Getting Acquainted

  • I. Getting Acquainted (12/10/1976 – 12/29/1978)

    Diane and daughter Shanna touring a village of potters near Santiago
    Diane and daughter Shanna touring a village of potters near Santiago

    In this first, “getting acquainted” section of letters, sent in the afterglow of Don’s praise for my chapbook (“you saved my life,” I write on January 4, 1977), Don says more about the poems I left at his farmhouse, and I assess the poetry he mails to me in exchange. We do favors for each other—he recommending me for an NEA visiting poet fellowship, and I signing him up for a poetry reading at my college, Colby-Sawyer. We exchange visits. Jane Kenyon asks for, and accepts, poems for Green House. And I begin to mull Don’s suggestion that I go beyond the chapbook and attempt a full-length collection — a “book-book.”

    Wesley McNair outside a kiosk where Chilean students gather
    Wesley McNair outside a kiosk where Chilean students gather

    Between my letter of thanks for Don’s reading at Colby-Sawyer in April of 1977, and my departure for my Fulbright year at the Catholic University of Chile at the end of August, I wrote him only five letters, four of them no more than notes, immersed as I was in, as I explained to Don, “fixing up the house for renters, preparing the calendar etc. for the Am. Studies program and making arrangements” for the family trip. In one of my letters I write as the coordinator of American studies, asking Don to give a public lecture in my absence.

    My correspondence picks up considerably once I get to Chile. Though I taught American studies classes by day, in a busy posting, I wanted more than ever to continue my conversation with Don about poetry, which I now wrote in my off-time whenever I wasn’t exploring our new place with the family, or designing college American studies programs, or giving lectures at other universities in Chile and Argentina.  Thus began my process of mailing Don my poems in progress, all of them with stamps he sent me from the United States. My letters at this point in our relationship were intended for Jane, too, with whom I also corresponded separately, critiquing her first book-length manuscript of poems in this period. In a note on October 12, 1978, I wrote to Don that I wanted to know what both of them thought about my poems in progress, because “you folks are the only ones who know what I’ve been up to here.”

    Universidad Catolica de Chile, in Santiago
    Universidad Catolica de Chile, in Santiago

    Some of the poems I sent Don were mine, and others were translations of Chilean poetry, completed with the help of my graduate students at the Catolica. Primary among the translations was the work of Nicanor Parra, whom I visited during my Fulbright year. In return, Don mailed me his own new poems. One of them, “Stone Walls,” I shared with the students of my literature class, in a version I helped Don to create by way of my letter of September 3, 1977. By the time I came back to the US in August, 1978, Don and I both had books, though his, titled Kicking the Leaves, was available in bookstores, and mine was a manuscript which, as I wrote in this section’s last letter, made me “scared as hell,” since sometimes it seemed “good,” and sometimes, “no damn good at all.”

    [This section has 46 letters]

  • Hall to McNair: December 10, 1976 (postmark)


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    Dec 76

    I like the poems very much. Amazing
    you’re so close. I look forward
    to a time we can get together &
    talk about them & so on.

    Don Hall

  • McNair to Hall: December 16, 1976


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    Dec 16, 1976


    How long can a ball-point pen last when one is on the
    couch writing upside-down? Perhaps as long as this letter

    Have been in touch with Betsy Tunis (The baseball
    researcher) & she says she will be ringing you soon. Be prepared.

    Also, the publishing house in Peterboro is WILLIAM BAUGHAN.
    They do art books (one on Barry Faulkner recently) &
    [Written in margin: IN NOAH’S WAKE]
    poetry books (cfs Allen Block). Stephen Greene, about which
    we talked earlier, seems limited to recipe books &
    unpredictable “specialties” —

    Will stop before my pen does —



    PS. Was that you I saw in The Blackwater Gazette?
    My, what big eyes you have! Merry Christmas
    to you both-

    A note from McNair about this letter: Don had a baseball question for my friend, Betsy Tunis. He has also asked me to provide names of small New Hampshire publishers who might print a chapbook he had in mind.

  • McNair to Hall: December 23, 1976


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    Postmarked Dec 23, 1976


    Sorry to have fouled up the spelling
    of the Peterborough publisher. The name,
    legibly this time (I hope) is


    I have just received the illustrations
    done for The Faces of Americans in 1853
    & would like very much to discuss them
    with you. I’m not at all sure they’re
    right. Will you be around during the holidays?


    A note from McNair about this letter: The second paragraph refers to the chapbook manuscript I showed to Don and Jane with illustrations done by an artist friend (Don did not find them suitable in the end, and neither did I). I chose the painting on my card, “The Peaceable Kingdom,” because Don and Jane especially liked my poem “The Last Peaceable Kingdom” in the manuscript I left with Don. In fact, after Jane read the manuscript and discovered this poem had not yet been published, she chose it for her new poetry journal Green House, together with “Rufus Porter, Itinerant Muralist and Inventor, Undertakes a Commission in Bradford Center, N.H.”

    Read The Last Peaceable Kingdom (published version)

    Read Rufus Porter, Itinerant Muralist and Inventor, Undertakes a Commission in Bradford Center, N.H. (published version)


  • Hall to McNair: December 25, 1976


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    25 Dec 76
    Thanks for the BAUHAN. Call to
    check us out, but it ought to be ok
    most any time, to come call, with
    the illustrations. We’ll be glad
    to see you again.


  • McNair to Hall: January 4, 1977


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    January 4, 1976 [misdated: should be 1977]

    Dear Don and Jane,

    I have read the poems which I took with me after my last visit,
    and I like them very much. Their language and form are so natural–
    accessible and profound all at once. “Names of Horses”: the title
    is wonderful, as is the subject of the poem. Its long, hymn-like
    lines are most appealing, also its sad music. I especially like
    the last line–knockout, the way those “names”work [sic]. “Kicking the
    Leaves”: again that conversational speaker who is all the time
    forming a poem. The gesture at the center of the poem is (becomes)
    beautifully complex. The very best poems in the group are,
    to my mind, “The Black Faced Sheep” (beautiful in its composition
    alone) and “Flies”. But then, it’s an awfully strong group. Honestly,
    these are some of the best poems I’ve read in a long time.

    Jane, you mentioned that I should send along poems for
    Green House. I am sending two, neither of which should be used
    until I receive word one way or the other from magazines to which
    they’ve been sent. The “Rufus Porter” poem has been sent to San Hose
    , and the “Elinore Quelch” piece, which you may remember
    from my book, has been sent to The American Poetry Review. I have
    others, but they are either about to be published or unfinished.
    No doubt at least one of the above mentioned will bounce. Please let
    me know what you think of them (I enclose “E.Q.”, in the event you
    need to review it); I’ll let you know as soon as I hear from
    the mags above.

    Don, you have me thinking about a “book-book”. Counting up
    poems, I figure I have around 40 pages of text at this point,
    and I feel that I might well have the thing written within the next
    one or two years. It would be a book of reminiscences, like The Faces
    of Americans
    , only more varied. My search through available stuff
    has resulted in a find of four poems not included in The Faces.

    You both may not realize that the confidence you expressed
    in my poems last week saved my life. With scarcely anyone to talk to about
    my writing, I had become consumed with self-doubt. Now, once again,
    I believe….

    Thanks so much for your kind words.



    PS- My typist made a handful of typing errors
    which changed certain poems in that book
    for the worse– I will soon send you a revised copy
    with the “Springfield Vt” poem currently in progress–

    Read Rufus Porter by Himself (published version)

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

    Read Going Back to Elinore Quelch

    Read Names of Horses (published version)

    Read Kicking the Leaves (published version)

    Read The Black Faced Sheep (published version)

    Read Flies (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: January 7, 1977


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    7 January 1977

    Wes McNair
    New Hampshire 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Many thanks for that letter. I’m delighted that you like the
    poems. The minute I saw how good your poems were, I wanted you to like
    my poems! I look forward to showing you more.

    If you want to take a chance and wait to do a book-book, I will
    only applaud your courage! That is, I know perfectly well – and you do
    too – that a lot of bad books get published, and a number of good books
    go unpublished, at least for quite a while – and that quality does not
    guarantee acceptance, etc. But I am very very high on your poems, and
    I could for instance recommend them very very highly to Harper & Row, and
    that might help. I should say though that I have given “very very high
    recommendation” to Harper & Row in the past, and I probably have, at
    that level, I’m probably only batting about 400. Or less [handwritten].

    I’m happy – we’re happy – if our admiration for your poems has
    felt good to you. No, it doesn’t surprise me. I was hoping it would
    help. It’s so rare that one can feel that way, that one can really look
    a man in the eyes and express that kind of confidence – it’s a delight to
    be able to do it.

    Go ahead and be consumed with self-doubt. Some day you will hear
    me express “confidence” in somebody you think is absolutely terrible. Or
    whatever. That is, confidence is probably not even a useful quality among
    poets! But it sure does feel good, when you feel it from time to time,
    doesn’t it? Your letter has cheered me up about those poems. I was a
    little bit down on some of them, for one reason or another – possibly sun
    spots or the full moon!

    We look forward to the revised copy of the manuscript, heaven knows.
    Drop in when you’re over this way.

    Best as ever,


  • Hall to McNair: January 26, 1977


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    26 Jan 77

    Your decision sounds fine. We want
    to see any- & everything new, when it’s
    seeable, of course. And remember, you’re
    going to send me (or bring me) another mss.
    When you write again, could you let me
    have your telephone number?



  • McNair to Hall: January 27, 1977


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    January 27, 1977

    Dear Don –

    I’m so surprised and pleased at the same time,
    I could spit! Right out of the blue, that call
    from Stephen Bloom! I’m awfully grateful
    you thought of me as a poet for Marietta
    College. Can’t think how to tell you what that
    means to me, except to say that I’m now
    even higher than before ! Is there really a
    world down there or did I only imagine it?

    Thanks so very much.



    Editorial note about this letter: The invitation from Marietta College was for a week-long NEA residency in late February.

  • Hall to McNair: January 29, 1977


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    29 Jan 77

    I’m over at Goddard in Vermont for a
    few days. Good for Marietta, to have
    the sense to follow my advice. It
    will be good to see you when you get
    back. Thanks for the mss. When
    do you go there?


  • McNair to Hall: March 2, 1977


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    [postmarked Mar 2, 1977]


    Am using this awful stationary
    to tell you that (1) everything
    at Marietta C. went extraordinarily
    well (about which, more later) and that
    (2) I have talked folks here into
    a Donald Hall reading for either
    April 5 or April 11 –
    depending on your druthers.
    Payment for the reading is
    $800 – some class visitations –
    two, perhaps- would be involved.
    Can you let me know

    if this last seems OK.



    P.S. – Our dinner for you &
    Jane (& others) seems right
    for two weeks from now. I’ll
    give you a date soon – Hope
    all is well with you both.

    PPS – Just talked to Carl,
    who says April 11 would be
    the best date for the reading,
    but suit yourself.

    A note from McNair about this letter: The “Carl” of this letter is Carl Cochran, chair of the Colby-Sawyer College English department.

  • Hall to McNair: March 4, 1977


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    4 March 1977

    Wes McNair
    Colby-Sawyer College
    New London, N.H. 03257

    Dear Wes,

    I’m writing you back to the address on the stationery, because the
    first part of it anyway is Colby-Sawyer business.

    I’ll be delighted to read on April 11th. I think the 5th would have
    been OK too, but if Carl prefers the 11th, let’s just make it the 11th.
    Any and all class visitations will be just fine. also. [sic] Sometimes it seems
    best to have class visitations after the lecture rather than before, so
    that kids may have some questions to ask. I’d be happy to come up Tuesday
    morning the 12th. (Tuesday afternoon I’ll be going up to Dartmouth to give
    a lecture.) For that matter, I could come back on Wednesday if it were

    The pay is excellent. Thank you for all this.

    Two weeks from now sounds fine for dinner. My daughter will be with
    us until the morning of March 16th, so maybe it will be better to have it
    a St.Patrick’s Day dinner or shortly thereafter – which would be actually
    two weeks from when you wrote the letter, I guess. But you will telephone
    anyway. [Handwritten in margin: Actually not the 17th/ 18? 19?]

    I look forward to hearing about Marietta. I’m delighted that it
    went extraordinarily well. Delighted; I’m not surprised! I’ve been reading
    the manuscript over, by the way – the new or retyped manuscript which you
    sent me. And there’s no question: things hold up. Have you heard anything
    from New Rivers?

    Jane is going through the struggle of finishing a manuscript right now,
    to send out to people. Publishers, that is. Lots of revisions going on
    all over this house.

    Best as ever, and many thanks,


    A note from McNair about this letter: In the closing paragraph, the book manuscript Jane was assembling was From Room to Room, eventually published by Alice Janes Books. Don, in the meantime, was preparing the manuscript for Kicking the Leaves.

  • McNair to Hall: March 11, 1977


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    March 11, 1977

    Don –

    Thanks for your letter.
    Enclosed are two programs done for
    Sladen Lectureships of the past. Can you
    furnish us with a picture & bio information
    suitable for this kind of format ?

    April 11 seems right to all. The
    reading will take place in the evening.
    Further details later (re: classes, etc.).


    P.S. News of dinner to follow!

  • McNair to Hall: March 16, 1977


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    Dear Jane & Don –

    Many apologies for shifting
    the date, but it turns out
    that this weekend is
    impossible for a dinner.

    I am working hard for
    April 2 at this point, so
    if that’s out, please let me
    know soon.

    Thanks, Don, for the picture
    & materials. Oh, Jane:
    Guess what ? Tom Wayman’s
    “Kitchen Poem” has turned up
    in the Fall ’76 Paris Review
    Did you see it? I thought your
    last issue of Green House was
    strong. Thanks for sending it.


    Editorial note about this letter: Green House was the literary magazine of poetry Jane co-edited during the 1970s.

  • Hall to McNair: March 17, 1977 (1)


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    [Postmarked March 17, 1977]

    Just got your note today,
    Tuesday. Will the picture
    I sent do? It’s not very
    dignified! I have others, I
    think. // Also, can you make
    up a ¶ from the materials
    I sent? Check it with me
    if you like. // We leave Sunday
    20th – Thurs 24th.



  • Hall to McNair: March 17, 1977 (2)


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    17 March 77

    2 April is good now – but who knows
    when the phone will ring? We look
    forward to seeing you. We’re gone
    20-24 March.



  • McNair to Hall: March 24, 1977


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    March 24, 1977

    Dear Don,

    April 2 is now firm. Please
    come –- you and Jane –- at 7:00.

    I’m sending you — somewhat mangled —
    copy for the brochure which our PI
    office is having printed re: your visit at
    CSC. Please note time of reading
    and times of classroom appearances.
    One of us in the English Dep’t will
    no doubt be available to steer you
    toward the right places.

    Am looking forward to both
    events. If you have questions –- well,
    the 2nd comes before the 11th. Or
    call me –-



  • McNair to Hall: March 28, 1977


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    March 28, 1977

    Don –

    I called the printer immediately after you
    called me and got the program revised.
    The second-to-last sentence has been changed,
    and one of the class visits has been
    cancelled – ie, the visit to Creative Writing
    on Tuesday. (Carl hoped you could share
    some of your anecdotes of 19th century
    American literary figures with the
    Major American Writers class … but if
    you have other plans, I’m sure he
    wouldn’t mind.) After the reading,
    you may be asked to the home of
    someone in the English Dep’t for drinks
    and conversation. I hope that’s OK.


    Many thanks for calling right back –
    If there are still more questions, please
    let me know. And if you have further
    thoughts about program revisions,
    you have until Wednesday to notify
    me. Feel free.

    Map for April 2 is enclosed.
    Good luck! We are anxious to
    see you both –


    Editorial note about this letter: Don was then working on his forthcoming volume, The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes….

  • Hall to McNair: March 30, 1977


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    30th March 77

    Dear Wes – Good map. We’re looking forward to
    Saturday. // You know, I’m happy to do a visit
    with creative writers, if we can find a time.
    I want to do my bit! See if you can’t find a
    time. (It doesn’t have to have to be printed on the
    program; we can just do it.) Be delighted to
    talk anecdotes or anything and Am. Writer class. Party
    after reading is fine. I taught yesterday for
    the first time in 2 years. Very strange! (Dartmouth



  • McNair to Hall: April 13, 1977


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    Postmarked 13 April 1977

    Donald —

    Lord, that reading was wonderful! I woke up at
    5:30 this morning (an unusual hour for me)
    still high on it. I’d like to see that new long poem sometime.
    Certain resonant images from it keep coming back
    Into my mind — from part four (which I’ve already
    mentioned), or from the section about the store
    (with its Exxon sign and white clapboards- –
    excellent, that tension!). As I told you, I often
    have trouble hearing/seeing poems at readings,
    and with that poem I need more time…

    But thanks for coming to Colby to read your poems.
    It was a special night — with the ultimate in
    visual aids: Mt. Kearsage itself, just down the

    I’m awfully glad you are coming to Colby next year.
    I hope you both feel as good to be in the
    neighborhood as we all feel having you here.


    A note from McNair about this letter: Though I do not mention it in my letter, what woke me at 5:30 a.m., and sent me walking the country roads around my farmhouse in the early light, was the memory of Don dedicating “Names of Horses” to me at his reading…. The “new long poem” I refer to later on is “Stone Walls.”

    Read Names of Horses (published version)

    Read Stone Walls (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: April 14, 1977


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    [Postmarked April 14, 1977]

    Thank you for
    Monday night, Wes.
    It was a fine thing
    for me. I’m grateful
    to you for working it out.


    Best to Diane.

  • Hall to McNair: April 16, 1977


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    16 April 77

    Dear Wes–

    Thanks for your letter. It makes
    me feel very good. I was a little
    worried about the slurred words I
    had to repeat! I guess I shouldn’t
    worry. I read the new one again this
    morning at Mt. Holyoke, with a few
    changes since last Monday. I’m
    feeling good about it.
    Now I’ve got eight readings coming
    up. South Carolina, Maryland, Alabama,
    Oklahoma. I look forward to seeing
    you & Diane when things settle down a little.

    I’m hoping you don’t go to Chile so we
    can keep you around. But if you go, you’ll
    come back – & maybe it will be good for
    your poems to have such a change of
    scene. I learned so much about the
    U.S. by going away from it for a while.

    As so as soon as I’m ready to
    show that poem to anybody, I’ll show
    it to you.



  • McNair to Hall: June 30, 1977


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    June 30, 1977

    Dear Donald –

    Your poem “Flies” is an absolute

    I like it better than anything you
    have done recently. It ranks with
    the very best you ever written.

    Somewhere Kate is smiling.

    Thanks for sending it.


    Read Flies (published version)

  • Jane Kenyon to McNair: July 1, 1977


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    Dear Wes,

    Yes, it’s good, and I want to
    put it in the winter issue! Thank
    . (How many more do you have
    in your drawer?)

    We enjoyed our evening with


    Editorial comment about this letter: The poem Jane accepts here for her poetry journal, Green House, is “For My Father” (which later took the title “Hearing That My Stepfather Died in a Supermarket”). This is her third acceptance.

    Read Hearing that My Father Died in a Supermarket (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: July 5, 1977


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    July 5 1977

    Dear Donald –

    You will forgive my absent-mindedness,
    but I can’t seem to recall whether I sent
    the letter I wrote to you about “Flies”, and I
    want to be sure you know how much I like
    the poem. For me, “Flies” is one of the
    best poems you have ever written, which
    is saying plenty. I’m just stunned
    by it.

    As I said in my first letter (did it
    ever get to you?), somewhere, Kate Wells
    is smiling.

    Thanks so much for sending it.
    You have made my week.



  • McNair to Hall: July 6, 1977


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    July 6, 1977

    Dear Don,

    During the next academic year, the American Studies program
    at Colby-Sawyer will sponsor a small lecture series called “The
    Rufus Porter Lectures in American Studies”. The students and faculty
    connected with the program have chosen you as one of the lecturers
    in that series. Given your developing repertoire of anecdotes about
    nineteenth-century American literary figures, we would very much
    like you to share some of your favorite such anecdotes with our
    American studies majors and other interested members of the CSC
    community. (The audience will be relatively small — probably 25-40

    The honorarium for each of the Rufus Porter Lectures is $75.00- –
    not enough, I know, for your services, but as much as our small
    program budget will allow us to pay. Should you elect to participate
    in the series, we would like you to give your lecture on November
    10, at 8:00 PM in James House.

    I’d appreciate your letting me know as soon as possible
    whether you’re interested in being one of our lecturers. Needless
    to say, we’d feel honored if you’d come.



    (Co-ordinator of American Studies)

  • McNair to Hall: July 10, 1977


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    July 10, 1977

    Dear Don –

    Thanks for agreeing to be one of the R. Porter
    lecturers. I don’t think a title is necessary. Thank you
    especially for your insistence on doing the thing gratis.
    Such generosity is like you, but I’m still surprised
    and touched. There are three other lecturers: Malcolm
    Cochran (Carl’s son), who will talk about his ceramic
    sculpture titled “Rufus Porter” … October 6; Peter Benes,
    who will speak on early American sandstone iconography…
    March 16; and Betsy Tumis, to lecture about a
    book she is doing on Hal Chase, the baseball great
    and one of the fixers of the World Series, 1919.

    Yes, I did know about the Christ incident.
    Shortly after it happened, I received a call from Owen
    Lee of the Bureau of Educational and Culture Affairs
    in the State Dep’t. Lee explained that the NY Times
    article was “substantially correct” but asked me
    to note that there was no trouble in Chile for Christ –
    that the trouble was all in the U.S. According


    to reports made to the BECA by both Christ and Loren
    Davidson (a recent Fulbrighter at The Catholic University),
    professors in Chile are free to teach, congregate and travel
    as they please. I just received a call from Davidson during
    which he underscored the above – will soon get a call
    from Christ himself (Owen Lee is setting up the latter).

    My own position in all this is the same as
    that of The BECA’s – ie, that the Fulbright – Hays
    exchanges are “people–to–people” in nature, not
    gov’t–to–gov’t. We have Fulbrighters in most of the
    military–run gov’ts of South America (only 2
    S. Am. Countries have democracies), and Fulbrighters in
    other countries which violate Carter’s human rights
    credo (Haiti? Russia?). Should Fulbrights
    become politicized, surely all of these folks, and
    many others as well, would all be asked to return home.

    But I’ve probably been on this subject with you
    before… Thanks for your concern in all this.

    Incidentally, I’m hoping most fervently that


    I can get a copy of Bly’s Neruda translations
    before I leave. (I’ll return yours soon.) As Jane
    may have told you, I was to do some translations
    by contemporary Chilean poets (with help from
    perhaps one of the teachers at the University) and
    would like to have examples of good translations
    nearby…or the N. Tarn book would be nice, if I can find it.

    I will, of course, keep you in touch with what
    I’m doing in Chile. Needless to say, I hope to
    return with a finished book…capped off, as Jane’s
    probably will be, with translations. I am high about
    the way in which the book might extend its
    “Americanness” with poems from S. Am.

    I hope Jane showed you the LAST version
    of my “Father” poem. If she did, I also hope you
    liked it. Your “Skeleton in Armor” poem reminds me somewhat
    of certain poems I’ve done of elementary school. Its
    that why you sent it? I like it, but am still
    so swept up in “Flies”, nothing else answers half


    as well. God, what a poem! I’m taking it with me
    to Chile, along with The Alligator Bride. And do
    you happen to have a spare copy of A Roof of Tiger Lilies?
    I think that’s as good a book as you’ve ever done, and
    I’d like to have it along with me, too.

    But if you don’t OK. It’s probably my
    compulsion that I have to have everything in my
    suitcases before I go.

    Thanks again for agreeing to “lecture” –
    so inexpensively. I’m only sorry I won’t get
    to hear you.



    A note from McNair about this letter: Ronald Christ was a visiting lecturer from the United States whom the military government had been monitoring because of his left-wing connections…. What I call Don’s “Skeleton in Armor” poem may be found in its later, published, version among the notes for the next letter.

  • Hall to McNair: July 23, 1977


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    23 July 1977

    Wes McNair
    No. Sutton
    New Hampshire

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks for the good letter, written July 10th (it couldn’t have
    been written July 10th!, but that’s what it seems to say).

    I’m delighted to do the lecture. I will I think talk about the
    nature of American nationality, and the identity of the national
    literature – which sounds incredibly pompous; but I will spice it up
    with a lot of jokes!

    Thanks again for writing about the Christ incident. I am interested
    that everyone was so sensitive about it. I can see why. Anyway, I think
    if I were you I would go there also, although the morals of it would give
    me pause – as I’m sure it gives you pause. But you cannot investigate
    anything by staying behind in North Sutton. And it is possible that if
    you go there, and find out what is going on, you can do something for the
    people, not just for the government. I don’t really believe in the people-
    to-people – I mean, I think that’s rhetoric. The Fulbright is a U S gov-
    ernment grant, and people in the various countries know it. And there
    are, yes, worser places even than Chile! I don’t think Russia.
    [Written in margin: I mean I don’t think there are F’s.] But lots
    of weird places. Our government criticized politicized the Fulbrights originally,
    by denying them to people with leftwing connections. By denying them to
    Americans with leftwing connections, I mean. There is no way to do any-
    thing in the modern world without tarnishing yourself with something or
    other. You cannot drive on the highways, without accepting something
    from Meldrim Thompson. I’m serious!

    Have you read – do you own – the Hardie St.Martin anthology from Harper
    and Row called Roots and Wings? It’s superb. It is Spanish poetry, not
    Latin American, but it has some of the best translations going. Very few
    poor ones. By a whole lot of different translators, including Bly and Merwin
    and Phil Levine, some of the best. I have a couple of translations in there
    myself, but I don’t put myself in that company. It is available in paper-
    back now, but it’s a pretty expensive paperback. I would really recommend

    Isn’t the blind Bly Neruda easily available? From Beacon? I mean, Carlton
    won’t have it in New London, I know. But you can get it mailed up to you from
    Boston I’m sure. There’s a wonderful book store in Cambridge, the Grolier,
    which will mail things to me. In case you don’t happen to have a place that
    will do it, would you like that name and address? It is Louisa Salano, Grolier
    Book Shop, 6 Pliympton St., Cambridge, MA. If you tell her I suggested that you
    write her, I think she will mail you stuff without having to bite the money.

    I will ask Jane to show me the last version of the “Father” poem.
    Seriously, I keep so separate from Green House, I don’t know what’s going
    to be in it until I read the print edition. It’s better this way, knowing
    my propensity toward sticking my nose into everything!

    I didn’t send you the “Journeys Through Bookland” because I thought
    it sounded like any of your poems. I didn’t think of that. I just happened
    to have a copy of it, and it is brand new. I wonder what you think of “Stone
    Walls”… I look forward to hearing about that. Yes, I do have a copy of
    Tiger Lilies to give you and I’m delighted to give you a copy. I like that
    one also.

    I’m sorry you won’t be there for the lecture also. Well, not so much
    that you won’t be there for the lecture, just that you won’t be there. But
    we look forward to you coming back – and I’m absolutely fascinated to hear
    about everything in Chile. Especially about the poets. Well, the poets
    and the opposition – and for the most part poets will be in the opposition.

    Best to you both, from us both,


    Read Illustration (published version)

    Read Stone Walls (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: August 2, 1977


    [Click image to view]

    Aug 2, 1977

    Don & Jane –

    Can I be forgiven a few
    extra days with your poems?

    Honestly, what with fixing
    up the house for renters,
    preparing the calendar ^etc. for the
    Am. Studies program and making
    arrangements for departure
    (this last was endless), I
    just haven’t had time to give
    the things you kindly left in
    my care the audience they need
    and deserve –


    I promise proper attention to
    all writings when I get to Chile.
    You will hear from me soon –about
    that and about our adventures
    and misadventures.

    Thanks for your tolerance.
    We will miss you both but will
    close the distance soon via
    correspondence –



    P.S. Superficially speaking, I feel
    very positive about the book, and
    Don, you know something of what
    I feel anyway about Stone walls.
    But superficial speaking isn’t good enough. More soon!


  • McNair to Hall: September 3, 1977


    [Click image to view]

    September 3, 1977

    Dear Don –

    Rereading your poem Stone Walls in Chile late at night
    makes me appreciate it more than I ever have before –
    the distance has given it more edge, perhaps. I like
    so much the way you convey that attraction to the past,
    how the narrator recalls first the old faces, then the
    landscape of the Kearsarge arch itself, juxtaposing that
    memory/dream of the past with the dreams he had then
    of the future, and finally bringing past and present
    together in that wonderfully joyful and yet sad sound
    Section 4, in which he recalls the “fall” of his
    youth as he lives the “fall” of his manhood. (Section 4
    is, well, masterful, esp. the way it expresses
    that essential “connection” between the n’s past
    and present through the landscape.)

    (New pen) Perhaps it is because I identify
    with the n’s attraction to the past, and with his
    attempt to correct that past (its people, its


    landscape, its heretofore unreclaimed self), that I do not so much like
    Section 7, which seems to me to take the poem beyond its proper
    concerns oops bounds. I think I know what you are trying to do
    in that section, but it feels public – histrionic – and seems
    to me to violate the personal and more strictly autobiographical
    movement of the poem.

    The poem is, to my mind, an awfully good one, presenting
    a speaker who revives his ancestors and his region from
    the death of the past, and through that experience awakens
    fully alive in the present, where he sees himself moving
    toward another death, “through the woods…to the village” of his
    own “nightfall”. Yet there is finally no sadness about his
    awakening because the cycle of his life, which he dreams
    returning to the place of “stone walls”, as “connected”
    with the cycles of other lives, and with the larger – much
    larger – cycle of the region itself. (Yes, I do understand
    that Section 7 contributes to the readers sense of what
    I’ve just called the “larger cycle of the region”, but I
    still wonder about it…)

    All of the above is, of course, offered in a take–it–

    Chile is hard to describe at this point since we


    haven’t been here long enough to assimilate it. I
    have yet to meet with the “literary club” of the
    North America Institute here, and have only just met a man who
    will soon introduce me to poets, including Nicanor Parra,
    who is, by the way, alive and well. My teaching assignment goes
    swimmingly: graduate students here are bright and very
    committed to American Studies. My campus is beautiful –
    medieval/monastic architecture, several green, flowering

    We assumed there would be a DINA (secret police)
    officer on every corner of the Santiago streets, but not so –
    In fact, the word here and in Washington is that DINA has
    been disbanded. We read in the Santiago press that
    Carter and Pinochet (you wondered about the pronunciation
    of that name – it’s French, though the Spanish pronounce
    it PEÉ NOH CHAYT) have been conferring in
    Washington – Pinochet having been invited to the
    White House to discuss with others the terms of
    the Panama Canal treaty. Do you read the same?
    I have been asked to do a series of lectures
    (4) at the Cath. U. of Valparaiso, so will soon
    see more of the academic network here – In November,


    will be lecturing at the U. of Conception.

    Maybe these and other activities will tell me more about
    social/ political realities here – about such things, my understanding is
    limited. Everywhere there are evidences of the Allende period,
    just passed ended: the boards over the windows of the executive
    mansion, which was bombed by the military; the slogans
    that show through the whitewash on city buildings – and the
    conversations among the professors of the Catolica (most
    of whom are pro-Junta) about the “Communist experiment”
    that failed. But much more remains to be seen and learned.

    So, more later. In envy you your up-coming
    season in NH; would love to be with you, kicking
    the leaves, or whatever. Oh well, at least we will not
    have a fuel bill here. We think about you both and
    would love to hear from you. Til then (as you once
    said to me) “Keep writin’ those poems”!

    Warmest thoughts & regards,


    A note from McNair about this letter: I wrote this letter about the “not-so-monstrous” military junta in Chile before I witnessed a small group of demonstrators in downtown Santiago, their leader holding a script that shook in his hand as he read from it, determined yet clearly frightened. The military police quickly turned up with their sirens, forced the demonstrators into two vans, and streaked away.

  • McNair to Hall: October 12, 1977


    [Click image to view]

    12 October, 1977

    Dear Don —

    I was delighted to hear from you. Letters from the States
    are special things here, and letters from you the more so.

    Your indefatigable revisions of “Stone Walls” give me
    strength for my own revisions. I agree with what Bly says
    [Written in margin: in Contemporary Poets]…
    about the “absolutely genuine” character of your best poems –
    even though I bridle at his appreciation of that “Theory of
    The Three brains” to your work. And I’m convinced that
    “Stone Walls” will soon be one of your best poems, ranking
    with, say, “Flies”. I would like very much to see it when
    you think it’s finished. And do send “Traffic”, too.

    I have been writing steadily and producing little, as is
    my habit. Soon I will be translating contemporary Chilean
    poets, since I have already enlisted the aid of two people
    at the University for the enterprise. I will meet one of
    these poets – a man named “Montes” – next week. I
    want to include these translations in my book (they
    will be in its last section) to extend the book’s “Americanness”.
    The themes of the Chilean poems will parallel certain
    themes in my poems.


    I enclose a recent production, “The Poetic License”, in the
    hope that you and Jane might like it. I was going to send it to
    Paris Review and then remembered that I can’t send a SASE from
    here. Any suggestions about how to send poems to little magazines in
    the states. Please let me know what you think about the poem,
    in any event.

    Glad to hear you have chosen a topic for your A.S.
    lecture. It will be first-rate, I’m sure, one of the good things
    I’m forced to miss by being here.

    I’ve been invited to do a series of lectures on
    center stage at an all – South American A.S. conference
    in January. Americanists from Argentina, Brazil, Columbia,
    Peru and Chile will be there. Will cover major themes in
    American culture as expressed in the art and literature of
    various periods. Needless to say, I’m pleased with the

    All is otherwise well, too. Diane and I are meeting
    new people still and have begun to settle into the rituals
    of life in Santiago. More about these subjects in my
    next installment. Please hello to Jane. We miss you both.




    P.S. Forgot to mention that C.W. Truesdale rejected The Faces
    of Americans in 1853
    . Said that my book placed among
    the ones he wanted to publish, and that he responded especially
    to the “farm poems” (there are only two). But, he said,
    he couldn’t agree with my choice of the word “ponderous”
    in the poem called “Memory of Kuhre”. That was all.
    I am not so troubled by the rejection as by the reasons
    for it.

    Thus, I’m going for broke on the idea of the
    “big book”, which I should have in another year.
    I may call it The Poetic License. The title would
    relate to my recent poem, to my attraction to “America” in the 19th century
    in the book as a whole and to the nineteenth century.
    (There will be 6-8 poems about the 19th century in it.)
    Also, the title would relate to the nature of “poetic
    license”, to the limitations of, the ironies involved
    with, poetic license in my poetry. What do you think?


    On the poetic license it is the nineteenth century.

    A ship named Conventional Poetry
    is just sinking on the horizon.

    Nearby in a lifeboat
    Form and Vision shake hands holding the strings
    of ballons between their lips.

    In the balloons are word of enthusiasm about sailing to America

    the country where dawn is breaking and the Muse collapses
    on the grave of Washington
    naming the states.

    Her balloon is so large it grazes the face of the farmer
    plowing far off in the field
    He goes right on waving,

    songs come out of the mouths
    of his wife and children

    out of the mouths of pioneers watching the figure of Columbia
    lift off the prairie and rise
    half out of her robe. Oh Burgeoning Art

    Oh Poetry Yet To Be, they say
    pointing to her breasts

    that part of the clouds
    pointing to the clouds

    pointing to my name inscribed across the West in longhand.

    Editorial note about this letter: The version of The Poetic License that McNair sent to Hall in this letter is similar to the published version of the poem, except that the “Oh Burgeoning Art” in line 18 becomes line 19 and opens the next stanza.

    Read The Poetic License (published version)

    Read Stone Walls (published version)

    Read Flies (published version)

    Read Traffic (published version)

    Read Memory of Kuhre (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: November 7, 1977


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    November 7, 1977

    Dear Don –

    You are more than generous to offer
    to send those stamps !

    I would like very much to have
    some 31¢ stamps (which, if I’m not
    mistaken, are specially issued for air
    mail to foreign countries – though I’d
    appreciate your checking me on this).

    I can’t write more now, as I’m
    off to do errands in downtown Santiago
    & Diane is waiting. I promise a fat
    letter to you both soon.

    in the meantime, please thank Jane for her letter.

    And thank you again !



  • McNair to Hall: November 27, 1977


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    November 27, 1977

    Dear Don & Jane –-

    I am writing once again in haste. Your letter arrived yesterday,
    catching us in the middle of preparations for a trip south, to
    Concepcion. Diane, the kids & I are going there for a week -– I am
    to do four “American” lectures at the U. Concepcion. All of our
    expenses are being covered by the University & by the Fulbright
    Commission; thus, our first extensive travel in Chile will be free.

    But I wanted to get a few words off to you both before
    going. First, to tell you I’m awfully glad to have those 31 ¢
    stamps. I don’t really need so many (what faith you have in my
    output!), but the surplus is the most wonderful luxury
    for me, without stamps only a day ago. I also wanted to
    let you know about a reading on Thurs. night (Thanksgiving)
    by N. Parra of his new book Sermons Y Prédicas
    de [sic] Cristo de Elqui
    . I enclose an article from Santiago’s
    major newspaper, El Mercurio, Nov. 19, announcing the
    reading and explaining that Parra has taken up residence
    in Isla Negra, following the example of Neruda.

    Oh – forgot to mention that Diane & I went to the reading
    with friends and enjoyed it in spite of our very limited
    Spanish (we are now taking lessons).

    The enclosed article points out that Artifacts, Parra’s
    last book of poems (not a book, really, but a pack of
    poems, which resembled playing cards, in a box)
    contained many verses that were anti-Allende. Our
    friends concur with that assessment. In one passage
    of Sermons Y Prédicas, by the way, Parra agrees that there
    are violations of human rights in Chile, now there is
    an inequitable distribution of wealth. Then he asks, in
    what other country of the world are these things not true?
    (Since he is speaking through the persona of Cristo de Elqui,
    a preacher of Santiago in the 1930’s, he is technically


    referring to the dictatorship and the social conditions of the 1930s
    in the passage; actually, of course, he is referring to the present.

    So Parra is very much alive – and not, perhaps,
    as disturbed about being in Chile as folks might think.
    By the way, it’s my opinion, after having been here 3 months,
    that the press in the U.S. has caricatured conditions here –
    It seems to me that Allende was not as pure, and that
    the Junta is not as monstrous, as we have been led to
    believe. I will write more about this when I have time,
    that which there is little of at present.

    I promise at last a card from Concepcion
    and a ^longer letter not long after I return.

    Thanks once again for the stamps. Hope all
    is well at Eagle Pond Farm!


  • Hall to McNair: January 14, 1978


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    1 January 1978
    Dear Wes,

    Jane and I loved getting your long letter. Good for you on the
    translations. Your arrangement sounds foolproof – or maybe it is failsafe.
    Miriam Diez has translated Adrienne… In the same mail as your letter,
    I had a long letter from Adrienne. L’hasard objectif.

    Will you come back next summer? When? We miss you.

    You asked me if anybody has translated poems from “Otras Poemas.”
    By whom? Is that Parra? Not that I know of – but then, I wouldn’t know.
    When did the book come out? Denise Levertov ought to know. You could write
    her at Tufts/Medford/Massachusetts.

    Christmas Moon must be Eeldritch, under those conditions. I’ve been
    in England for Christmas, when the cabbages were still growing in the back
    yards – but at least the sun knew enough not to show up.

    Fried brains for New Year’s Eve. Sounds good. That fish-monger mongs
    more than fish. I like that T-shirt…

    Wes, you mention that you would like to see the revised “Stone Walls”
    and then say “as I’d very much like to talk about some of your prose poems.”
    But “Stone Walls” has no prose in it. Are you thinking of “Flies”? I will
    send either, happily. Let me know.


  • Hall to McNair: February 17, 1978


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    [Written in margin to right of letterhead: for 3 days] 17 Feb 78

    Dear Wes,

    Here’s de Stonewall.

    Well, we saw some palm trees & flowery shrubs
    & felt some warm rain. It was ok – but I love
    this eight foot snowpile we live in.

    Very busy, readings + deadlines. Wonderful
    review of Remembering Poets in next Sunday’s Times
    Book Review. Donald Davie.

    Good news on the Parra scene. We look
    forward to the translations. Let them come.

    Will you return in July? When?

    Got to get to work.



  • McNair to Hall: February 26, 1978


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    February 26, 1978

    Dear Don –

    You asked me to send you some of my translations of N. Parra.
    I have by now translated several of his poems. But I am
    sending you only the three which I wish to include in my
    first volume of poetry. As I may have explained, the
    thing will conclude with fifteen or so pages of contemporary
    Chilean poetry in translation. I will choose the poems by a
    fairly arbitrary set of criteria, insisting that they be
    free verse poems and that they further themes in the
    “book proper”. For the Parra translations, there’s still another
    prerequisite: they must be sufficiently different from the
    Williams (or Wright or whomever) versions to stand
    on their own. Having seen the Williams translations of
    “Stains on the Wall” and “The Beggar”, I am not worried
    about publishing my renditions : They are in their way
    quite different – and, I am convinced, better – translations.
    I have not seen what may have been done earlier with
    “The Man”, but will know as soon as a friend in Cambridge
    sends me the two NEW DIRECTIONS Parra books –
    Poems and Antipoems and Emergency Poems. “The Man”


    is a simpler poem in its language, and therefore difficult
    to screw up. But Williams, Parra’s principal translator,
    has gone so far wrong with other poems, it’s not hard
    to imagine that he’s done it again with “The Man”.

    I have sent you two versions of “Stains on the Wall” –
    mine and Williams’ – so you can see how we differ
    and why I think he’s on the wrong track…later, I
    may send you Parra’s “Self Portrait”, which I may include
    in my book, and which I’ve just finished translating.
    I will certainly send you my translations of poems by
    Gonzalo Rojas, which I will include, and which
    I’m working on now.

    Please let me know what you think. Also what you
    think of “Memory of North Sutton”. I don’t know
    when I’ve had so many poems underway in
    my notebooks – but progress is, as usual slow. I have
    some I think are ready, but I want to be sure
    before you see them. Others sit and sulk on the page.
    The good news is that I seem to have most of my
    part of the book written. When it’s done, you and
    Jane will be the first to see it, a dubious distinction,


    perhaps, but the best I can offer right now.

    We will be home, to answer your recent question,
    at the end of August – a bit late, but I’ve been asked
    by the Fulbright Commission to stay on for a month
    to lecture at a variety of universities in South America –
    this is a result of a week-long all-South American
    conference on American civilization for which I did all
    the lectures. It went well, better than I had expected,
    and various participants invited me to their home
    institutions. In April, Diane and I will be traveling
    to the South of Chile; sometime later, we’ll go to
    the North. Now, I’m on vacation (until March
    15) and am using the time to write and put together
    a course called “The City and the Town in American
    Culture”. It will include lots of 20th Century
    literature and art.

    Forgot to mention that the most serious
    potential obstacle to my home-coming was an
    offer from the U. of Concepcion (where Meriam
    Diaz is – a wonderful place, whose campus looks
    like Berkeley’s) to stay on indefinitely as a full


    professor of American civilization. For a variety of reasons,
    including job security at home, I turned the offer down,
    but that was a difficult decision.

    So it’s definite for late August. Perhaps you would
    have time for a reunion near that time? Diane and I
    would like that.

    Please say hello to Jane for me. And please
    pass on the enclosed to her. Tell her I got my
    Green House and was very pleasantly surprised to find
    my name on its cover – a first for me. Also please
    convey how pleased I was to hear that Louis Simpson
    liked “The Last Peaceable Kingdom”.

    Our best to you both,


    P.S. I liked “Stone Walls”, and I will enjoy teaching
    it. How different it was from the last version! Are
    you finished with it? I am strongly in favor of
    the revisions you’ve made. It’s a remarkable poem, I think.

    About “The Poetic License”; I’ve decided to
    keep the last line, at least for now, since I still


    like the way it completes the image of a “poetic license”
    and I like the way it places the burden of all that
    American mythology upon the poet who would write about
    America today – this in spite of his apparent distance
    from the mythology – his playing with it, joking about
    it, etc. –I.e., to have a poetic license, he must
    find a way of dealing with the poetic license
    to which the poem earlier refers.

    But you’ve made me wary of my “justifications”.
    I can only hope I’m right.

    Muchos Saludos !



    It is not possible to live in the city
    Without having an official function:
    The police enforce this law.

    Some are soldiers
    Who spill their blood for the country
    (This goes between quotation marks)

    Others are astute merchants
    Who take away a gram
    Or two or three from each kilo of plums.

    And those further on are priests
    Who pass each other with a book in hand.

    Each one knows his business.
    And what do you think mine is?

    To sing
    To all the closed windows

    Hoping they will open
    a coin.

    –Nicanor Parra

    A MAN

    The mother of a man is gravely ill
    He leaves to look for the Doctor
    He cries
    In the street he sees his wife with another man
    They are walking hand in hand
    He follows at a short distance
    From tree to tree
    He cries
    Now he meets a friend from his youth
    It’s been years since we’ve seen each other!
    The go into a bar
    They talk, they laugh
    The man leaves to urinate on the patio
    He sees a young girl
    It is night
    She is washing dishes
    The man approaches the young woman
    He takes her by the wrist
    They dance waltzes
    Together they go into the street
    They laugh
    There is an accident
    The girl has lost consciousness
    The man goes to find a telephone
    He cries
    He reaches a house with lights
    He asks for a telephone
    Someone recognizes him
    Stay to eat, man
    Where is the telephone
    Eat, man, eat
    Afterward you can go
    He sits down to eat
    He drinks like a condemned man
    He laughs
    They make him recite
    He recites
    He falls asleep under a desk

    –Nicanor Parra


    1 Before the night falls completely on us
    2 Let’s study the stains on the wall:
    3 Some appear to be plants
    4 Others look like mythological animals.

    5 Hippogrifos,
    6 dragons,
    7 salamanders.

    8 But the most extraordinary of all
    9 Are the ones that seem to be atomic explosions

    10 In the cinematography of the wall
    11 The soul sees what the body does not:
    12 Kneeling men
    13 Mothers with creatures in their arms
    14 Statues on horseback
    15 Priests lifting the host
    16 Genitalia coming together

    17 But the most mysterious of all
    18 Beyond a doubt
    19 Are the ones that seem to be atomic explosions.


    1&2 : Parra speaks of night in this stanza – but also of the darkness of the holocaust.
    That point emerges somehow out of the seriousness and the formality of the speaker’s invitation
    to “study”. Williams’ first line has an awkwardness that results from a literal translation.
    His second line – “Let’s, etc.” – is informal, almost suggests “fun”. If it establishes any
    tone at all, it’s a tone of “flipness” – as if the antipoet is a man who is flip, insouciant.
    That sort of tone, by the way, permeates Williams’ book. Actually, Parra’s tones are many,
    and it’s vitally important to get them straight, esp. since so much of the poetry comes out of
    the tone.

    3 “appear to be” : suggests too much of a distance between the stain and its correspondent.

    5 “Horses” will do, since the category of “mythological animals” has already been established.
    “Hyppogrifos” is too strained a reference.

    5 – 7 Doing away with the commas helps the reader to better see the animals on the “field” of
    the wall. (I take liberty with the original here.)

    8 “extraordinary” should be “mysterious” – translation is careless, esp. since “mysterious”
    conveys the strangeness of the investigation which we are invited to make. “Extraordinary”
    belongs at the end of the poem – in its last line – where Parra originally put it, the better
    to conclude our investigation. Of course Williams places “mysterious” in that line.

    9 “seem to be” : Both here and in the last line; this phase makes the likeness more
    conditional than it is supposed to be.

    10 – 15 This stanza includes roles, activities, images which connote the ongoing processes,
    the stability of civilization. Strangely, these things can also suggest the terror
    of a civilization coming apart – like some section of Picasso’s Guernica. I sense
    in his mechanical, also literal rendering of these lines, Williams’ unawareness
    of the above. Note also his inappropriate translation of lines 13 and 14 :
    “statues on horseback” belies a carelessness for which there is simply no excuse.

    16 In Parra’s poem this line appears on its own, with space above and below itself- It seems
    to me that Parra singles it out in this way to give a new connotation to the
    “atomic explosions” of the poem’s conclusion. They become an awful inverted
    orgasm, one which blows man, woman and the created world to pieces. “Genitalia” ?
    Literal. Mechanical.

    Since the resonances of this poem are subtle, it requires a painstaking
    translation. The wrong word or phrase can ruin the whole thing. Obviously, there’s
    more than that wrong with Williams’ rendition. Even punctuation can make a
    great difference in a poem like this. And Williams is very sloppy about punctuation.


    Before the darkness descends
    We will study the stains on the wall.
    Some look like plants
    Others resemble mythological animals:


    But the most mysterious of all
    Are the ones which look like atomic explosions.

    In the cinematography of the wall
    The soul sees what the body does not:
    Men on their knees
    Mothers with babies in their arms
    Equestrian monuments
    Priests offering the body of Christ:

    Genital organs coming together.

    But the most extraordinary of all
    Are without a doubt
    The ones that look like atomic explosions.

    –Nicanor Parra



    Five thousand miles from here
    North Sutton is sleeping.
    Gas pumps doze

    by Vernondale’s store.
    Old farmhouses lie
    tethered to the road.

    How quiet they are!
    Holding the darkness
    still in their windows

    resting their great roofs
    among the trees.
    Slowly, slowly they shift

    their white sides
    in the moonlight.
    In a sound sleep

    the church
    lifts its stopped clock
    into the night sky.

    Santiago, 1978


  • McNair to Hall: March 6, 1978


    [Click image to view]

    PS. This [Laguna en el Parque Barrio Universitario Concepcion] is our favorite place at the U. of Concepcion,
    where D. & I will soon be going once again.

    March 6, 1978

    Dear Don & Jane —

    I find I have made a mistake in the translation of “The
    Beggar” which I sent on to you. The first line of that
    revision is “It is not possible to live in the city”. I prefer
    instead of that, “It is impossible to live in the city”. Why
    I typed it the wrong way, I don’t know.

    Am anxious to hear from you about the stuff I sent on. Will
    send more soon. Since you folks are the only ones who know
    what I’ve been up to here, it’s especially important for
    me to know what you think.

    Hope you will soon be dug out of all the snow which, as
    we hear it, falls and falls.

    Muchos Saludos —


  • McNair to Hall: March 18, 1978


    [Click image to view]

    From Santiago, Chile
    Dear Don & Jane –-

    On the flip side, please find recent poem.

    Have belatedly discovered, through CSC Calendars
    that friends have mailed, about the readings you
    both did in Alumnae Lounge. Colby is lucky. I’m
    sorry I missed them.

    All is well here, Classes have started once
    again, but I seem to have time withal to
    write. Am still working on translations of
    poems by Gonzalo Rojas – Also have been helping
    Miriam Diaz w/ Adrienne Rich translations.

    Won’t be long now, Don, before I teach
    “Stone Walls” – which, as I say, I like in revision
    (it seems more coherent, among other things) – still,
    I miss some of the images in the earlier version
    that I’ve dug out & reread. It’s painful
    sometimes, isn’t it, what one has to throw away?

    Jane, how’s the book going? Hope all
    is well with you both in your respective
    enterprises. Oh – forgot to mention, Don, how
    very much I liked your Frost chapter of
    Remembering Poets, whose I recently read in
    Commentary. I walked around with it in my head
    for days (should I say daze?). I will write more about it later, but honestly it was just
    wonderful. For now, I am compelled to finish this up so it’ll make the Sat. afternoon mail-

    Best to you both,



    the one without legs reaches
    up as if he would have us pull him
    out of the sidewalk

    we cannot pull him
    our money will not help
    the big-chested man whose legs
    are folded in front of him
    like socks

    when we turn an old man
    is making an earnest expression
    with half of his face
    two sisters remember songs
    behind their white eyes

    where do beggars go when the streets
    are full of rain
    the man in a cart rowing
    his half-body away
    with his hands

    the girl on wood crutches
    doing her slow breaststroke
    into our dreams

    A note from McNair about this letter:  My enclosed poem “Beggars” results from my numerous encounters with beggars on the streets of Santiago.

  • Hall to McNair, April 4, 1978


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    4 April 1978

    Wes McNair
    5716 C.Colon
    Santiago 10

    Dear Wes,

    I’m terribly sorry to have taken so long. I guess I wrote you what
    I have been up to, so there is no point in repeating it now. I dictate
    this on a Monday. Yesterday I “finished” the final revision of the revision
    of Writing Well, which I will deliver tomorrow in Boston. Today I “finished”
    my decisions about the make-up of A Writer’s Reader, which I will meet with
    my editor about, for four hours tomorrow in Boston. Then I fly to Baltimore,
    read at Goucher College, and come back the next day. I’ve got to finish my
    long piece on MacLeish for the New York Times Book Review. I have to finish
    taking notes on Henry Moore for the piece I will write about him, in England –
    where we go in ten days. And I am supposed to finish the draft of my poetry
    textbook for Holt, and I don’t know quite how many days that will take.
    And I have two more poetry readings, taking me away. Wow. Anyway, I want
    to write.

    I’m not convinced about including the translations of Parra in your
    first book of poems. I’m not sure that they mean quite that much, in
    English. …I’m not against printing translations in a book. Jane is
    going to do some of her Ackhamatova’s in the book. We do look forward
    to seeing your book. And things are not going to be so horrendous, by
    the time you get back. Even before that. I think that things will simmer
    down in June and July.

    …I’m glad you are coming back at the end of August. I had feared
    you might take another year. Good for us all. Oh, I know we will all be
    busy, and we won’t see each other all that often – but a little will be
    better than none. We look forward to you and Diane.

    I do believe that the version of Stone Walls which I sent you is the
    last one… Until I do a Selected Poems or something anyway. My book will
    be out in August, in time for your return. I have already done galleys.
    They are going to print one of the old pictures of this house, on the dust
    jacket and the title page. I’m pleased. …I have been having some very
    good reviews, and letters, about Remembering Poets, which came out at the
    end of February. So far so good.

    About the Parra. I don’t like “The Beggar.” That is, I am talking
    about the English poem that I read. I am not talking about your translation


    as opposed to anybody else’s – because I haven’t read anybody else’s – nor
    am I talking about Parra, because I haven’t read it in Spanish, and couldn’t
    if I had the text available. I just don’t like the poem I read here. To
    me, there is nothing to it. I dislike that kind of rhythm, at the end –
    which I see in about two-thirds of poems I read by college freshman.
    The irony of the parenthesis seems flat. With the title, and the first two
    lines, I knew exactly what the end of the poem was going to be.

    And there is not a single word in it that sounds like translation-ese,
    or that sounds misplaced or wrong. I wish there were another way to say
    “spill their blood” but that is doubtless exactly what it is in translation

    from Spanish. And I cannot believe the fault is the translations. Yet,

    if you translated it, you must have found it beautiful in Spanish… So
    I don’t know what to say. I think it is predictable, uninteresting etc.
    I don’t like it.

    On the other hand, I like “A Man” at the other extreme. I like it
    very very much. It seems to me quite unpredictable. It seems absolutely
    cinematic in its effects. Is that true? Or, does it seem so to you?

    I don’t like “Stains on the Wall” very much, in either your version
    or William’s. Most of the time, I prefer your version to William’s, but
    on two occasions I sort of prefer his. I say “sort of” because I don’t like
    his first line – it is awkward, really awkward – but I dislike “the darkness
    descends” possibly even more. It seems pompous, latinate, overly alliterative,
    corny. Neither line seems to me to have any overtones of holocaust. “Falls
    completely” is a bit more violent than “descends.” “Darkness descends”
    simply seems like poesy. “Falls completely on us” seems amateurish.

    One place where I really think you are wrong is in using the word
    “horses.” I read your translation before I saw the Williams, and read
    your comments – and I was totally bewildered by “horses.” Because horses
    are not mythological animals. What is wrong with this series? Horses,
    dragons, salamanders. Well, what is wrong with the series is that two
    of the three are mythological animals and the third one is not. (There is
    a real salamander, I realize. But following mythological animals, this is
    the other kind.) So I think it ought to be some osrt [sic] of mythologized horse –
    hippogrif, unicorn, centaur…anything, providing it’s mythological – that
    is, if it going to go with a griffin and so on.

    I much prefer “mysterious” to “extraordinary” and I like “look like”
    better than “seemed to be.”

    The only other point where I wonder – because I definitely like men
    on their knees better than I like kneeling men, etc. – is “equestrian mon-
    uments” as opposed to “statues on horseback…”- where it seems to me that
    equestrian monuments is a bit literary, a bit pompous sounding.

    Does Parra’s Spanish have the rather terrifying pun on “coming”?
    It is pretty heavy, in the English.

    I like the “Memory of North Sutton.” What about dropping “the” in
    the last line? The rhythm seems a bit stronger to me. I like it!

    Best as ever, and hurry home, with love to Diane from Jane and me,


    Read Memory of North Sutton (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: April 11, 1978


    [Click image to view]

    11 April 1978

    Wes McNair
    5716 C.Colon
    Santiago 10

    Dear Wes,

    When I wrote you last, I forgot that Jane had, up stairs in her
    study, your last letter, with “Beggars.” I love it. So does Jane. Could
    I possibly have it for Harvard Magazine? Maybe you have already sent
    it out. Very nice poem.

    Yes, I miss some of those old images I cut out from Stone Walls.
    Maybe I will use them some place else sometime. It moved too slowly,
    and had too much repetition in it, or at least too much of the same
    sort of thing. Too much fact, too much detail. It may still have,
    for that matter. But I cannot worry at it right now.

    Jane’s book is being typeset now. And I had my page proofs
    not long ago. We are marching along in step.

    I’m delighted that you like the Frost chapter of Remembering Poets.
    I hope you like the whole thing, when you get a look at it. I think
    that the Ezra Pound part is the best, probably.

    Best as ever,



  • McNair to Hall: May 18, 1978


    [Click image to view]

    May 18, 1978

    Dear Don-

    It worked out the way you – and I – wanted it: Ohio Review rejected
    “Beggars”. Therefore, I am sending it to you for possible publication in
    Harvard Magazine.

    American Studies work is filling up my days – and my nights –
    as we near the end of our stay here. What with responsibilities as
    lecturer, designer of new A.S. courses & programs for other universities,
    A.S. conference planner and, last-but-not-least, teacher, I have
    lately had no time to breathe, to say nothing of writing. In fact “not
    to write” is so similar to “not to breathe” that I am quite down at
    the moment. Fortunately, I will be able to get back to 2 poems in progress
    that I have sorely missed this weekend.

    Hopefully, the Parra translation will resume next week – Maybe
    I’ll even get a chance to write you a letter for a change.

    For the meantime, Saludos to you & to Jane,


    A note from McNair about this letter: The two poems I refer to in this note are Hair on Television and The Bald Spot. The first draft of the former poem may be found in the letter I sent to Don on 9/19/1979. I completed The Bald Spot during my final days in Chile, showing it to Don on his return to New Hampshire.

    Read The Bald Spot (published version)

    See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts of “The Bald Spot.”


  • McNair to Hall: June 29, 1978


    [Click image to view]

    June 29, 1978

    Dear Don & Jane –

    As you have already discovered, the
    man on the front of the card is myself,
    mounted and dressed in C.U.C.
    academic regalia, accepting the
    “white horn” award for my lectures
    on sexuality in American culture.

    “But seriously, folks” – I am still
    working on the translation of N.
    Parra’s “Christo de Elqui” book
    Though I have begun to doubt the
    worth of the project. I have gone
    through it now almost 3 times,
    each trip w/ a different translator,
    and the thing just doesn’t seem that
    impressive. Since “anti-poetry” goes
    back at least as far as dada,
    the book cannot claim to be original,
    so it had better extend the
    “anti-poetic” mode in some interesting


    way. I’m not sure that it does this.

    Briefly speaking, Parra’s book – whose full
    title is Sermones Y Predicas del Christo
    de Elqui is a sort of found poem, which
    features the life/works of an actual evangelist
    of the late 1920’s in Chile. In fact, the
    man was pretty much crackers. Deriving
    many of his “Christo’s” Sermons (each
    of the book’s poems is a sermon or [preachment?])
    from the real man’s own words, Parra
    creates a speaker who sounds alternately
    like a prophet and a lunatic. Parra says
    about his Christo : “Sometimes I am his
    ventriloquist, sometimes he is my ventriloquist
    and sometimes we both talk together.” (We
    are left to question whether the ultimate
    ventriloquist in this arrangement is “God
    Himself”.) Seems interesting stuff, no
    cierto? – This in spite of echoes of Beckett,
    Ionesco, Duchamps, etc. If it worked, the poem
    might offer a rich parody of the Christ
    myth, engaging its readers in a critical
    evaluation of the meaning/relevance of Christianity.

    But at this point what one might say
    about the work is more interesting than the work –

    Back August 25, 1978. Look forward to
    seeing you both —



    A note from McNair about this letter: Eventually a chill set in between me and Nicanor Parra. After our first, enthusiastic, meeting, he began to distrust my method of translation, done with the help of native speakers, and I became less enamored of his poetry, as my comment about the Cristo de Elqui poem at the close of this letter implies.

  • Hall to McNair: July 10, 1978


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    10 July 1978

    Wes McNair
    5716 C. Colon
    Santiago 10

    Dear Wes, Dear Goucho [sic],

    Good to hear from you. The Parra book sounds almost
    untranslateable. In such a curious way, sfound poetry depends
    upon the true naïf, and I would imagine that translating it
    might always make it sound faux. Which is not to say that it
    is not worth struggling with – and that you might not even succeed.
    But it does sound hard!

    We were just to the wonderful conference of English and
    American poets at Stony Brook. Chile was very much a subject
    of poems: Adrian Mitchell, one of the English poets, had
    sheltered a Chilean refuge and her children for awhile, after
    she managed to get out, after her husband was tortured to death –
    famous guitar player and singer – by the Pinochet gang.

    We brought Geoffrey Hill back up here with us for a few
    days. Wonderful. I think that possibly he is the best person poet
    writing in the English language. Sometimes I think he is one
    of the best who ever wrote in it. He gave a wonderful reading
    last Friday night. I wasn’t too bad myself, Friday afternoon.
    I told Geoffrey after his reading that there was only one other
    poet on the two continents who could read as well as he. He
    did not hesitate for a moment, in identifying this poet.

    My book ought to arrive any day. [Written in margin: Just came!] Jane’s will be another
    month or so I suppose. We look forward to your return.


  • McNair to Hall: August 18, 1978


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    Aug 18, 1978

    Dear Don & Jane —

    Here in Iquique, on the way to
    Tacha, Peru, it’s hard for me to believe
    we will be in the U.S. a week from

    Needless to say, we look forward
    to seeing you. Until then, muchos


  • McNair to Hall: October 28, 1978


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    October 28, 1978

    Dear Don –

    I am sorry to have not written to you since my
    return – and that I’ve written so little to Jane. I have had
    a crushing work load during the past two months. I’m not
    out from under it yet.

    But I must tell you about your book. It is just
    wonderful! Diane bought me a copy at the Dartmouth bookstore
    last week. My particular favorites are “Kicking the Leaves”,
    “Flies”, “The Black-Faced Sheep”, “The Ox Cart Man”
    & “Names of Horses”. We have both read the book over
    and over, savoring it. It is an awfully good thing.

    We have also enjoyed Remembering Poets. The Raynos
    lent me their copy, and I read it straight through,
    stopping only once when Diane asked me to do some errands
    and began reading it herself. We were both sorry when
    we had no more book to read.

    My own book – the volume of poems – 1) almost ready.
    I figure I have only 2-3 poems left to do. I
    plan on a count of 24 or so. If you are still
    interested in seeing it, I’d like very much to show it
    to you sometime up ahead.

    In any case, would like to see you both sometime soon –
    when the “wild” schedule to which Jane refers quiets down.

    In the meantime, thanks for so much truly
    pleasurable reading.

    Wes (& Diane)

    A note from McNair about this letter: The Raynos, twin brothers and former high-school students of mine, introduced me to their neighbor, Don, knowing that I wrote poems and would appreciate the favor. To them I owe my correspondence and my relationship with Don, which have lasted until the present moment.

    Read Kicking the Leaves (published version)

    Read Flies (published version)

    Read The Black-Faced Sheep (published version)

    Read Ox Cart Man (published version)

    Read Names of Horses (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: November 1, 1978


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    1 November 1978

    Wes McNair
    No. Sutton
    New Hampshire

    Dear Wes,

    It seems so silly, to have you back here from Chile – and
    me looking forward to your return – and then not to call you up
    and drag you over here. It seems to me that this has happened
    before, in my life. I am working, approximately, from about 5:30
    AM to 10 PM. And I’m not going to tell you that I don’t enjoy it,
    because I do. But life is full. …And we do look forward to seeing
    you. We have several times hit on a date, between us, when we were
    going to ask you – but had to hold off, and then seen the time go.
    Probably it would have been difficult for you to come over, any
    one of these days, anyway. But we must give it a try.

    I’m delighted that you like the book. Wonderful. Remembering
    is coming out in paperback in January. Kicking the Leaves
    sold out its first printing, and has been reprinted. Things are
    going quite well.

    I do look forward to your volume of poems. I certainly do
    want to see it, and I hope I can be of some help.

    Best as ever,


  • McNair to Hall: December 29, 1978


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    December 29, 1978

    Dear Don,

    I have finally finished typing the “book-book,” as you
    once called it, and I am scared as hell. All the time I was typing
    it, I was convinced no one had written a book this good. Now, I am
    convinced it is no good at all.

    In my off-moments, I think that section 2’s “porno poems,”
    through which I recall the wildly male-chauvinist world of
    adolescence, are not the right thing. And then I begin to think
    that these and some of my other earlier poems are not tight enough
    in their form. It gets worse.

    Help! Please let me know what you think! Could it be that
    a miracle has occurred, and I am done?

    Yours in desperation,


    A note from McNair about this letter: The “porno poems” of paragraph, referred to elsewhere as “dirty poems,” are two off-color poems leftover from my chapbook, intended to reflect the hormonal explosion of teenhood. They weren’t very good, and as I created more poems for my full-length book, I finally dispensed with them.