A note from McNair about this letter: “Wolf and Lily” were local restaurateurs and mutual friends who swelled our dinner company in North Sutton to six….The three poems referred to in this letter are “A Dream of Herman,” “Mina Bell’s Cows,” and “Small Towns are Passing.” So Section IV concludes with one more generous letter from Don, thanking me for a visit; complimenting me about the poetry collection I will once more send out to editors; and submitting new McNair poems in the guise of Joseph Amaryllis. Less noticeable, but also helpful, is his last paragraph, with its model of cheerfulness in the face of writerly disappointment.
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|November 27, 1981
If you think this poem is OK,
A note from McNair about this letter: The unnamed poem referred to is “Small Towns Are Passing,” sent to Don, as it turned out, in its published form.
Read Small Towns Are Passing (published version)
A note from McNair about this letter: The two poems referred to in this letter are a revision of “Mina Bell’s Cows” and the same version of “A Dream of Herman” I mailed to Don on October 8.
A note from McNair about this letter: In this extensive and insightful response, Don gave me a new way to think about arranging my book, which was organizing its poems around a signature approach that was beginning to emerge in my work. As I look back, I see that I bumped poems out of my manuscript partly because of my overly strict adherence to themes, and partly (though I never confessed this) to save them, out of the fear that the slow trickle of my work in this period might eventually dry up and leave me with only one collection.
Below is the text of “Mina Bell’s Cows” as Don first saw it:
Mina Bell’s Cows
O where are Mina Bell’s cows, who gave no milk
and grazed on her dead husband’s farm?
Each day she walked with them into the field,
loving their swaybacked dreaminess more
than the quickness of any dog or chicken.
Each night she brought them grain in the dim
Barn, holding their breath in her hands.
O when the lightning struck Daisy and Bets,
her son dug such great holes in the yard,
she could not bear to watch him.
And when the baby, April, growing old
and wayward, fell down the hay shute,
Mina just sat in the kitchen, crying, “Ape, Ape,”
and meaning all three cows, her beautiful
walleyed girls who would never come home.
See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts for “Mina Bell’s Cows.”
Read Mina Bell’s Cows (published version)
Following Hall’s suggestion that “Memory of Kuhre” was too “thin,” McNair prepared this revised version, eventually published in his first book.
Read The Last Peaceable Kingdom (published version)
A note from McNair about this letter: The poems Joey submitted to Ploughshares for Don, as a guest editor of the magazine (which was a matter of Don submitting them to himself) were: “Old Trees,” “The Fat People of the Old Days,” and “Calling Harold.”
Editorial note about this letter: Minus its fifth stanza, this version of “The Fat People of the Old Days” is the way the poem finally appears in The Town of No. The published version is here: The Fat People of the Old Days. The above draft of “A Dream of Herman” is its final version, later published in The Faces of Americans in 1853.