A Deepening

  • III. A Deepening (1/4/1980 – 10/6/1980)

    Poetry Magazine
    Poetry Magazine acceptance letter.

    There is good news as this section opens. Joseph Amaryllis sends word that  Poetry magazine has accepted two of my poems. But there is bad news as well. Don becomes so upset about my dual submission of poems to another editor that he decides Joey can no longer represent me.

    The other editor is a friend who founded a new Boston magazine about to go to press in its first issue without enough material. My work would help him with his start-up, and me with a Boston audience, I thought to myself, and besides, these were lesser poems that had been going nowhere. But Don (whose initial letter on the subject is missing) thought I had behaved badly, and he was right. The scrape I got myself into passed, but not without its lesson. I learned from it not only about proper submission, but all over again about Don’s value to me as a submitter, advisor and friend.

    Colgate Hall, Colby Sawyer College
    Colgate Hall, Colby-Sawyer College. Image courtesy Cleveland Colby Colgate Archives, Colby-Sawyer College.

     

     

    That is likely why I begin to sign my letters following this event with love, and to take his criticism more seriously. Asmy relationship with him deepens and I feel the vindication of my NEA fellowship, my correspondence becomes more frequent. During 1980, I write him nearly as many letters as in the four previous years combined, many of them accompanied by drafts of poems, and some others appraising Don’s own poems.

     

     

    The Faces of Americans
    The Faces of Americans manuscript, by Wesley McNair

    Don’s enthusiasm for my new work and Joey’s success in publishing it blunt the pain of not placing my book with any of the presses I send it to, including the house for which Don is poetry consultant, Harper & Row.Yet I still grouse about my situation, and Don steps in to encourage me, most notably in his astonishing letter of July 8, 1980, after which I find myself encouraging him about his own work.

    CaldecottSeptember arrives with news that Don has won the 1980 Caldecott Medal for his children’s book The Ox-Cart Man.The September letters also show us in conversation poems I hope to give to Joey for submission to magazines. In this fall, the two of us switch roles. Sponsored by my NEA fellowship, I am home at my farmhouse writing and revising poems; meanwhile Don is at Colby-Sawyer College, teaching a course in composition to spark interest in the second edition of Writing Well, his college textbook.

    [This section has 48 letters]

  • Hall to McNair: January 4, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-01-04-1980

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    4 January 1980

    Wes McNair
    No. Sutton, NH

    Dear Wes,

    If Howard Dinin writes, I will be
    pleased to hear from him – but I won’t be
    able to send him anything, not at least
    for quite a while. I really believe in
    keeping things around two or three
    years before you send them out. I don’t
    always do it, especially when a book is
    due. But I have not sent anything out
    since Kicking the Leaves, and I probably
    won’t for another six months or perhaps
    twelve months. I have things that are
    probably finished. Well, they’re probably
    not, really – but they might as well be.
    They haven’t yet gone through the Ordeal
    by Friendship, wherein I send them to all
    my friends who lacerate them. I’m about to
    start doing that, with a few of them.

    But I have thought dimly of sending
    some things out this spring but I think I
    probably won’t until next autumn. And
    then I have a list of magazines that I
    promised to send things to. Therefore, it
    will be a while. But I will probably make
    it eventually, if I live long enough, and
    I look forward to it. I also look forward
    to seeing you guys next week. Terrific.

    2/

    I think what you’re doing with the book is
    sensible. …Though you know what I hope.

    Best as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter: Howard Dinin is a friend who wanted me to ask Don for poems to publish in his new magazine, a start-up called The Boston Monthly. Don is responding to my phone call about it.

  • Hall to McNair: January 21, 1980

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    January 21, 1980

    Dear Don-

    I enclose a mini-poem which I hope you like well
    enough to pass on to Joey. Also: there are three
    poems which I hope Joey will be willing to remove
    from circulation – namely, “The Man,” “Country People,”
    and “Memory of North Sutton.” Howard Dinin would like
    to claim them for The Boston Monthly, would you please
    ask Joey about this? It was good to see you both on Wednesday.
    Diane will surely never have a better audience for
    her slides from Chile. How great it was to share them
    with you!

    I have now started String too Short to be Saved,
    a book which I cannot help liking, it reminds me
    so much of my own early experiences on farms.
    More about that later.

    Best to you both,

    Wes


    Editorial note about this letter:  The “mini-poem” included in this letter is “The Fat Enter Heaven.” Here, from McNair’s writing notebook, is a draft of the poem as sent in this letter.

    The Fat Enter Heaven

    It is understood, with the clarity that is possible only in heaven,
    that none have loved food better than these.
    Angels gather to admire their small mouths and their arms, round
    as the fenders of Hudson Hornets. In their past
    they have been among the world’s most meek,
    the farm boy who lived with his mother, the grade-school teacher
    who led the flag salute with expression, day after day.
    Now, their commonplace lives, the guilt about their weight,
    the ridicule, fade like a dream. They come to the table steaming with food
    more appetizing than they have ever seen, shedding their belts and girdles
    for the last time. Here, where fat itself is heavenly,
    they fill their plates and float upon the sky.

    Read The Man (published version)

    Read Country People (published version)

    Read Memory of North Sutton (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: January 22, 1980

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    Jan. 22, 1980

    Dear Mr. Amaryllis,

    Thanks very much for sending the
    poems by Mr. McNair. We do like them, and
    are glad to keep

    “The Poetic License”
    “The Bald Spot”.

    I hope Mr. McNair does not have
    a book publication deadline coming up
    soon? Poems accepted now aren’t likely
    to be published until fall—what with our
    backlog.

    Might be a good idea to put Mr. McNair’s
    name on his MSS.? “The art of losing isn’t
    hard to master…”, as Eliz. Bishop sings.

    With all best wishes,

    Sincerely yours,
    John Frederick Nims
    22 January 1980

    Notice of Acceptance

    The Editors of Poetry are pleased to accept the
    following for publication:

    THE POETIC LICENSE
    THE BALD SPOT

    Wesley McNair
    c/o Amaryllis, Incorporated
    Box 71
    Potter Place, NH 03265


    Read The Poetic License (published version)

    Read The Bald Spot (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: January 28, 1980

     

    Hall-to-McNair-01-28-1980

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    28 January 1980

    Wes McNair
    Dept. of English
    Colby-Sawyer College
    New London, NH 03257

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks for the mini-poem. It is an absolutely magnificent
    idea, it will be a marvelous poem – and I don’t think it is
    quite yet finished. I think that there is a certain awkwardness,
    and haste, perhaps, about the end of the poem. I don’t think
    we should have a comma after “now.” I think that “the guilt
    about their weight,” seems awkward in its little words. And
    I know that “fade like a dream,” is the most total of cliches.
    And things get a little clichetic further on. “Steaming with
    food,” and “appetizing,” and is “seen” the right word? I like
    the third line from the end. I like the second line from the
    end pretty well – I think the last line is OK but I think it
    could be a whole lot better. I wish you would keep it around
    a little longer, the way you tend to do anyway, and intensify
    or freshen the last half or third of the poem. It is a marvelous
    notion! Dear to my heart!

    Fine for removing those three poems from circulation –
    after they come back from the places where they are currently
    being read. Be sure that Howard Dinin waits for Joey’s release.
    It would be embarrassing – for you, for Amaryllis, Inc. – if
    these poems were taken by another magazine, and then Joey had
    to say that they were not available. Be certain about this,
    please.

    I had a good letter from Howard Dinin, and I will be in
    touch with him shortly.

    We had a lovely time with you, also, and loved the photographs.

    I’m glad that you are enjoying String. Did you see that
    my children’s book took the Caldecott? We will be able to
    build the new bathroom!

    Love to you both,


    Editorial note about this poem: Though McNair does not send Hall a completed version of his “mini-poem” until 3/29/1980, his final revisions at that time reflect Hall’s concerns.

    Read The Fat Enter Heaven (published version as sent to Hall on 3/29/1980)

  • McNair to Hall: February 2, 1980

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    February 2, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Your letter of January 29 contains the worst
    message I have ever received in the mail. I
    am upset that you will no longer handle my poems.
    But I am immeasurably more upset that I have
    managed to hurt you and no doubt Jane
    so terribly.

    The least I owe you is an account of the
    circumstances which led to my January 21st
    letter to you. First of all, I sent the three
    poems to Howard Dinin as a result of his
    rather desperate request that I give him
    some work related to the idea of “home” for
    his first issue of The Boston Monthly, which
    was short of material. There is no good
    excuse for not letting you know about my
    decision to send Howard the poems; I can
    only tell you that since it was nine months

    2/

    after I had given the poems to you, I did not take
    seriously the possibility that they might be
    published by someone else. Needless to say, I
    should have taken that possibility seriously. To make
    matters worse, I let the whole thing slide until I had
    forgotten it. I did not think about the poems again until
    the night of our dinner, when it came up that I had
    published in The Boston Monthly. You said you hoped none
    of the poems were in the batch Joey had, and I said
    “no,” seeing the seriousness of my lapse, and lacking
    the courage to be forthright with you and face the
    loss of your esteem. Afterward, I sent my letter,
    which contained the “duplicity” you have
    mentioned, and which took my lack of
    courage one step further.

    I cannot blame you for responding as you have.
    You are wrong to imagine that I might “conceal
    and equivocate” as a matter of course in my
    dealings with editors, though I can easily
    understand why you would so imagine. Ironically,

    3/

    the equivocation I have been guilty of with you,
    a friend and mentor, I have not practiced with
    anyone else. The only time I came even close
    was when I allowed the woman from The Concord
    Monitor
    to quote “The Thin Man,” assuming,
    naïvely, that quoting a poem within an article
    was not tantamount to publication of the poem.
    That I have treated you in this careless
    and dishonest way, failing to be straight
    with you until the moment I was forced to,
    is a thing that I will never forgive myself
    for. I am entirely unable to square my
    behavior with the appreciation and
    generous support which you and Jane have
    given me – without which I might well
    have lost faith in my writing. I can
    only determine at this point that I will
    use what has happened to instruct me in
    how to be more forthright in the future

    2/

    with others,
    especially those I respect and love.

    I remain deeply grateful for all that you
    have done for me. I am profoundly sorry that I
    have handled this thing so poorly.

    Sincerely,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair: February 8, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-02-08-1980

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    8 February 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Thank you for writing as you did. I am sorry to be
    the source, or the effective cause, of such unhappiness.
    This too will pass, and in the meantime – as you say so
    eloquently – something has happened to be learned from.

    Although Joey did not do terribly well for you, certain
    things may be opening up. No sign of interest from New Yorker,
    but I think that things are quite chaotic there right now, and
    I would not be too discouraged about it. When you write new
    things, I think you ought to try them there. Hayden
    Carruth has shown an interest in your work, and I think you
    ought to try again. When you write him with new poems, do
    remind him that I showed him some earlier – because I did
    it in my own person.

    However, do be terribly careful, please, not ever to
    mention the connection between Joey and me.
    [Written in margin: to anyone.] It would be a
    matter of great embarrassment to me if any of these poetry
    editors, some of whom I know under my own name!, realized
    that I was corresponding with them under another.

    As I sent out the poems, many magazines took forever
    to answer. (One of them was Poetry, by the way, with the
    first batch; and then they did take two later. So these long
    delays were perhaps not all a waste of time.) But the minute
    they came back, I sent them out again the same day. So the
    notion that nine months meant that you should not take seriously
    the possibility that you might be published…well, obviously
    I think that was a very strange thought. Or it was a strange
    thought that you would then feel free to publish them elsewhere
    without letting me know, while I was still madly sending them
    out…

    But I need not repeat myself, I realize! Your remorse
    is bad enough, and there’s no point in rehearsing things.

    I take it that the two poems which Poetry ^has taken have not been
    published elsewhere. …I do know that your publication of
    “The Thin Man” in the Concord Monitor was only naïve. …The
    thing to remember is that publishing is publishing, period.
    That there is nothing which is tantamount to this or tantamount
    to that. All they are interested in is whether something has

    2/

    been published or not.

    Now for that matter, I merely generalize. If you
    send “The Thin Man” out again, to other magazines, I suggest
    that you always tell the editor that it appeared in a news-
    paper interview in a newspaper called the Concord Monitor
    with a circulation of blah blah blah. Somebody may take it
    anyway. Certainly some small magazine, with a small circulation,
    would feel free to take it. Or quite possibly the Boston
    Monthly might feel free to take it. I merely mean that if
    the New Yorker had taken it, where it was sitting while it
    appeared in the Concord Monitor, the New Yorker would def-
    initely have gone back on its acceptance. And that most of
    the self-respecting quarterlies and monthlies – Atlantic,
    Poetry, etc. – would not take it after it appeared in the
    Concord Monitor, if they knew about it.

    For that matter, the Harvard Magazine would take it.
    And just to prove to you that my regard and high wishes
    for your work continues intact, may I please have The Thin Man
    for the Harvard Magazine, when it comes back from the Virginia
    Quarterly? I do not mind reprinting from the Concord Monitor.

    May I?

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall: February 14, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-02-14-1980

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    February 14, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Thank you for your good and kind letter. Of course
    you may have “The Thin Man” for Harvard Magazine.
    That you would request the poem lifts me somewhat
    from the gloom of the past days. I feel extraordinarily
    blessed to have your faith and good will.

    Needless to say, I am grateful for your
    continuous mailings and remailings of my poems,
    and for your suggestions about my own
    future mailings. I thank you especially for placing the
    two poems in Poetry. Ever since I began writing
    poetry ten years ago, I have wanted to appear
    in that magazine. Having poems accepted by
    John Nims is especially meaningful to me,
    since he once encouraged me in my writing
    at Bread Loaf. (I took a class called “The
    Craft of Poetry” with Nims when I was
    getting my M.A.) You may be absolutely sure
    that the poems Nims accepted have not been
    published in, or sent to, any other magazine
    or newspaper whatsoever.

    Last week, I sent a note to Nims, thanking
    him for taking the poems and reminding him of

    2/

    our association at Bread Loaf. Even as I wrote,
    I was unable to glory much in the acceptance,
    it was so intermixed with the awful problems
    I had created for us both. After reading your
    letter, I am beginning to feel better about it.

    Thanks once again for the kindness you
    Have shown.

    Wes

    P.S. I have just read in The Argus of
    your Caldecott Medal. What a wonderful
    children’s book “The Ox-Cart Man” must
    have made, especially with “primitive”
    illustrations – just the right thing!
    Congratulations!


    Read The Thin Man (published version)

    Read Ox Cart Man (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: February 19, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-02-19-1980

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    19 February 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Could you send me a copy of “The Thin Man”? It has
    not returned, and it is possible that it will not.

    And for that matter, why don’t we go back to working
    with Joey again. I am over my heat, and it is obvious
    that this Bad Accident will never come near either one of
    us again. Let us just start in. But when you send me
    back the poems – for sending out – would you please tell
    me again where they have been? That is, would you repeat
    my information to you? I buried all the old records in
    my correspondence box, which is now anonymous among rows
    of boxes up in the Dark Hole upstairs. So I need to know
    where they have been, and I would not necessarily remember.

    I hope that by the time the two poems come out in
    Poetry you will really be able to feel good about them.

    Yes, the Caldecott was good news. So many great ideas,
    when you are free-lance writing, fall apart and bring in no
    mortgage-helpers. But then something like this happens, and
    it is a little annuity for several years. Believe me, I did
    not think of the writing only in terms of money! …but I guess
    I think of the Caldecott mostly in terms of money!

    Best, as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall: February 22, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-02-22-1980

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    [Postmarked 22 February, 1980]
    Dear Don –-

    A quick answer to your question
    about “Old Trees.” It has not been
    sent or published anywhere.

    Thanks for your kind words about it -–

    Wes


    Read Old Trees (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: February 23, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-02-23-1980

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    February 23, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Given my tendency toward maudlinity, I do not trust myself to
    elaborate on the respect and gratitude I feel upon learning of your
    (and Joey’s) offer to send out my poems. So I will limit my response
    to a simple thank you, hoping that both you and Joey will know my
    thank you is most deeply felt.

    You asked me to tell you where the enclosed poems have been sent.
    According to your letter, “Holding the Goat” and “When Superman Died”
    have been rejected by the New Yorker, Paris Review and Poetry; “Going
    Back to Elinore Quelch” has been rejected by the New Yorker, Poetry,
    Paris Review, Atlantic, Virginia Quarterly Review, Harper’s and The
    Nation; and “The Thin Man” and “Hair on Television” have been rejected
    by the New Yorker. One more thing you should know is that last Monday
    (having waited three weeks after you wrote to withdraw “Hair on
    Television” from editorial consideration) I sent “Hair on Television”
    to American Poetry Review. Should “Hair on Television” be returned
    unpublished, rest assured that I will send it immediately to Joey.

    Incidentally, I wish you would please tell me what percentage
    of the pay from Poetry Joey should have when my poems are published there.
    I seem to recollect ten percent, but perhaps it was more…

    In the enclosed batch is a revision of “Old Trees”, which I do
    hope you like. I have changed the length of the poem’s stanzas from
    two lines to three, and I’ve changed an image that you once questioned.
    The poem feels better to me, but I would very much like to have
    your response. Would you write me about it when you have a spare moment?

    I still await word from “the contests” – the Walt Whitman Award,
    the National Poetry Contest, the Yale Younger Poets – and from the
    Pitt Poetry Series. Don’t know if I told you that Wesleyan rejected
    the book. I’m preparing myself for the possible depression of spring!

    In the meantime, I’ve brought a “five-subject notebook” to
    continue with old poems and new^inprogress. Perhaps I will have more
    to send soon.

    Thank you again,

    Wes


    Read Holding the Goat (published version)

    Read When Superman Died in Springfield, Vermont (published version)

    Read Hair on Television (published version)

     

  • McNair to Hall: February 26, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-02-26-1980

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    February 26, 1980

    Dear Don,

    I believe I forgot to send in my last letter
    the copy of “The Thin Man” you requested.
    Here it is!

    Saludos,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair: February 27, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-02-27-1980

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    27 February 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks for the manuscripts, and the letter. I think
    that Old Trees is just marvelous. Very very beautiful, and
    the rhythm in the new lineation is just wonderful. …And I
    believe that this one has been published before, has it not?
    I think you would mentioned it [sic], if it had not been. If it has
    not been, please let me know right away. (Well, please let
    me know anyway, because I think I will hold up on sending out
    the three available poems until I heard from you about this
    one for sure.)

    Delighted to have The Thin Man for Harvard Magazine.
    It will take a while before it comes out, I am afraid.

    Agents get ten per cent, and Joey is no exception.

    Good luck with the contests – and expect nothing! I talked
    to Fran yesterday, and she has not yet settled on a new publishing
    house, but I expect that she will soon.

    Fine about having sent “Hair on Television” to the APR.
    Let me know what happens, either way.

    Best as ever,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall: February 29, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-02-29-1980

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    February 29, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Just in case I didn’t make this clear
    on the hastily written postcard I sent
    you today – I would very much like Joey
    to have “Old Trees.” And neither of you
    need worry about my sending poems to
    Danbury that have been sent elsewhere,
    since I will not be sending poems elsewhere.

    I am just delighted that you like the
    poem. I wish I had more to send.
    And the fact is, I do have lots of
    stuff in the notebooks, but none of it is
    ready yet.

    Anyway, I keep working and hoping.
    In the meantime, thanks for your
    comments about “Old Trees,” and for
    your interest in suggesting it to Joey.

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair: March 3, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-03-03-1980

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    3 March 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I take it that this is not only not
    been printed anywhere, but also not been sent
    anywhere, not even to the New Yorker? I do
    want to try the New Yorker with it. Two
    words on a postcard: “Not sent.” And off it
    goes.

    Love as ever,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall: March 25, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-03-25-1980

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    March 25, 1980

    Dear Don,

    I want you know how much I like your book
    String Too Short To Be Saved. I feel close to many
    of the book’s characters because you make me feel
    close to them, but also because I myself met people
    like them in my experiences on farms in the Cornish
    and Meridian area during the 1950’s.

    I especially like the way the concluding chapter,
    “Out of the Garden” manages to recapitulate earlier
    themes as it states its own. The last sentence of
    “Out of the Garden” is breathtaking. Still, my
    favorite chapter is “The Blueberry Picking.” I have
    read few things in my life so good as that reminiscence
    is. It is so deeply metaphoric and yet so natural
    and “real” in the experience it relates. And
    what feeling one senses in the speaker as he looks
    back upon the boy self in his “Thirst,” and upon
    the old man who hopes the boy will “remember.”
    I am just dazed by that piece.

    Reading String Too Short (wonderful, wonderful title!)

    2/

    made me return to Kicking the Leaves to discover
    new meanings in the poems of that collection.
    All over again I love “Kicking the leaves”, “Flies”,
    “The Black Faced Sheep,” “The Ox Cart Man,”
    “Names of Horses.” I also went back to The
    Alligator Bride
    to reread some of my favorite
    poems in that – or any other – collection: “The Days,”
    “The Stump,” “The Old Pilot,” “New Hampshire,”
    “The Repeated Shapes,” “The Man in the Dead Machine,”
    etc. And I saw for the first time how often you
    are in poetry what you call yourself in String
    Too Short
    – an “elegist.”

    How wonderful it has been to read this book
    and your other books through it! Now Diane
    has String Too Short, and no one can tear
    her away from it. (She, too, visited farmer
    relations in New Hampshire when she was a girl.)
    She joins me in thanking you for the book. It
    is wonderful to know that a person whose work
    I like so much likes my work, too!

    Love,

    Wes

    P.S. I include “Hair on Television” for Joey’s collection
    of my poems. It was rejected by APR –


    Read Flies (published version)

    Read The Black-Faced Sheep (published version)

    Read Names of Horses (published version)

    Read The Days (published version)

    Read The Stump (published version)

    Read The Old Pilot (published version)

    Read New Hampshire (published version)

    Read The Repeated Shapes (published version)

    Read The Man in the Dead Machine (published version)

     

  • Hall to McNair: March 26, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-03-26-1980

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    26 March 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Many thanks for the letter and the poem.

    Probably you know that Jim Wright died
    yesterday morning. He had cancer, and would
    only have suffered terribly for a few months,
    if the cancer had taken its predicted course.
    Pneumonia cut him off. I was with him last
    Saturday, and it was terrible. I was with him
    two weeks before also. Jim knew he was going
    to die, when I saw him Saturday. Sometime I
    will tell you about it. It is difficult to
    talk about.

    I’m terribly pleased that you like String
    so much, and that it led you back to the poems
    and that they held up too. Thank you so much
    for telling me! I saw Diane yesterday and she
    told me about reading String.

    I need these things! Don’t we all.

    I will be putting “Hair on Television”
    to good use, I hope.

    Best as ever,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: Jim Wright is the poet James Wright, with whom Don had a lifelong friendship, and whose work was important to both of us.
     

  • McNair to Hall: March 29, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-03-29-1980

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    March 29, 1980

    Dear Don,

    I was sorry to learn of James Wright’s death. It must have been
    a very tough thing for you. Has there been any news of it in the press?
    I have not read of it anywhere outside of your letter.

    I came to Wright’s poetry late, though I did encounter the
    Eisenhower/Franco poem (can’t remember the title exactly, and can’t
    find the poem) earlier on, and I still remember the thrill of reading it.
    I saw the Wright poems in your Contemporary American Poetry early, too,
    but it was much later that I got to his books. Needless to say, he has
    left many beautiful poems behind.

    You are quite welcome to compliments about String Too Short To Be
    Saved.
    And about the poems. I realize now that I did not mention
    in my letter one of my favorite poems from The Alligator Bride – I
    mean “Mount Kearsage”. Ever since you did your reading at Colby, that
    poems has stuck with me. I can still hear the way you said its
    wonderful last line, “blue ghost”. I often think of that poem as I
    drift downward towards Crockett’s Corners from Colby and that mountain
    rises before me.

    Incidentally, I heard not long ago from Fran McCullough, who
    sent my manuscript back saying she had hoped to publish it with
    Harper and Row, but now could not and did not expect to be able to –
    since it was a first book – with any of the houses she might join in
    the future. I was pleased that she had taken the manuscript seriously
    enough to advocate its publication, though, obviously, I was
    disappointed to have it returned. I do appreciate all your help in
    bringing the book to her attention. Who knows but before too long
    your opinion of the book will be vindicated. Though you have warned
    me to “expect nothing”, I can’t help hoping.

    I am beginning to worry that you did not receive a copy of the
    new-improved “Fat Enter Heaven”, since I have not heard from you
    about it. I believe you were off somewhere doing a reading when I
    sent the copy, so perhaps you never saw it. Anyway, I enclose another
    copy for your perusal.

    Diane tells me to say she has finished String and loved it.

    Best from us both,

    Wes


    Read Mount Kearsarge (published version)

    Read The Fat Enter Heaven (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: April 2, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-04-02-1980

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    2 April 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks for the letter. Sorry I had not mentioned
    receiving this. I love it, and it is with the New Yorker.
    I did not show it to Jane before, so I took the opportunity
    to show her this. As I knew she would, she enjoys adores it. I
    think maybe you get better and better!

    Sorry to be the one to have to tell you about Jim Wright’s
    death. I guess there had been no news of it in the Globe
    or any place. It will hit the poetry press in all the next
    issues! There was a long obituary in the New York Times.

    I am sorry that Fran is no longer able to consider
    the manuscript at Harper & Row! I guess she had to send
    it back, because she is going away for two months now, to
    Europe and India, and she has not signed on with any new
    house. And also, as she says, the scene in New York is absolutely
    horrible.

    Did you not send a sample into Houghton Mifflin, and
    Jon Galassi? You probably told me what happened, but I
    cannot remember. Refresh me please. I have a tremendous
    habit of forgetting things, which I like to think is somewhat-
    deliberate, as a way of dealing with seventy-nine different
    items in the course of every day that I live. It is probably
    my excuse for incipient senility.

    I do have some other notions about the book, but nothing
    that I can be concrete about right now, and nothing to be
    excited about. But I keep it in mind!

    Best to you both as ever,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall: April 8, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-04-08-1980

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    April 8, 1980

    Dear Don,

    You asked in your recent note whether I
    had sent poems to Houghton Mifflin. The answer
    is yes. I mailed five poems to the readers
    for the “New Poetry Series,” to no avail.
    I did not mention your name (as you earlier
    said I might) because that seemed inappropriate
    in an open competition: Perhaps I chose the
    wrong five poems…I can always
    rationalize that way.

    More bad news yesterday. I got my rejection
    from the National Poetry Series. At the
    bottom of their form letter was a note
    (unsigned) informing me that I had sent
    “good work.” I don’t feel much heartened
    by that, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

    I do appreciate your continuing faith
    in the publish-ability of the book. You
    lift my spirits every time I’m down about

    2/

    its fate! In spite of your wise
    injunction to “expect nothing,” I am now
    hoping for a good word from the Pitt Poetry
    Series. You will remember that Ed Ochester
    asked me to resubmit my manuscript
    there this year, having turned it down last
    year. I should hear by June.

    I am enormously pleased that you like
    “The Fat Enter Heaven” and that Jane
    likes it. I have been working on a longer
    “fat poem” for some time now, and on
    other poems, but I am so slow I almost
    lose patience with myself.

    Next week I go to Detroit to lecture
    on Winslow Homer at the joint meeting of the
    Popular Culture and American Culture Associations.
    That will perhaps provide the brief respite I
    need to jar some poems loose!

    Love to you and Jane,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: The “longer fat poem” I’m working on when I write this letter is “The Fat People of the Old Days.”

     

  • Hall to McNair: April 11, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-04-11-1980

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    11 April 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks for your note, though I’m sorry to hear the dis-
    couraging news. It is simply a bad time for publishing a
    book. And it may be a bad time forever, with the big publishers
    in New York and Boston. I think I told you that my first book
    was rejected thirteen times before it was accepted – and that
    was a time when publishers were almost looking for new poets,
    at least compared to now. Fran’s firing was a real blow to me,
    to my optimism about things. I will keep looking and keep
    thinking. When I see Jon Galassi – who is the editor at
    Houghton Mifflin, but who has an assistant who reads most of
    the poems that come in – I will approach him cautiously, and
    that might be worth trying again. But any one possibility is
    always an improbability. Meanwhile, we will get the poems into
    some good magazines, and in the long run I think that will go.

    Have a terrific time at Detroit. I spent seventeen years
    only forty miles away. And there is a good art museum and a
    good ballpark, and otherwise it is a pretty depressing and
    depressed place.

    Best as ever,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall: April 14, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-04-14-1980

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    April 14, 1980

    Dear Don,

    How lovely to receive your poems in
    the mail. How much I am enjoying
    them! I have read them already several
    times.

    I am writing this letter to thank
    you for them – and to let you know
    that though I will not be sending them
    immediately, I will certainly be
    “working on them.” I always need time
    to let poems settle – my own or
    anyone else’s.

    I promise a letter about them
    soon – am taking them with me
    to Detroit and will be back with
    a full response. Thank you again
    for letting me see them.

    Love,

    Wes


  • McNair to Hall: April 26, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-04-26-1980

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    April 26, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Finally I find the time to write you about the poems
    you sent!

    I do like them — all of them — very much. I believe
    that “6 October 1980” is one of the most moving poems
    you ever wrote, so complicated and profound are the
    feelings of sonship which it expresses. It is a
    wonderful thing. “Epithalamion” is also a wonderful
    poem. The “positioning” of each of your reluctant
    characters is perfect — Emily in the cellar “vanishing
    against a pillar” (just the right word, that
    “against”!) and Walt in the belltower with
    the muscular young sexton. I love that piece. And
    I love “Sonnet.” The last stanza of that poem is
    just delicious in its sounds and imagery. I
    believe that “Marbles,” “A Novel in Two Volumes,”
    and “Scenic View” are also good, strong poems.

    I have suggestions about how certain aspects
    of the other poems might be revised – suggestions
    which I hope will be helpful. One of my favorite
    poems in its potential^”Poultry” is still, I think, not
    quite finished. I very much like the way seasons
    turn throughout the poem, the way the life and death
    of poultry suggests to both boy participant and
    adult narrator the transcience [sic] of human life. What
    I feel the poem needs is a fuller reference to Luther…
    or perhaps references to people other than Luther, who

    2/

    were alive once to eat the meals the poultry made, and who
    are now dead. Without more allusions to Luther (at the
    table, “leading in the singing of “hymns”, your word noted on
    page 4? with others?) the poem’s conclusion seems to me
    arbitrary. I do find the descriptions of chicks, chickens
    and roosters most convincing, however…I love the
    rooster section. One other question: In the 4th
    stanza, should the phrase “when the egg making frenzy”
    be changed to a phrase which more closely approximates
    the other indented phrases of the section, which seem to
    convey the continuous action of the hens in time
    (moving toward “consumed”)?

    About “The Glass.” If I have your intentions right:
    it seems to me the poem should be presented in 3 stanzas.
    I think the first stanza should speak of the world of
    “permanence”; the second stanza, about the speaker’s
    “heroic” movement through time, which leads to reading
    the news about Emily Farr’s death; the third stanza,
    about the glass. I especially like the image of the “old
    man carrying buckets/among pale ferns under
    wavering birches,” and I do believe this poem could
    be quite wonderful, even though it is not (or so I
    think) fully realized at this point.

    “Fires for Tending.” I feel the poem should begin

    3/

    with the reading of the obituaries. The prologue of the first
    three lines gives so strong an emphasis to the comfortable
    domestic rituals and environment of the narrator’s
    present that the movement into the past does not
    achieve the importance that I believe it ought to have
    in the poem. I feel that if the first 3 lines were cast
    and the ordering were changed slightly, the narrator would
    read his news, recollect the experience of the past,
    and return to the surroundings of his present life,
    feeling his old attachment to them, along with an
    unsettling detachment. (This tension between attachment
    and detachment comes through wonderfully well, I think,
    in the last 2 lines.) Another thing about the conclusion:
    I feel that the story should not be characterized as
    “ordinary,” since that characterization stills the reverberations
    that the memory might have. Incidentally, I wonder if
    the full-out statement declaration of the last stanza – the “I
    will preserve” should be replaced with a phrasing
    which stresses the struggle against the fact of
    forgetting…or against “the forgetful kingdom of death,”
    as J.C. Ransom called it. I don’t mean to suggest
    that the “struggle” should be expressed in any dramatic way –
    only that it might be hinted at… I do hope I
    have not written here about a poem which I might
    write, rather than about the poem which this one might
    become.

    4/

    “Whip Poor Will.” I feel that the last line of the poem
    should refer somehow to the whip-poor-will’s “voice-lessness”
    during the day. Stilling the bird’s song would be a bitter
    way, I think, to bring the narrator and reader back to the
    “real” world of the last stanza. Also, I like your
    penned-in lines “but the real/bird lifts away”
    better than the 1st and 2nd lines that appear in
    the typed version of the last stanza. I wonder, too,
    if the whip-poor-will’s flight into “far dark fields”
    in the stanza one might be more strongly linked with
    the bird’s flight into the narrator’s dream, which is
    suggested in stanza two. The possible link between the
    two seems to be cut off by the rooster’s crowing and
    by the light of the second stanza. I think that the
    “cock-crow” should be cut out, and that the darkness
    of stanza one should extend into stanza 2, at least
    until the reader is able to catch the connection
    between the flight into dark fields and the flight
    into the mind. The light, then, might foreshadow
    the awakening to “reality” which eventually happens –
    even as it (the light) suggests Wesley Wells,
    who began his day at dawn.

    If I have misread your intentions anywhere
    with my suggestions recommendations, I am sorry. I certainly want
    to be a help to you and not a hindrance. I feel this

    5/

    is a very strong group of poems, and I thank you
    very much for letting me see them.

    But no more ado. I must get this into
    the mail!

    With love,

    Wes
    [McNair]


    Read Epithalamion (published version)

    Read Scenic View (published version)

    Read Whip Poor Will (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: May 1, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-05-01-1980

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    1 May 1980

    Wes McNair
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Many thanks for your good long letter about the poems.
    I’m delighted that you like the “6 October…” I sent these
    out to a good number of people, and I guess that most of
    the people whose opinion I respect like this one best. It
    goes over big at poetry readings! (Believe me, I do say
    that with the sense of the ghoulish…) And Robert Bly thinks
    it is probably one of the worst ones ever written, etc. I
    sort of knew he would. He is crazy about anything connected
    with my father… I mean sort of insane. Still, you have to
    wonder… I am really glad that you like it.

    I take most seriously your suggestions about revision
    And will keep them with the poems to keep looking at your
    Suggestions. I know that the Chickens poem will change.

    I am not quite sure what seems unrealized in “The
    Glass” now. You wanted me to break the first stanza into
    two parts, but you did not make any other suggestions. Can
    you make any further suggestions about this one? I really
    think that your suggestions about Tending Fire are going to
    save that poem, which I have felt slipping away from me…
    That is, a lot of people have felt that the end of it was
    too domestic or comfortable – and I couldn’t quite see that –
    but now I see why it is, as I believe anyway – because of
    the first three lines.

    And I think you are really helping with remaking the
    Whip-Poor-Will also – which needs it!

    I will show you some more in time – and of course I
    will show you these again when I straighten them out or
    attempt to.

    Thank you so much!

    As ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall: July 3, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-07-03-1980

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    July 3, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Hoping that I might hear something positive from U.
    Pittsburg about my book, I have held off writing to you
    until now. You will remember that last year Ed Ochester
    at Pittsburg asked me to resubmit my manuscript this
    year. Well, the thing got rejected again. Ochester
    said he liked the “Going Back to 5th Grade” sections
    and “Faces of Americans,” and he re-invited me to
    resubmit next year.

    Weary of resubmitting – also to Yale, where the
    book was also rejected – I am quite down about things
    right now. I did not realize, I guess, how difficult
    publishing the book was going to be. And yet I should
    not be ungrateful, I know. I am very lucky to have
    the NEA grant, and besides, others have tried longer
    than I have so far to get books published, with no
    better results. I will certainly come out of this,
    eventually. I have put entirely too much stock in
    the Pittsburg possibility – that is the problem. I am
    in the process of resolving really and truly not to
    “expect” in the future.

    The thing to do now, I guess, is to send the book
    to other places. Would it do any good at all to

    2/

    send it to places like Viking, Doubleday and Knopf?
    That is, would these houses be likely to even read an
    unsolicited first book of poems? I suppose you will
    say “no” to this, and anyway, I am thinking
    mainly of university presses for the book – Illinois,
    Princeton and Carnegie-Mellon – if you think these
    are good choices. Should I mail it to U. Georgia,
    where Paul Zimmer now is? My main interest at this
    point is in being published at a press whose books
    are likely to be reviewed widely – and picked up
    later by anthologies.

    Earlier, you mentioned the possibility of Houghton
    Mifflin. I do intend to send HM poems for
    review in the fall, the procedure for those who wish
    to qualify for consideration in the “New Poetry”
    series. Since I have little confidence in my own
    capacity to choose the “review” poems (my choices
    last year, you may recall, led to my being
    disqualified), I wonder if you would mind suggesting
    poems to send when the time comes? I would
    appreciate your help here, though of course I realize
    that whatever help one gets, (to use your words) “it’s
    a lottery.”

    3/

    I am happy with the writing I am doing now,
    in spite of my current depression. (As I write
    of “depression,” it comes to me that last night
    I dreamed all night of falling – an interesting
    new expression of the vertical metaphor which I
    seem to write about so much!) I have decided
    that I will not trouble you with the individual
    poems I complete, as I have done in the past-
    that I will send you small batches of poems instead.
    My first batch is not yet ready, but I am writing
    daily and steadily, and you shall see results in
    due time.

    There is, after all, no one whose opinion I value
    more – or half as much – as yours. It is my
    extraordinary luck that you have been there
    with concern and encouragement, even in the
    most discouraging times. That gives me hope
    that the long wait will one day prove worthwhile.
    I am everlastingly grateful for your faith
    in my poems.

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair: July 8, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-07-08-1980

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    8 July 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    These feeling [sic] simply do not end! Believe me I am
    sympathetic with your feelings, but let me tell you that
    when you have published a book – which you will – nothing
    will happen
    ; or at least it will seem that nothing has
    happened. And this would be true whether it were published
    by New Rivers or Atheneum. Even if something happens, then
    you realize that the “something” is truly nothing. And
    after you have published eight books of poems, you are still
    convinced that no one has read you, and that probably you
    are no good anyway. Or at least you are convinced of that
    frequently. I have been going through quite a bad patch,
    in my feelings about my own ability, my past work, and cer-
    tainly my present work.

    There is only one place, or one moment, in which one
    finds happiness, and it is always momentary – because that
    is the moment of actual writing, and of course that is not
    always true.

    So I do two things: I assure you that you will publish;
    and I tell you that it will not make any difference! But I
    do have a third thing to say: it makes a difference to me!

    In connection with your own book, I am pursing two
    distant notions, neither of which is worth talking about
    at the moment.

    I wish I could tell you the names of people at Viking,
    Doubleday, and Knopf to write to. I don’t think it is
    useful to send them a manuscript. You might write a letter,
    tell them where you have printed, about the NEA – and ask
    them if they would care to see a manuscript. Most publishers
    do not read manuscripts that come over the transom any more.
    Harper & Row used to, when Fran was there – and now it has
    stopped.

    I think that the University of Georgia with Zimmer is
    a good idea, and why not Illinois, Princeton, and Carnegie-
    Mellon?

    At the University of Illinois Press, please address
    the book to Lawrence Liebermann, and tell him that I asked
    you to send it to him. [Written in margin: check spelling!]

    I’ll be happy to talk with you about which poems to
    send Houghton Mifflin, when the time comes.

    2/

    If you are happy with the writing that you are doing
    now – as you mentioned – you are as happy as a poet can
    get!

    Fine to see small batches of poems. You won’t hear
    much from Joey for the nonce, because summer is a bad time
    for submitting things, and a slow time for hearing about
    things.

    Best as ever, and just keep to the bench, as the
    scientists say,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall: July 14, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-07-14-1980

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    July 14, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Thank you for your bracing letter. I have mailed the book to
    U. Illinois and Carnegie-Mellon–am about to mail it to U. Georgia. I have
    also sent several letters about the book to the “big houses”, as you advised.
    Needless to say, I am thankful that my publishing the book matters to you,
    whatever the consequences might be, and I take hope in your assurance that
    I will one day publish it. I will try to remember your warning about the
    irony underlying all apparent successes for the writer.

    You mentioned that you are in a period of uncertainty about your own
    work. Perhaps this is a good time to tell you the story of a poem you wrote
    not long ago which hit me like the dropped safe of the old cartoon, and
    which helped me to write a poem–and later other poems–like it, even though
    different from it.

    I am speaking of your “Waterfowl” poem, which appeared on the back page
    of APR 4 or 5 years ago. I believed then, and still believe, that no one
    has written a funnier poem than that one. I loved its reliance on sources
    in the popular culture. I loved how reckless and how wonderfully controlled
    it was in its form and in its humor. And I was struck by its wonderful mixture
    of humor and desperate seriousness. I read the poem shortly before I wrote
    “The Thugs of Old Comics”. It was your poem and certain poems by Edward
    Field that I thought of as I was doing “The Thugs”. Without your poem, I may
    never have been able to complete my poem.

    I am sure your poem also helped open the way to other humorous “pop-
    cultural” pieces which I have worked on since “The Thugs”, and continue to
    work on. While it is true that I wrote “The Little Louey Comic” and “The
    Characters of Forgotten Dirty Jokes” before writing “The Thugs”, I did not
    see the full possibilities of “pop” poems until your poem, Field’s poems
    and the writing of “The Thugs”. Do you remember telling me once (and how
    thrilled I was!) that “The Thugs” was the “perfect poem”, the poem “The
    Little Louey Comic” wanted to become? What you did not know was that your
    poem assisted in the completion of “The Thugs”, helping me to go beyond
    “Louey”, and later to write poems like “Hair on Television” and one I am
    doing now on “before/after” ads.

    Of course, your poems about the region of [inserted: northern] New England are also very
    important to me as a writer. They show me that solid work can still be done
    about the place which inspired the poems of Dickinson, Robinson and Frost,
    and they fill me with possibilities for my own regional writing. But I wanted
    to write you here about a poem which actually influenced my writing, and
    besides, I have written already how much I think of Kicking the Leaves,
    whatever doubts you may have about your recent writing.

    I hope I managed to lift your spirits a bit with this small
    testimonial. Even if I haven’t, I thank you very much for that poem and for
    writing it at the time I needed it!

    Love,

    Wes


    Read To a Waterfowl (published version)

    Read The Thugs of Old Comics (published version)

    Read The Before People (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: July 26, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-07-26-1980

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    July 26, 1980

    Dear Don,

    I’m not sure which “Superman” poem you ask about,
    since there are two. One (“The Thugs…”) has been published.
    the other (“When Superman Died…”) has not. If you
    meant “When Superman Died,” I’ll be glad to send it
    right away – just let me know!

    You’ve no doubt noticed that I’m including two recent
    poems which you haven’t seen. I was planning to send
    them later for your “judgement,” [sic] but something’s come up.
    I’ve just received a letter from Peter Davison, whom I
    wrote to ask about publishing Going Back Poems through
    Atlantic Monthly Press. He said no to that, but I wants
    me [sic] to send him some poems to look at for The Atlantic
    Monthly
    . I would like to send the enclosed two, if you
    think they are reasonably OK, along with two which Joey
    currently has – ie, “Old Trees” and “The Fat Enter
    Heaven.” Oh – maybe also “Hair on Television.”

    But I will certainly not give Davison any of
    the Joey poems unless he says they are available,
    and unless you think it advisable to send these
    particular ones. It may well be that Joey has hopes

    2/

    for them elsewhere – or maybe you feel that they (or
    the enclosed 2) are not appropriate for The Atlantic.
    Whatever, I await your view of all this.

    Incidentally these 2 are not the only poems I’ve
    finished recently. I’ve written two others, but I
    am holding onto those because I’ve come to feel that
    they might become segments of another poem. I will
    certainly be sending these poems and others in some
    future batch.

    Thanks for your help!

    Love,

    Wes


    Editorial note about this letter: Going Back Poems was for a short time an alternative title for McNair’s book in progress, though he eventually returned to his earlier title, The Faces of Americans in 1853.

    Read Calling Harold (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: July 28, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-07-28-1980

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    28 July 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    It is when Superman Died that I need. Thank you and
    sorry.

    Davison saw quite a few poems that Joey sent him,
    and he rejected them. As it happens, he did not see the
    three that you mentioned: Old Trees, The Fat Enter Heaven,
    and Here on Television [sic]. (He would not like the last. But
    he might like the first two.)

    But they are at the moment out at another magazine.

    I will send them to him when they come back, if they
    come back. Earlier, although they were addressed to him –
    and although Davison has bought poems by other of Joey’s
    clients – the poems were rejected by Mary Jo Salter, who
    reads for him, and therefore I am not even certain that he
    reads them. But he may have done.
    [Written in margin: Almost certain – or they would have had slips.]

    Anyway, I will send those to him when they come back –
    but I think it ought to be Joey who does the sending. I think
    you ought to be consistent, or we ought to be – I don’t think
    that some poems should come directly from you and others from
    Joey Amaryllis.

    I think that Calling Harold is finished, perfect, and
    wonderful!

    I think that The Fat People of the Old Days is a wonderful
    idea, and ought to be terrific – but I think that it is
    awkward and unfinished, and I think it would be a real mistake
    to send it out now. That is, I think it will be better a
    few months from now.

    I don’t really believe in epigraphs very much. This
    is a funny saying, but then it appears to be the saying of
    the author’s child, and therefore he is saying “Look at what
    a cute child I’ve got!” Often they are appeals to authority.
    Sometimes they give off an appearance of diffidence. I really
    don’t like this one, even though I like the line itself of
    course. I don’t think it has much to do with the poem.

    Then I think that the language of the poem is slack
    here and there, but that the center of it is just pure gold.
    I think that “driving some mad.” can be better, because
    after all this is a cliche, to be driven mad, and nothing
    imaginative about it. I love the notion of knuckles and
    elbows sinking into dimples, but then I’m bewildered by the
    prepositional clause that follows. It is obvious that it is

    2/

    dimples of fat. But then you say “of the fat.” And I am
    lost. In fact, that generic “the fat,” detaching the phenomenon
    from people, seems to me probably a mistake. I like the man.
    I like the responsibility. I like the fathers folding it
    in their pants – but I don’t like “through the cold which/
    always was.” The expressions seems to me kind of glib there
    and I realize it is a reference to the epigraph. But I don’t
    need either. But There is nothing wrong with mentioning the
    cold: I just think that this way of mentioning it seems
    as if it intended to be clever.

    I love the wide doors and the passing the potatoes!
    But I don’t’ like the “long/vowels of wind…” because there
    are no calories in vowels at all – unless you put them there.
    I mean, if it were the “buttery/vowels…”…or something.
    But “the long/ vowels of wind” just sounds poetical, kind
    of a puff of poetical smoke. Then I don’t think it really
    ends as well as it might. Partly I think this is the syntax.
    The poem ends with two simple declarative sentences, short
    lines, brief sentences… It seems kind of staccato or tight-
    lipped, here at the end. I think it ought to get better!

    And I do, indeed, think it is yet one more marvelous
    poem – almost.

    Love as ever,

    Don


    McNair’s note about this letter: The early version my poem “The Fat People of the Old Days,” whose initial draft has been lost, had an epigraph linking the title to my daughter’s question as a young child: “Were there fat people in the old days?” — the epigraph Hall refers to in his discussion here. I continued to come back to the poem during the spring and fall of the ensuing year, sending Don another draft, not quite complete, on October 8, 1981.Yet the poem’s published version, which appears in the footnote of the next letter, shows that I eventually retained the parts he liked and replaced those he questioned, including the epigraph, despite my initial reluctance.

     

     

  • McNair to Hall: July 31, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-07-31-1980

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    July 31, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Foiled again. I had thought the “Fat” poem was
    finished. But you have convinced me that I should wait
    and try it again later.

    You mentioned that I should probably drop the
    epigraph. I am troubled by this because the
    epigraph provides background for the stanza

    Others saw the fat
    Was their responsibility

    (remember the fat people “had to be fat because it was
    cold”). I can perhaps write about “cold”
    without the epigraph – or leave cold out entirely –
    but I can’t see how to make the above stanza
    work without it (the epigraph).

    Maybe I could kill the above stanza, but I’d
    hate to.

    Anyway, I am pleased to have your comments
    on the poem, and I will be sure to read them
    again when the time comes to re-revise. If

    2/

    anything comes to mind re: the comments I’ve made
    here, please let me know.

    In the meantime, I am sending you “Calling
    Harold
    ,” grateful that you liked it and found it
    complete, however small the poem may be. I
    guess I will just write Peter Davison and tell
    him I have passed on his request for poems
    to the Amaryllis agency, which handles my
    poems. Does this seem right? Then Joey
    can do what he wants to do about it.

    I am also sending “When Superman Died.”
    Thanks for clarifying.

    Will you please tell Jane that E.V. Griffith,
    Editor of Poetry Now, is looking for poems
    for an anthology called Poets Now, “an
    anthology of 80 new poets who seem likely to
    win growing recognition in the decade ahead.”
    The deadline for submissions is November 30.
    Griffith’s address is 3118 K Street, Eureka,
    California 95501. He’s asking for 10-15
    poems from each submitting poet.

    3/

    As you may have guessed, I am interested
    in submitting poems to Griffith, especially
    since he has accepted work of mine in the past,
    for both Hearse and Poetry Now. I have not
    submitted yet, because I’m not sure whether I
    or Joey should do it. I’ve been thinking of
    mailing Griffith Going Back Poems – the whole
    book – so he’ll have plenty to choose from.
    If Joey feels the submission should be made
    through the agency, I’ll simply send him a copy
    of the book, complete with envelope and stamps.

    Please ask him about this. Thanks for everything.

    Love,

    Wes


    Read The Fat People of the Old Days (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: August 1, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-08-01-1980

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    1 August 1980

    Wes McNair
    North Sutton, NH

    Dear Wes,

    Well, you could keep the epigraph but drop the
    ascription – which would at least stop it from seeming to
    be that business of the author quoting his own kid. Or
    you could build the epigraph into a stanza, maybe. Or – I
    really think – the poem could hold up without it, including
    the parts that you quote.

    Do write to Peter Davison to tell him that he will
    receive your poems from the folks down at Amaryllis…

    It does seem typical of Griffith that he would be
    able to conceive of the notion that eighty poets will “win
    growing recognition in the decade ahead!” How absurd. There
    are not eighty poets in American literature! There were not
    eighty poets in the Elizabethan Age!

    I don’t think that anybody is going to read the
    anthology much… But I don’t
    think it will hurt you to be in it. I would send him only
    poems which have previously been printed. It would be absolutely
    crazy to waste an unprinted poem on him. Therefore I would
    not send the whole book. You could just remove the unpublished
    poems from it. If you like, just go ahead and do that.

    Best,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall: August 8, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-08-08-1980

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    August 8, 1980

    Dear Don,

    My response to your recent letter has been delayed because I’ve
    been away for a couple of days. But it is good to have your advice
    about E.V. Griffith and your comments about the fat poem.

    I will be careful not to send Griffith anything unpublished,
    and I will certainly revise the fat poem, keeping your suggestions
    in mind as I do so. I’m still not sure what I will do about the
    poem’s epigraph. You are certainly right about the ascription,
    I’ve come to feel, and you may well be right about leaving the
    whole business out. Later on, I will perhaps be able to see more
    clearly what is needed.

    In the meantime, the sending-out of the manuscript continues.
    Viking and Random House responded positively to my preliminary letter,
    the same one I sent Atlantic Monthly Press and others, and so I’ve
    just sent copies of the book to them.

    As always, I shall keep you informed about whatever may develop.
    I hope your writing goes well, and that you are keeping cool in
    spite of our heavy humidity which no rain seems to lighten.

    Best,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair: August 10, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-08-10-1980

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    10 August

    The first day of Autumn!
    I’m glad you’re sending
    the book around. Joey
    has the poem out of
    course – but August
    is pretty dead. (I
    love it.) I’m moving
    6,000-7,000 books,
    reorganizing. Never again!

    Love,
    Don


  • McNair to Hall: August 30, 1980 (1)

    McNair-to-Hall-08-30-1980

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    August 30, 1980

    Dear Don,

    I am worried about the enclosed poem.
    Will you please tell me if it is any good?

    Thanks,
    Wes

    THE RETARDED CHILDREN PLAY BASEBALL

    The girl with mild eyes stands
    with both feet on first base,
    and the shortstop smiles at nothing
    he can remember exactly.
    Now the soft-faced boy on second
    raises his hands, making the precise shape
    of a ball. The ball
    is already over the outfield.
    Some are watching it fall,
    an outfielder, the astonished batter
    beginning to run. Slowly they see
    it is time to wave their arms
    and let their voices go. Slowly, joyfully,
    the fielders are hurling their gloves,
    and the batters are jumping
    higher and higher in this moment
    for which they have come,
    this forgetting so complete
    they do not know why they are shouting.


    A note from McNair about this letter: In the title of this draft of the baseball poem I return to my original inspiration, which was a caution sign in my neighborhood of North Sutton that said, “SLOW Children Playing,” leading me to imagine the poem’s scene.

  • McNair to Hall: August 30, 1980 (2)

    McNair-to-Hall-08-30-1980

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    August 30, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Yes, a later revision of the poem I just
    sent. Nor does this revision rid me of
    apprehensions – though I do think the title (my original one)
    is better, along with the description of the
    second baseman, and the fielders with their gloves.

    Here it is anyway, with apologies
    for the confusion I’m causing.

    Love,

    Wes

    P.S. (August 31) – Diane told me
    yesterday of your congratulations and of
    the significance of “placement” in
    Poetry. Both things make me very happy.
    And they remind me that I owe
    Joey $6.00_, which I send with profoundest
    gratitude to both of you.

    THE SLOW CHILDREN PLAY BASEBALL

    The girl with mild eyes stands
    with both feet on first base,
    and the shortstop smiles at nothing
    he can remember exactly.
    Now the large-faced boy on second
    raises his hands, making the precise shape
    of a ball. The ball
    is already over the outfield.
    Some are watching it fall,
    an outfielder, the astonished batter
    beginning to run. Slowly they see
    it is time to wave their arms
    and let their voices go. Slowly, joyfully,
    the fielders are throwing their gloves,
    and the batters are jumping
    higher and higher in this moment
    for which they have come,
    this forgetting so complete
    they do not know why they are shouting.


     

  • McNair to Hall: September 2, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-09-02-1980

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    Sept 2, 1980

    Dear Don,

    In my haste to take care of my
    own
    business in my last letter, I
    neglected to tell you how much
    I – we all – enjoyed your book,
    The Ox-Cart Man. I expect it
    will be in our family for a long
    time to come. I can easily see why
    kids enjoy it, just as the kid
    in me enjoyed the original poem.
    Maybe it will even touch some
    of them to like poetry!
    Anyway, I’m glad I finally
    got a chance to see it. It’s
    a very nice little book.

    Love,

    Wes


    Read Ox Cart Man (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: September 3, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-09-03-1980

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    3 September 1980

    Wes McNair
    North Sutton
    New Hampshire

    Dear Wes,

    A week from today I teach my first class. This Friday
    I go to a department meeting. I know it is ridiculous, dis-
    gusting, and revolting – but I practically feel sorry for
    myself, and here I am teaching only one course in three years!
    Do not tell anybody my disgusting secret.

    I don’t know why this poem doesn’t work but you are
    perfectly right to be worried about it. It does not work.
    It makes me nervous all the way through, and not nervous in
    a good way. It trembles on at the side of making fun of them,
    and somehow or other that is too dreadful. Yet it is a wonderful
    idea, and I would think that there is a wonderful poem here
    but not yet, and not in these words. I would put it deep in a
    far drawer, “forget about it,” so far as you can, and discover
    it by accident three years from now, sit down and write it out
    perfectly. Well, that is what I would like to do, if I were
    you. I would not struggle with it now. It is not a matter of
    just changing a word here or there. It is something profounder
    going on here.

    I was delighted to see the poems in Poetry! They really
    look good. And as I told Diane, old Nims puts them in a place
    of honor. One is honored to be either first or last of the
    group of poets there. This has been true forever and ever.
    It means he thinks well of you. After we hear from the Atlantic,
    unless the Atlantic buys everything we send them, we will go
    back to see if we can sell some more to Nims. That’s a good
    place to publish.

    Best as ever,

    Don

    Will write on the new version
    tomorrow.


    A note from McNair about this letter: The class Don refers to at the outset of this letter is the one he is teaching at Colby-Sawyer College to prepare notes for a new edition of his college textbook on composition, Writing Well. 

  • McNair to Hall: September 5, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-09-05-1980

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    September 5, 1980

    Dear Don,

    As always, you are right about my poem, and right
    that it should be left for awhile. After my frenzied
    correspondence about it, I sat down and read it, I mean
    really read it, and I saw that I must try to reveal
    more of the innocence of the “slow children,” so that the last
    line suggests their ability to break free even of the
    circumstances which led to their joy, into “pure joy.”

    What made me nervous, too, was that the poem was
    too close to making fun of the children. I went too
    far, I think, towards trying to be “objective” in
    my presentation of them, fearing that I might become
    sentimental if I allowed myself too much sympathy.
    It may well turn out that the hard part is done –
    ie, I already have the situation I need for the poem,
    some of its images and the kind of pacing I need.
    The movement of the poem towards the “innerness” of
    the slow children – that pacing – took a long time
    to get, and I don’t expect that part to change much. Also,
    I still like the way they transform the game and
    its meaning.

    But this is a hard thing to write about, especially
    given the situation of the retarded on a baseball field.

    2

    If I can deal with such a risky situation, I
    may have a better poem for it.

    But I do go on. Thanks for writing about the
    poem and for being your usual shrewd self.

    Thanks too for repeating what you told Diane
    about the “placement” of my poems in Poetry.
    You make me feel good all over again. It would
    be nice if Nims took other stuff.

    Oh – and my lips are sealed about your secret.
    My own secret is that I do not have to feel sorry
    for myself this term. One good thing about being
    there instead of here would be the chance to see
    you to talk every now and then. But maybe
    we can manage that here, with a get-together soon.

    It’s better with bourbon, anyway.

    I am going to try not to send you anything
    for awhile now. I do have poems,
    and many things underway, too – perhaps too
    many. But I feel I should keep them in my own
    head for awhile.

    So – until then –

    Love,

    Wes

    P.S. Did you see the poem “Venice” by James Wright
    in the June Poetry? Wasn’t that fine?


     

     

  • Hall to McNair: September 8, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-09-08-1980

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    8 September 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks for your letters. I’m really pleased that
    you liked Ox Cart Man. I do not think of it as a poem, though
    it is set in irregular lines… Just a way of phrase-grouping,
    and slowing down… They wanted to call it a poem on the jacket,
    but I wouldn’t let them. Actually, I imagine it is a good
    selling point not to call it a poem! … though that was not
    my reason.

    I am thinking some more about the Slow Children –
    though I know from your last letter that you have put it
    aside anyway. You know, you are presuming to go inside
    their minds, therefore not being “objective”… “Smiles at
    nothing/ he can remember exactly.” “…the astonished…”
    I wonder if it is possible – it will be a completely different
    poem – to make it actually objective?

    Probably it is best to hold poems back for a long time
    before sending them to a friend. I think you do that
    already. Jane and I have learned to do that even from each
    other. More or less to keep something around, looking at it
    daily for two months or so, before we will even show it to
    each other. Because it has a way of changing on its own, before
    anybody else’s words get into it.

    It was really such a pleasure to see those good poems
    in Poetry! … Oh, one more bit of sage, elderly, Polonius-like
    advice. For a biographical note, I think it is wise not to
    emphasize fellowships or academic appointments. I do not mean
    that the note in Poetry is any serious gaffe or anything, honest
    to goodness! But I think that in general, people just get mad
    at you if they think you have had four thousand grants, which
    would be my general impression if I just scanned your note
    briefly, and they tend not to like poets who are Deans and
    Vice-Presidents – which is what being director of the American
    Studies Program sounds a little bit like. I think that the
    most effective kind of biographical note is something that is
    quite reticent, non-academic, and non-“successful.” “Wesley
    McNair lives in New Hampshire where he raises goats with eyes
    in the middle of their foreheads.”

    I went to the faculty meeting on Friday, not the faculty
    meeting – the English Department meeting. You will probably get
    this on Wednesday, my first day of teaching. Pray for me. Pray
    for my girls.

    Yes, Jim Wright’s “Venice” is wonderful, and there are
    many terrific things in this posthumous book of his.

    Love to you all, as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter: Though Don’s and my conversation about “The Retarded Children Play Baseball” is almost over with this letter, off-and-on work with the poem was just beginning. In fact, I puzzled over how to write the poem off and on for nearly fifteen years, finally publishing the version below in my collection, Talking in the Dark. I actually completed the poem two or three years earlier, but magazine editors would not publish it, perhaps in part because they found its term “retarded” pejorative. Even sensing this, I decided to risk my title, since it reflected in its way the condescending attitude of the children’s teachers, and besides, my poem balked at substituting politically correct terms for the title such as “mentally handicapped” or “mentally challenged.”

    Read The Retarded Children Play Baseball (published version)

    See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts of this poem.

  • McNair to Hall: September 9, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-09-09-1980

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    September 9, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Your recent letter about submissions of my poems reminds me
    that the cycle of submission starts in the fall – and that Joey
    has only a few things of mine to send. Therefore, in spite
    of my earlier thought about holding onto poems, I have decided
    to send you the enclosed. If you think it is ready, please
    give it to Joey. It is not a “biggie,” but it may be
    worth something to him.

    Incidentally, I just saw an ad for the Dorrance
    publishing company. Is this a legitimate house, or
    is it, as I suspect, a vanity press?

    Found the “one question” you got from Cowley’s book
    most instructive – and enjoyed the rest of your review
    in the Times.

    Love,

    Wes


    Editorial note about this letter: The poem enclosed is “The People Upstairs,” the text of which appears in the next letter.

  • McNair to Hall: September 9, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-09-09-1980

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    Sept 9, 1980

    Dear Don,

    I seem never to run out of
    afterthoughts. This time, I only
    want to change an article
    (“the” to “a”) in poem 3
    of “The People Upstairs.” Oh, well-
    at least this will arrive with
    the other stuff. The enclosed becomes
    the final version of 3.

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: Below is the text of the poem “The People Upstairs” as I sent it in this letter. The poem is a response to the footfall of tenants in our North Sutton farmhouse as they ascended the stairway to their upstairs apartment, and lived their lives above our heads.

    The People Upstairs

    1
    each night
    we hear them

    ascending the stairs
    descending

    deeper and deeper
    into the floor

    falling while rising
    away from themselves

    their weightless voices
    drifting out

    of earshot far
    into the next world

    2
    o feet
    forgotten servants

    left out
    of the conversation
    of mind and hands
    we hear you

    waiting
    under the desk
    we understand

    your great patience
    and your

    mystery moving
    beyond the cloud
    of ceiling carrying

    the body dream

    3

    above our heads
    the faint scream

    of pipes dissolves
    the corners of rooms

    and feet walk past us
    in space

    free of the tables
    lamps and chairs

    which hold us here
    dying of definition

  • McNair to Hall: September 10, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-09-10-1980

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    September 10, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Thanks for your letter, with its variety of responses to my
    questions and comments.

    Thanks, too, for your advice about bio notes. Actually, I was
    surprised at what was written about me in Poetry. The write-up
    was not derived from any statement I sent, but from a rather
    extensive questionnaire which I filled out about jobs, publications,
    grants and even “plans.”

    The fact is, though, that I never even considered the dangers of
    sounding “successful” when I filled out the form – nor did I
    think much about sounding “academic.” You are right that I
    should think about these things. What matters, anyway, is not
    that stuff but the poems themselves; which is part of your
    point.

    Yes, “objectivity” is clearly beside the point in “The
    Slow Children,” as your quotations make plain. You help
    to clear my head for the later revision. No, I do not
    hold onto poems when I first think they are finished,
    which perhaps explains why I send you revisions after
    I have sent you what seemed to be the final version. It
    takes me so long to finish a poem, I guess, I am
    overly anxious to have someone else read it, like it
    and confirm that I really can go on to other work.
    I will have to work on this impulse….

    You have my prayers as you start at Colby – and
    a question. Since (as I have been told) you are using
    my office at Colby, maybe you would like me to clean
    out my desk and cabinets? I had no idea you would
    be there, though I probably could have figured it out.
    Let me do this: I will clean out the desk and the
    small cabinet to the right of the desk. Then you will
    have room for whatever you may need to store. Is
    that suitable? While you wait for whatever the prayers
    may bring, I can at least deliver you from storage problems!
    I will try to take care of this by the end of the
    weekend.

    Until then, may God be with you.

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: The issue Don has raised about the need to hold onto poems before showing them begins to take effect here and returns in my correspondence later on (for instance, in the letter of Section IV dated October 22, 1980), becoming one of Don’s most influential notions about revision, second only to his injunction about the possibility of publishing a book or getting a grant: “Expect nothing.”

     

  • Hall to McNair: September 11, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-09-11-1980

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    11 September 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Joey thinks “The People Upstairs” is absolutely perfect,
    and will be delighted to send it out, but I see a couple of
    things I am not so sure of, so I persuaded him to let me
    write you about the poem before he sends it out.

    In the first one, I think that “drifting” is a classic
    dead metaphor. I’m not crazy about “weightless” either, but
    I really dislike “drifting,” which is a distinctly unanchored
    unrowboat. I’m not so positive about “ ,” when you
    come to that…

    In the third part, it is “faint scream” that bothers me,
    not the article. It is because screams have been faint since
    the beginning of creation. I think everything else is just
    fine here. I’m not absolutely positive about the end of the
    second part, which is the difficult part. But there’s nothing
    wrong with the diction! (I am just not positive that it is
    all there or that it is said with as much clarity and force
    as need be.) But I feel fairly sure about drifted and faint.

    If you feel equally sure, in the other direction, I
    will pass the word to Joey.

    Love as ever,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: After Don’s small complaints about “The People Upstairs,” McNair sent him this revised draft in his ensuing letter.

    The People Upstairs

    1
    each night
    we hear them

    ascending the stairs
    descending

    deeper and deeper
    into the floor

    falling while rising
    away from themselves

    their weightless voices
    moving out

    of earshot far
    into the next world

    2
    o feet
    forgotten servants

    left out
    of the conversation
    of mind and hands
    we hear you

    waiting
    under the desk
    we understand

    your great patience
    and your

    mystery moving
    beyond the cloud
    of ceiling carrying

    the body dream

    3
    above our heads
    the thin scream

    of pipes dissolves
    the corners of rooms

    and feet walk past us
    in space

    free of the tables
    lamps and chairs

    which hold us here
    dying of definition

  • Hall to McNair: September 12, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-09-12-1980

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    12 Sept. 1980

    Dear Wes,

    Do not touch your office. I have plenty of room
    there. After all, I am teaching only one class, only
    ten students so far – though I’m supposed to have
    thirteen – and I’m only there a couple of hours a
    week. I take the girls files home with me, because I
    do my preparation at home… Therefore, I have plenty
    of room, as it is, and don’t want you to disturb your-
    self at all.

    Sometimes when you fill out forms, you have to
    suppress things! Not really I guess. You can’t help
    what John Nims is going to do. Mostly, magazines ask
    you to tell them what you want to be mentioned in the
    bio-note. Love as ever,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall: September 13, 1980

    McNair-to-Hall-09-13-1980

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    September 13, 1980

    Dear Don,

    While I am delighted that Joey finds “The People Upstairs”
    “absolutely perfect” (his enthusiasm for my poetry is, after
    all, one of the main things that keeps me going), I am also glad
    to have your more reflective judgement [sic] of the poem.

    I did worry about “faint scream” as a cliché, and I am
    sure you are right that the phrase should be changed. I hope you
    feel as I do that the new word of 3 is more resonant (in all
    senses) than “faint”. I also hope you like the change in 1.
    Please feel free to let me know if otherwise.

    I have decided to go with the rest of it. “Weightless”
    [Written in margin: It’s also the enjambment
    which the word makes possible, in the preceding line that
    I’d have trouble replacing -]
    and “earshot” seem to me irreplaceable, and if 2 doesn’t say
    enough, I can’t see how to fix it. At this point, it does feel
    right to me. Or right enough that I am ready, with Valery, to
    abandon it.

    I always worry about these poems which depend so much on
    the space around themselves to complete their utterance…That is,
    I worry that the space does more for me than it might for the
    reader. In this poem, visual space should become aural, and
    both kinds of space should contribute to the “distance” between
    upstairs and downstairs. I have tried for similar effects with
    the page around the poem in “Memory of Kuhre” and “Elinore Quelch”,
    and while I am reasonably sure the first of the two works, I
    do not know about the Quelch poem. Nobody seems to like that one.

    I hope you like this piece, in any event. If you do, please
    give it to Joey.

    One more thing: Would you please let me know which five
    poems you think I should send to Houghton Mifflin? I should be
    writing them soon.

    Thanks!

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this poem: Eventually, Don’s “reflective judgment” about “The People Upstairs” as well as my own led to pulling the piece from my book-length manuscript of poems; I also dropped the verse about Elinore Quelch (See Elinore Quelch). However, I “raided” parts of “The People Upstairs” for my later poem “The Longing of the Feet,” whose published version is available in the footnote of the letter from June 3, 1982.

    Read Memory of Kuhre (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: September 17, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-09-17-1980

    [Click image to view]

    17 September 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Joey will be sending it out, and asked me to remind you
    to put your name on the poems, upper righthand corner, or
    a few spaces after the end of them – in typing, when you
    type them up in the future.

    I do think that “thin” is better than “faint,” though
    also rather familiar, in the context.

    I’m not sure which five poems! I do like a great great
    many of them, and I like a great great many of them a great
    great deal! Why don’t you see if you have a sense which five
    are the most popular with most of the people whom you know…
    which would be more reliable than just one person’s opinion.
    I would surely include the Peaceable Kingdom, always, in
    everything… The Poetry two are wonderful… And I think
    that… well, don’t include Elinor, simply because too many
    people do not seem to respond to it. (It spends its life
    in the U.S. mails, still.)

    As a matter of fact, I think you are quite consistent.
    That is, I don’t think five stick out. I guess it would be
    obvious that the adolescent dream poems would not be among
    the five. Maybe I would take negative votes – your own,
    based upon what you have heard from others – more seriously
    even than the positive ones.

    Best as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter:  To view the ill-fated Elinore Quelch poem in manuscript, which I agreed was not up to grade, click here.

    Read The Last Peaceable Kingdom  (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: September 28, 1980

    mcnair-to-hall-09-28-1980

    [Click image to view]

    September 28, 1980

    Dear Don,

    Will you let me know sometime what you think
    of the enclosed?

    Thanks –

    Love,
    Wes

    WAVING GOODBYE

    Waving goodbye is the name
    given to air
    we shape with others,

    husband and wife
    gently touching
    the distance

    growing between them,
    which is not air
    exactly, not emptiness,

    but what together
    they are making, the almost
    invisible thing

    the father makes
    with his son, stroking the air
    as if it might break,

    what all the sisters
    and brothers, waving together,
    letting go,

    are bringing to life,
    not emptiness, not the shape
    of our sadness,

    but rounder, and light
    enough to lift up
    as we turn,

    rising above
    the terminal, above
    the heavy streets,

    invisible
    but for the loving
    trace of hands.


     

  • Hall to McNair: October 6, 1980

    Hall-to-McNair-10-6-1980

    [Click image to view]

    6 October 1980

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    N. Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I don’t think I like it quite so much. Something willful
    about it, I think, maybe in the abstraction. Yet I like the
    middle of it a lot. I don’t really believe the metaphor of
    “the name/ given to air/ we shape…” I like the father with
    son, with sisters and brothers… the middle part there. Then
    on the second page I don’t really follow it when it gets to be
    “rounder…” Then I think that the ending is pretty and invisible,
    with the metaphor of “trace.”

    So I am fairly negative, I suppose – yet I should say:
    without perfect confidence in my negativity, the way I usually
    have!

    Joey keeps busy, but editors are slow as molasses.

    Love as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter: I quickly abandoned “Waving Goodbye,” the poem in question here, but it returned many years later, less abstract in its conception, fastened down by human experience. The final version of “Waving Goodbye, published in my 1998 collection Talking in the Dark, appears below. Sometimes the creative cycle a poem requires is long, and “Waving Goodbye” took nearly as long as “The Retarded Children Play Baseball” to think through. So this section of letters ends with a kind of promise to my future development as a poet.

    Read Waving Goodbye (published version)

    See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts for “Waving Goodbye.”