised Dutch Reformed but there was no such church here so he went to the Methodist Church. I was never baptized. Betty and Jane were baptized in the Episcopal Church. I went to the Episcopal Sunday school but I am not a card-carrying Christian. I donít go to church but I did when I was a child. I wondered if maybe there was a kind of standoff between my mother and my father because the girls were baptized Episcopal and maybe he wanted me baptized in the Methodist church and as a consequence nothing was ever done.
How did you and publisher Jim Weil of Elizabeth Press get together?
BRONK: He saw my work in Origin and asked me for some poems for Elizabeth, the magazine he published. We started corresponding. I wanted somebody to publish The Empty Hands. The World, the Worldless sold fairly well but neither James Laughlin nor June Oppen Degnan wanted to do another. When Degnan saw the manuscript for The Empty Hands she said, "Oh, there are poems here Iíd give my eye teeth to publish but there are also things there that will harm your reputation." And I said, "I donít care about my reputation, this is my work." My friend, the novelist Richard Elman, said that he had contacts in the publishing world and heíd find someone to publish The Empty Hands but he didnít get anyplace with it. When I told Jim Weil about that he said, "Well, I know people that Elman doesnít know, let me try." He had no luck and eventually came to me and said, "You wouldnít let me publish it, would you?" And I said, "Yes I would, Jim." Between the two of them, theyíd probably canvassed every possibility in the world. And the next week or so I had a letter from Michael Perkins who said Iím publishing some books and Iíve seen your work and admire it and do you have a book that I can publish? [laughs]
When Cid Corman published William Bronk Ė an essay (Truck Press, 1976), with your letters, did you feel betrayed?
BRONK: He had said to me, "You donít mind if I quote some of your letters." But when I saw the letters that he quoted, my feeling was that anybody reading this book would assume that he could not have published the letters that he did unless I had OKíd it. There was nothing scandalous, but on the other hand it made me a kind of exhibitionist, having my letters published, when I had nothing to do with it. Years later I looked at the book again and I thought, why did I get angry about it? Who cares, what does it matter, really. But at the time I thought very definitely that there was a violation. He didnít write that book, I did. Thereís hardly a word of his there. He said, "I did it all for love." Love, schmuv. He did it for what he could get out of it.
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