What a year you have had

  • VII. “What a year you have had.” (1/2/1984 – 12/28/1984)

    What a year you have had,” Don writes in the final letter of this section looking back on 1984.

    Wesley McNair

    Wesley McNair on the road as a weekend teacher, c 1984.

    tietjens-prize

    Letter from Poetry about the Tietjens prize, November 1984.

    During this last year of our correspondence, there have been publications in The Atlantic, PoetryIronwood, and the Iowa Review. Poems have been requested for three anthologies. Moreover, the appearance of my new book has led to a request by an editor at Norton to see a second book; the offer of a visiting professorship at Dartmouth College in the fall; and Poetry‘s annual Eunice Tietjens Prize.

    The letters show how important Don has been to my success,sending my poems out in the person of Joey Amaryllis, and when my book comes out at last, advising me where to send review copies and prodding interviewers in New Hampshire. Our letters reveal, too, how important I have become to Don. In 1984 I send him more pages of criticism about his poems in progress than he sends me, adding to this, on August 24, advice against using Joey as a pen-name when submitting his recent formalist verse.

    In his final letter Don contrasts my good year with his and Jane’s “lousy” one. He is no doubt thinking in part of Jane’s continuing bouts of depression, which he remarks about more than once in this early correspondence. He seems to have forgotten the good news that he has just been inducted as Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, even though, in the moment of writing his letter, he is wearing the sweatshirt I sent to him commemorating the event.

    Hall5

    Donald Hall

    Jane1

    Jane Kenyon

     

    Anyway, there have been lousy moments in my year, too. My moonlighting during the spring and summer at area colleges has interfered with my writing. And though I do not speak of it in these letters, I, too, experience depression, even though it’s less serious than Jane’s; in fact, the very poem Don discusses in his final letter is based on my low mood. This dark poem, which describes a journey by car through a scary New England “town of no” full of menacing houses and buildings, results directly from my fall semester at Dartmouth College, where I’ve felt isolated, and rejected by my sources as a poet.

    But from one’s sense of imperfection comes the need to achieve perfection in art. So it is fitting that Don ends this selection of our correspondence by longing, despite life’s disappointments and distractions, to “look at a piece of paper again” — that is, to write poetry. Generous to a fault, he also reaches out to me, helping me once more to make the new poem as good as it can be.

    [This section has 84 letters]

  • McNair to Hall: January 2, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, January 2, 1983, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    January 2, 1983 (misdated: should be 1984)

    Dear Don,

    The letter to Robert Richman (such trouble he must
    have with that name!) is off, promising work
    soon from the redoubtable Mr. Amaryllis.

    How wonderful about Jane’s success with
    publication—and your own. What neighbors
    to live with! I am about to start my January
    writing—now with renewed vigor.

    I have gotten rid of 160 books—
    most of them sold. Am about to order more.
    I didn’t expect to have such luck. I should
    introduce a line of tomato relish.

    Have written all follow-up notes and letters
    to the U/Missouri Press for the wonderful trip
    Diane and I had—and of course I mentioned
    you as judge—this after your OK of the
    last letter. I do hope to be able to light
    just one firecracker for you—because of all
    yours for me, and because they would not do
    better in their search for a judge!

    Love,

    Wes

    PS. Forgot to mention: I did have a complimentary
    copy of The Faces sent to Robert Richman.
    For you and Joey to know.


    A note from McNair about this letter: Robert Richman is the editor of The New Criterion, who asked to see poems of mine at Don’s suggestion….In remarking about Jane’s and Don’s success with publication, I refer to their acceptances by magazine editors, mentioned in previous letters.

  • McNair to Hall: January 4, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, January 4, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    January 4, 1984
    Dear Don,

    I will now be small. I didn’t get an NEA this time,
    and I resent it.

    Most of my submitted poems were first in Poetry
    and The Atlantic. Some have been or will be in the
    84 and 85 issues of The Anthology of Magazine Verse
    Others may be in the upcoming Pushcart book. And there
    was work which won the “best poems” prize from Poetry.
    I will bet not many on the winning list
    had that sort of submission. I know
    from my own sense of the poems they are among the
    very best I’ve done–certainly miles beyond the
    submission that got me an NEA four years ago.

    Is the lesson that the poems you write are not as
    important as the luck of getting the right readers for them?
    I do think so.

    Oh, well. You can’t win them all and shouldn’t,
    as I do, expect to. I believe I have finally learned
    the truth of “Expect Nothing.”

    Now that I’ve vented spleen, I’m beginning
    to feel good about returning to the beautiful planet
    of the poem, free from the Great American Contests
    of this world.

    I love making poems!

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair: January 4, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, January 4, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    January 4, 1984

    The Atlantic Monthly

    AUTHOR’S AGREEMENT
    x Wesley McNair
    Dear Amaryllis Inc.,

    This letter describes our agreement concerning The Atlantic’s acceptance
    of your work entitled The Last Time Shorty Towers Fetched The Cows.
    (“the work”).

    1. First Publication Rights. We understand that this is an original
    work not previously published in the English language either in the United
    States or Canada and that you have full rights to offer us this contribution.
    You grant The Atlantic exclusive first publication rights in English in
    those countries. This includes the right to reproduce and distribute the
    work at any time as part of the issue or issues of The Atlantic magazine in
    which the work first appears. It also includes subsequent microfilm or
    microfiche sales.

    2. Copyright. Under United States copyright law, you own copyright
    in the work, subject to the rights you have granted to The Atlantic. The
    Atlantic will include a copyright notice in its name on the issue or issues
    of the magazine in which your work appears. However, if you, in addition,
    would like to establish a public record of the copyright claim in your
    name, you may file an application with the Copyright Office, Library of
    Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559.

    3. Reprints. The Atlantic will direct all requests for reprint
    rights to you or to any other person you may designate. Although you are
    not obligated to do so, The Atlantic would be grateful if the copyright
    notice included in any reprint of your article read “ © (year) (your name),
    as first published in The Atlantic.” If you or the person you designate
    cannot be located, The Atlantic will grant permission for a reasonable
    fee and will remit half the fee to you or the person you designate
    if subsequently located.

    4. Warranty. You warrant that publication of the work will not
    subject The Atlantic to liability for copyright infringement.

    Please sign this form in the space provided below and return the white
    copy in the enclosed self-addressed envelope to:

    Lawrence J. Murphy
    The Atlantic Monthly Company
    8 Arlington Street
    Boston, MA 02116
    so your payment of $100.00 for the article may be processed.

    Very truly yours,
    Wesley McNair
    Author (Amaryllis Inc.) Lawrence J. Murphy
    xxx-xx-xxxx Lawrence J. Murphy
    Social Security Number Vice-President and General Manager


    Editorial note about this poemAfter Peter Davison, poetry editor at The Atlantic Monthly, accepted “The Last Time Shorty Towers Fetched the Cows.” he suggested additional changes for the poem. The published version appears, together with an explaining letter, in the footnote for February 16, 1984.

  • Hall to McNair: January 5, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, January 5, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    5 Jan. 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    Yes, Robert Richman has a difficult name – and
    his colleague on the New Criterion is named Eichman.

    All three of us seem to be doing pretty well
    these days! Onward and upward with your January
    writing!

    Very good about getting rid of 160 books around
    here. Excellent.

    You understand: I might not want to be a judge,
    when I found out the amount of the work. But thank
    you ever so much for suggesting me. You do me a
    great favor just by being there, and writing what
    you write!

    Love to you,

    Don


     

  • Hall to McNair: January 13, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, January 13, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    13 January 1984

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH

    Dear Wes,

    You can see, the Atlantic is absolutely
    relentless! Paying you an enormous sum also!
    Amazing.

    They made out this form to be signed by
    Joseph Amaryllis – with his Social Security number!
    They are trapping me! I have Please typed your name in,
    and when you send it back to them, be sure to
    include a return address on the envelope for
    the note you send with it or whatever.

    Now off to The New Criterion!

    Love as ever,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: This note arrived with the January 4 acceptance from The Atlantic.

  • McNair to Hall: January 16, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, January 16, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    January 16, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Sometime when it’s convenient, would you please
    look the enclosed over?

    The interview with Begiebing (did I tell you?)
    has come and gone. The results should appear
    at the end of this month of the beginning of
    next. I await, cringing.

    He told me he has decided to open the thing
    with the story I told him about how I got
    acquainted with you, and how you got to
    know “my work.” There were many questions
    about that, I guess because of the Rayno
    article. I only wish I had thought to
    speak about Jane in connection with our
    first meeting. But I didn’t think, and
    probably that is only one of my oversights.
    So, as I say, I cringe.

    2/

    Got a rejection from U/Maryland today. I
    imagine everyone wanted to go there. Missouri
    and Denison also rejected me. Writing things
    like “Jack Cooch”, I am not entirely sure why
    I want to move. Mixed feelings!

    While I’m on the subject of rejection: sent
    to the Poetry Society of America an application
    for the Alice Fay diCastagnola award ($2,000
    for work-in progress). Given the line requirement,
    all I could send (with appropriate rationale)
    were two poems: “Mute” and “When Paul Flew Away.”
    Have also asked Missouri to enter my book in
    the Melville Cane and Great Lakes competition
    for a first book. I am not holding my breath.

    I appreciate your comment that I do
    you a favor by being here, and writing what
    I write. The favor you return, tenfold! Best
    to you, Jane and the writing both of you
    may be attempting!

    & love,
    Wes

    JACK COOCH

    Jack Cooch, superintendant
    of the town dump,
    has wrapped his house
    in plastic, a sure sign
    of winter. It sits

    by the ramp to 89
    like a great loaf
    of bread nobody wants.

    Outside on the porch
    a mound of seatlessness,
    drawerlessness, and other
    kinds of imperfection,
    picked with Jack’s own eye
    for the perfectly good.

    Some winter days
    driving toward Concord,
    you find him under that roof
    past saving, rummaging
    with a toothless
    surmise. Some nights

    you see him in a room
    beyond the blowing plastic
    of his windows, moving
    in the afterlife
    of discarded things.

    –Wesley McNair


    Editorial about this letter:  Begiebing is Robert Begiebing, a professor at New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University) who interviewed me at Don’s suggestion for The New Hampshire Times…. The Rayno article was written by Garry Rayno for The Argus Champion concerning my Devins Award…. The “rejections” of paragraph four are related to my job search.

     

     

  • Hall to McNair: January 18, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, January 18, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    18 January 1984

    Wesley McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I like the poem, though I don’t think it is one of the best. It
    is maybe a little obvious. I think that ‘a sure sign/ of winter” is
    super-obvious. Maybe people need it, who do not live around here… It
    is “a sure sign” which is a little commonplace maybe. If it were just
    “for” winter…but I wouldn’t know how to space it quite. I love the great
    loaf of bread. I don’t really understand the “mound of seatlessness,” al-
    though the “drawlessness” could be chests of drawers without the drawers
    in them. What am I missing with seatlessness? Then “other/ kinds of
    imperfection” seems sort of obvious again – I mean, stating the obvious…
    When I see “surmise” in a poem I think of Keats, but it wouldn’t seem to
    function as an allusion here. Then it ends nicely… And I am not against
    it in general. Just not as enthusiastic as I often am.

    I didn’t know that the Begiebing was happening already. I know what
    you mean about waiting and cringing. Ah, the bad portions of fame!

    I wonder if it might not be worth it to telephone him, about Jane,
    to see if he could add a sentence at the beginning – and that then he could
    phone it in…maybe about the first poem in Green House… I worry about
    her feelings. I would not tell her that I am writing you this! This sort
    of thing happens fairly often, and in accumulation I think she gets kind of
    hurt feelings. I do not blame you. Being interviewed, you always – one
    always – forgets things. And cringes.

    If you should go away, you may write more things like Jack Cooch,
    from a distance! I did not stop writing about New Hampshire, just because
    I was in Michigan.

    Good for trying all those Poetry Society of America things…and
    everything else.

    If nothing can be done about the Jane-presence, do not worry about it.
    But it might be worth a try…

    Best as ever,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: Green House is Jane Kenyon’s co-edited literary magazine.

  • McNair to Hall: January 21, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, January 21, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    January 21, 1984
    Dear Don,

    A junk man myself, I’ve put the Jack Cooch
    poem in a pile of others for later repair.

    Also, I’ve contacted Begiebing by letter (yesterday),
    since the article is not likely to be out til next month,
    and probably late next month. I know he will do his
    best with the change.

    The news on the Carbondale position is that it has
    not been funded. I may never hear from U/Denver
    and U/Washington, the remaining holdouts. But I have
    a feeling it’s time for a new campaign.

    In the meantime, writing continues, misfires,
    backfires and all!

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: In June of 1984 I returned to this poem and sent it to Don once more. His critique of that draft led to the poem’s completion. To read Don’s comments and see the published version, click here.


  • Hall to McNair: January 24, 1984

    Letter from The Atlantic to Hall, January 24, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    The Atlantic Monthly

    January 24, 1984

    Dear Mr. Amaryllis:

    Here is a check to your order – payment for Wesley McNair’s
    poem, and a proof for Mr. McNair to correct. It should be returned
    to me.

    Sincerely,
    Peter Davison
    Peter Davison
    Poetry Editor

    Joseph Amaryllis
    Amaryllis, Inc.
    Box 71
    Potter Place, NH 03265

    PHD/sm
    enclosure


     

  • McNair to Hall: February 16, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, February 16, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    February 16, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Just wanted to tell you I got a terrific call
    from Peter Davison, who asked if he could make
    a small change in the “Shorty Towers” poem
    (from the numeral “5” to the word “five”).
    After I said yes, he congratulated me for
    the Devins Award, and then said he understood why
    David Wagoner liked my poetry because he (Davison)
    thought it was wonderful—said that he’d decided
    to put this poem in the next issue, he liked it
    so much, and that I’d likely get a lot of good
    mail about it.

    I just couldn’t resist bragging about this—
    telling Diane wasn’t enough! By the way,
    when does that poem you unretired come out in
    the New Yorker? Any idea? I’d love to see it—
    or maybe a copy if you have one!

    Love to you & Jane,

    Wes


    Read The Last Time Shorty Towers Fetched the Cows (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: February 20, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, February 20, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    20 February 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Terrific about the call from Peter Davison. That
    is remarkable. Excellent.

    I won’t send you the New Yorker poem – I think
    you saw an earlier version of it long ago, about walking
    on the railroad tracks – but how about this one?

    Love to you,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: “This one” turned out to be “The Day I was Older,” together with three other poems in progress.

  • McNair to Hall: March 3, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, March 3, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    March 3, 1984

    Dear Don,

    It’s great to see some of your new poems, about which I
    now write my opinions, worthwhile or not.

    I think there are two poems in “The Day I was Older” (love
    that title) that are so good, they out to be taken out of the
    sequence to stand on their own. One is “The Pond”–a wonderful
    thing. The other is “The Day”–but not in the latest revision.
    The earlier poem, which I looked up in my file, is for me still
    stunning–breathtaking–and I think you ought to consider returning
    to it. I believe the earlier revision is one of the best poems you
    ever wrote. I like the other poems of the sequence–notably
    among them, “The Clock”–but I don’t think they have the power
    of the other two I’ve mentioned.

    “Six Naps in One Day” is a good sequence all the way
    through, I think, containing several arresting images which
    dissolve into more arresting images. I love that gibbon
    “in his gown of claws and hair”; the raccoons (which
    I recall from an earlier poem) with their stolen cargo; the
    skulls “as blue/as the bones, etc” (nice collision of dream–
    detail there at the end of that verse); and especially the
    baby, “Little Joe Jesus”! The only thing I’d change is
    in poem 4: the “library smelling/of Golden Bantam” does

    2/

    provide a transition of sorts from earlier poems, but does not seem
    right for the poem. And the phrasing feels mannered. But I like
    the whole of it a lot.

    And I like “New Animals”–the way “waking one morning”
    moves to “In my dream” and all that happens afterward,
    excepting the business about Jack, which for me intrudes upon
    the rest, reminding me too strongly that you are outside the
    dream commenting about it, when I want to be drawn into
    the “reality” of what happened. Perhaps the Jack part should
    go and the middle-to-end part could be compressed somewhat.
    I very much like the ending with the “sheep dog ostrich”
    and “aiee aiee”.

    I do not like “Acorns” so much. I think that’s because I
    can’t find the right link between the description of the climb,
    and the intricate description of the acorn. Also because I
    can’t find enough poetry in the description, it is so particular.
    I like the idea I sense of “writing acorns large” with
    the short lines that spell out each detail of acorns–
    but I don’t think what actually happens is complete yet.

    I don’t think “The Granite State” is ready yet, either.
    It is clear what you want the poem to do. But for me
    the poem strives to fulfill the thesis of the title, without

    3/

    fully becoming poetry. I can try to write more about this if
    you think doing so would be helpful. For now, I’ll leave
    it there.

    I save “Another Elegy”, the most interesting poem, til last.
    My delay in responding to you all this time results from
    reading and rereading this verse. First, I like the poem very
    much. I like it because it attempts so much in relation
    to Wright: in addition to his life and death; the lives
    of others in his generation (esp. you); of past
    poets; of the (generic) poet, burdened by vision and
    “ambition.” And I like it especially because of its many moving
    passages–some of the best, I think, you’ve written.

    These are the passages I mean: part 2, the part about
    sitting beside Wright at Mt. Sinai; part 4, from the beginning
    line to “Stripmines”–and those last two lines!; part 5,
    all; the last six lines of part 6; part 8, all; the
    resolution, so sweeping, in part 10. Not to say I don’t
    like other parts–but these are wonderful.

    And the poem is in all awfully good, intricate in its
    imagery and large in its scope; yet there are still a few parts
    I’m not sure of. These are the parts about you–with you

    4/

    in parentheses, questioning your own motives, wondering about
    the poem you are making as you are making it. I like
    the idea of this–of what such a thing might do in the poem–
    more than I like what’s been done somehow. I think the
    poem would be stronger without the parenthetical parts….

    Then I think there are certain passages that might
    be tightened. It seems to me that part 4 is loose–
    too close to prose–in the center. I find the same thing
    in 6, to the name “Thomas” (but then, that’s another
    section about you and Wright, which might be taken out?).
    For me, 7 needs tightening, too.

    But it’s a wonderful project–and wonderfully “ambitious.”
    I like it very, very much.

    As you’ve perhaps noticed, the NHTimes article has
    hit the stands. Although the paper’s photographer called
    to line up an appointment for photos, the Times ran
    the article without photos, I’m not sure why. And
    there was not one word about Jane, the one terrible
    omission for me. I can’t complain about my treatment
    in it, but I do wish I had remembered to say

    5/

    something in the first place, rather than writing to Begiebing
    and hoping for the inclusion after the article was done.
    I can’t believe he wouldn’t have tried to accommodate
    my request. I assume that anything more would have
    made the article too long.

    Anyhow, aside from the absense [sic] of Jane, I find
    little to “cringe” about in the piece. Of course I basked
    in it’s [sic] praise of my poems. (I hope some of
    the good words actually apply.) In some cases, I
    didn’t say exactly what Begiebing had me say (to
    save space, he occasionally pieced together quotations [that about “form”, for instance]
    from different parts of our conversation), but what he
    transcribed was almost always accurate, tics of speech
    and all.

    In spite of all, I was pleased. Please tell me what
    you think.

    Love,

    Wes


    Read the article in the New Hampshire Times: “Wesley McNair: Poet.

    Read The Day I Was Older (published version)

    Read Six Naps in One Day (published version)

    Read New Animals (published version)

    Read Acorns (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: March 6, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, March 6, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    March 6, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Will you please tell me when you
    have the time what you think of this?

    Thanks–

    Love,

    Wes

    THE SHOOTING

    There are no photographs
    of the two farmhands,
    each born on the other’s
    birthday, with the same face.

    There is no story
    of why whatever
    it was held them together,
    closer than brothers,

    broke on that day.
    Only the memory
    of him, the quiet one,
    whispering the words

    of the other
    before they were said.
    Only that after they
    found him, holding the face

    that looked like his,
    and called his name over
    and over, they never
    mistook which one he was.


     

  • McNair to Hall: March 12, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, March 12, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    March 12, 1984

    Dear Don,

    More about the call I made to Pralle: I gave him your
    phone number–and, in case I wasn’t clear in my
    conversation with you, he did agree he should call
    you soon. I hope that by the time you get this, he
    has called. What he meant by getting what he called
    a “precis” from you to show the governor, I couldn’t
    guess. I assume he meant “resume”, as if
    you needed to present anything of the kind!

    I am delighted about the Colby-Sawyer thing.
    I’m not on the honorary degrees committee, but
    I’ve been lobbying (for you) and passing information along
    to faculty members who are on the committee for
    the past couple of years anyway. It has bothered
    me that they’ve been so stuck on giving honorary
    degrees to women, they’ve failed to see how obvious
    you are as a choice. You’ve been on the list

    2/

    of possibilities for some time now, in fact; thus,
    I’ve felt that eventually you’d be chosen, and
    I was hoping for this year. I’m very glad
    it has finally happened.

    I do hope your time with your mother goes well.
    How lucky you are to be able to be with her
    for a couple of weeks! Needless to say, we will
    be thinking hopeful thoughts about all three
    of you for the next few days!

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: Pralle is the head of the New Hampshire Poetry society, also in charge of finding a state poet laureate to replace Richard Eberhart, now at the end of his term. Pralle left a message with Diane to return his call, and when I did, he asked for a “precis”–meaning resume–wondering why Don had waited this long to send one.

  • Hall to McNair: March 12, 1984

    Letter from Poetry magazine to Hall, March 12, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    12 March 1984

    Dear Mr. Amaryllis,

    Thanks very much for sending along the Wesley
    McNair poems. I’ve read the entire group with
    the greatest interest, and would like to keep

    Remembering Aprons
    The Faith Healer
    and The Portuguese Dictionary

    for POETRY.

    We will, of course, be sending proofs on the
    poems shortly before publication, but could
    you have the author fill out the enclosed form
    now, to update our files?

    We do appreciate your thoughtfulness in
    giving us a look at this good work, and we
    look forward to presenting W. McN. again in
    POETRY.

    Sincerely,
    Joseph Parisi
    Joseph Parisi
    Acting Editor

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


     

  • Hall to McNair: March 12, 1984

    Letter from Poetry magazine to Hall, March 12, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    12 March 1984

    NOTICE OF ACCEPTANCE

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

    REMEMBERING APRONS
    THE FAITH HEALER
    THE PORTUGUESE DICTIONARY

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

    A charge will be made for any revisions in text (including marks of punctuation). The cost of
    such revisions will be deducted from contributor’s payment.

    Payment is made on publication at the rate of 50¢ a line for verse, $10.00 a page for
    prose. ▪ We regret that we cannot answer inquires about date of publication. ▪ It is
    the rule of Poetry not to print anything that has been published or accepted for publication
    before, in the U.S. or abroad; the editors should be notified at once when published work
    has been inadvertently submitted and accepted.

    Poetry holds the copyright to all material it publishes; and when the occasion arises, e.g., for
    the reprinting of certain material in book form, and a formal request is made, Poetry will re-
    lease the copyright, without charge, in the author’s name. In any reprinting, the author and
    publisher must acknowledge the first publication of this material in Poetry and the original
    copyright (and year thereof) in the name of the Modern Poetry Association, setting out all
    poems, articles, and reviews by their individual titles. A general acknowledgement, without
    identification of individual titles, is not sufficient.


    Read Remembering Aprons (published version)

    Read The Faith Healer (published version)

    Read The Portuguese Dictionary (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: March 13, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, March 13, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    13 March 1984
    Wes McNair
    Sutton, NH 03260

    [Written in margin]: He called this
    afternoon + left a
    message on the
    tape.

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks so much for your help last Friday night. What a nit!
    What a bunch of nits… Really, the postponement is a great help
    to me – and so I should not be annoyed. I am annoyed, but that is
    partly my own compulsiveness, my own aggressive thoughtfulness, whereby,
    frequently, if I know it is going to take me a week before I can really
    answer a long letter, I will write somebody a postcard saying I won’t
    answer you for a week…and now these people! Ugh.

    I think your notion about Dick Eberhart, as a source of the
    money-terror, may well be accurate. He gets everything mixed up.
    It would not be any awful malice on his part… If he did it, I forgive
    him. In general, that business just amuses me anyway. The business
    about my outrageous fees.

    I like “The Shooting” very very much indeed. I would put a comma
    after “like his,” first line of last stanza…and I think you really
    need it. It is a very very good one. No problems. Would this be the
    first of a new bunch for Joey? Will there be more soon? Old Howard
    will go on his vacation before terribly long… Are there others that
    I am not thinking of? Things are a little rattly, up in the head, just
    now!

    And thank you for your long March 3rd letter about the poems.

    I guess I am going to go against your advice, with “The Day I was
    Older.” Did you go back and look at the old version of the day itself,
    or are you remembering it? If you looked at the old version, sometime
    when you have a moment xerox it for me and send it back to me.

    I do not reject your advice lightly. But you will find me probably
    not taking much, and there is a reason: these things have gone three or
    four hundred drafts, and in a way they are out of my hands. When your
    advice would coincide with the advice of one other person, or surely two
    other people, I would definitely follow it. Because I no longer can
    tell the difference. But (as with this poem) when it doesn’t, I am
    not able to think about it anymore. But I do thank you. And mind you,
    I keep remembering what you said, and in the future I may do something
    about it. Poems are never finished.

    I am working again on the last three lines of that poem. You do
    not mention those…but several people have. Some people love it, and
    others hate it. I had some very articulate notions about it from one
    person in particular, which has got me going back to it.

    I do indeed wonder with you about Jack and the Beanstalk in the
    New Animals. You are the first to mention it. But it was on my mind!
    It was an addition.

    2/

    Funny. Acorns appeal(ed) to everybody who first saw it – and now
    two or three people don’t like it so much. So it is now a question
    for me – do I leave it in the book or do I leave it out? I don’t know.

    I don’t really follow you about The Granite State. If you have
    time and the inclination, you could write me more about it.

    I’m terribly glad that you liked “Another Elegy.”

    That poem has is tremendously integrated. This is the kind of thing
    I can do by doing four hundred drafts… And only by doing that many –
    though I think it is probably a substitute for the inspirations of youth
    and the fires of same. But it might be better, even if it is a substitute.
    It is so damned integrated, that it is very hard for me to think of
    cutting out parts. The cross references get down to the level of prefixes.

    You tell me that you don’t like parts three and nine so much, the
    parenthetical parts, but you don’t really tell me why. More!

    I saw the New Hampshire Times article, and was very pleased to see
    it. Because I know such things can be upsetting, have more or less kept
    it away from Jane, and I don’t think she will probably ever see it. So
    we have solved that one. I think.

    Old Peter just took a poem of mine also, by the way, my Baseball
    Players, of which I guess I did not send you a recent version.

    Thanks so much for the help with the dumb old Poetry Society.

    Best as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter: Don means to say in his first paragraph that when Pralle of the Poetry Society requested a resume from him, he wrote to say he’d send one in a week, though his thoughtfulness in doing so was lost on them. Now the ceremony for a new poet laureate would have to be postponed. Complicating Don’s appointment as poet laureate was Richard Eberhart’s fear that Don would charge New Hampshire audiences too much money for his readings…. “Old Peter” in the next-to-last paragraph is Peter Davison of The Atlantic.

    Read The Baseball Players (published version)

  • McNair to Hall: March 18, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, March 18, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    March 18, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I will respond to your long letter shortly.
    In the meantime, could you please tell me why you think
    I should place a comma “after the his” in the last stanza
    of “The Shooting”. The reason for no comma is I don’t want
    ambiguity about who is calling “his name” (it’s not “they”
    doing the calling; it’s “the face”).

    Thanks–

    Love,

    Wes


     A note from McNair about this letter: Here begins my questioning of the single comma Don proposes for “The Shooting.” I ponder that comma off and on with him until my letter of May 6, when I at last see the logic of the change–also changing, in the end, the line break of the poem’s third to last line. To read the May 6 letter and the poem’s published version, click here.

  • McNair to Hall: March 23, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, March 23, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    March 23, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I write this from my bed, sick as a dog. I’ve been here almost
    a week with the flu. The worst part is, little writing is possible,
    even correspondence. Thus, your letter still waits for an answer. I’ll
    get to it, when I–if I–ever get up from my flat-out position.
    In the meantime, no poems besides the ones I’ve sent are available.
    I have lots of seed potatoes, but all need growing time. Can you send
    only one to Howard? Got a call from U/MO Press: they’ve sold 600+
    of my book, before the main advertising has started! And Mike Pride
    (editor of the Concord Monitor) has read my book, likes it, and wants to
    do an article on my (written by him)–interview me, attend my classes for a
    day, take photos. This apparently does not come from the NHTimes thing,
    which he has not seen, but only from his appreciation of the book. Or do I
    have you to thank? More later.

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: Howard is Howard Moss, poetry editor at The New Yorker.

  • McNair to Hall: April 2, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, April 2, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    April 2, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I am writing this letter on my way back from
    the AWP meeting, which I attended in order to
    hear poets talk about how to teach poetry
    writing (this, in preparation for possible
    interviews). The talk was uninformative.
    Perhaps sometime I could talk to you about
    approaches to writing classes (my own instruction
    in the area has been occasional only). I have a
    sense of what I might do, but no convictions
    derived from long-term, regular teaching. Next
    time we get together, I warn you, I may pursue
    this!

    However that may turn out, I do want to
    respond (finally) to your letter, and so I
    brought it on the plane with me. About “The Day”:
    I still wish you would think about printing
    in your book something closer to the earlier
    version you sent me. (I will not send this
    letter until I photocopy the earlier poem.) I
    have never seen a poem which contains what

    2/

    this poem contains. For me, it gives a perspective on
    life and death–father and son, too–that is
    entirely new. Am I wrong in surmising that you
    have come to believe the idea this poem expresses is
    inappropriate–that you shouldn’t be asking for
    your father’s forgiveness? If I am not wrong,
    I say (for whatever it may be worth) that the poem’s
    tone–genuine and convincing as it is–makes
    clear your need to ask that forgiveness–also,
    that the asking is what makes the poem so complicated,
    interesting and moving.

    I did certainly notice how “integrated” Another
    Elegy is. It’s wonderfully integrated. From the
    beginning, I’ve very much liked that integration.
    I think it contributes to a movement in the poem
    that is rich and profound. So much so that I’ve
    decided, after on-and-off readings since your
    last letter, that sections 3 and 9 really are
    OK, in spite of my earlier quibbling. I very
    much like the ideas those sections include: that
    you, the writer of the poem, have “ambitions”

    2/

    of your own, and doubts. Also, the sections sound
    like you–they convey that candor, that deep
    honesty, that I find characteristic of the real-
    life you.

    I hope to God these comments are helpful.

    One little piece of news: I got a letter
    from Kathleen Anderson, a senior editor at
    Norton. She has apparently read my book–
    wrote to congratulate me on the Devins Award,
    and to say she would like me to send her
    my next manuscript.

    I hope all is OK with your mother–
    and you–and Jane.

    Love,

    Wes


     Read The Day I Was Older (published version)

  • Hall to McNair: April 3, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, April 3, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    [Postmarked April 3, 1984]

    From the desk of –
    JOSEPH AMARYLLIS

    Tough!
    Joey


    A note from McNair about this letter: This brief missive from Joey was enclosed with the earlier acceptance slip from Poetry magazine. Don sent the acceptance late because he was away and his secretary was, too. (See his letter of April 10.)

  • McNair to Hall: April 4, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, April 4, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    April 4, 1984

    Don–

    What splendid news from Poetry!
    I’d become so worried about
    those three! Many thanks!

    I forgot the enclosed–

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: The enclosure was a draft of “The Shooting.”

  • Hall to McNair: April 10, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, April 10, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    10 April 1984

    Wes McNair
    Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I got back up here on March 31st, but Lois had to
    go away, and so my letters are delayed. In “The Shooting,”
    I did indeed think that “they” was subject of “called…”
    And it is still hard for me to take it the way you want
    it. Therefore my comma was incorrect – but I feel an
    ambiguity there. Has anybody else had this problem?

    However, I don’t mind sending one poem into old
    Howard.

    Very good about the sales of the book!

    Very good to hear about Mike Pride, who did the
    very good very long interview with me a year and a half
    ago… He loves poetry. He would not be doing this if
    he did not love your poetry. I did talk to him about you,
    and I think I sent him one of the copies that I bought…
    or did I get you to send him one?

    Time to mention Jane + Green House? X

    Don
    [Written in margin: X I don’t think
    Mike has any
    notion of how
    good she is]


    A note from McNair about this letter: Don urges me in his last paragraph to mention Jane’s early role in encouraging me as a poet when I am interviewed, in particular her publication of my poems in Green House.  

  • Hall to McNair: April 11, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, April 11, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    11 April 1984

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Got back from a Florida trip to find your two
    letters. This will be typed while I am down in Arkansas,
    then Pennsylvania on the way back. And I think that
    Jane will be up in New London Hospital in the meantime.
    [Written in margin: She spent a week there;
    home now and doing better].
    She has been having trouble with her medications,
    and with the complexities of getting the right dose
    of medications. It is kind of awful right now, and she
    feels rotten, and therefore I feel rotten… But I do
    really know that she will be all right. I would be
    delighted to talk with you about writing classes.
    For the most part, I taught elitist writing classes,
    with students like Jane Kenyon… But I did some other
    stuff too.

    I must live some more with this old version.
    I don’t think I really believe it! That you believe
    it so strongly is most moving to me…

    My notion is that when I said that I was asking
    for my father’s forgiveness, that it was sort of a
    misdirection, and rather a grand stand gesture.

    Thanks for the further words on Another Elegy.

    2/

    I know about Kathleen Anderson at Norton.
    She turned Jane down; but she took Ellen Voigt.
    I think she is excellent, though she can make a
    mistake from time to time. I think it would be
    wonderful to be published by Norton!

    Love as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall: April 16, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, April 16, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    April 16, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I’ve decided to go with the enclosed version.
    It’s the only solution, unless I change lots I
    don’t want to change–that approximate rhyming
    at the end, for instance. Besides, this version stresses
    what’s essential in the poem’s conclusion: the
    mystery of twins as it appears to “they.” If
    Joey thinks the poem might work at the New Yorker,
    he’s welcome!

    About the Concord Monitor interview (which takes
    place on Wednesday): It turns out that Mike Pride
    bought his copy of the book after seeing your recommendation
    in his own newspaper. He read it, liked it, and the rest
    is history! Thanks for putting the book in his view.

    I will try to do better this time by Jane!

    Oh– Since you always respond quickly to letters,
    I’m beginning to think my most recent somehow never
    got to you–a long-ish letter about your poems, among
    other things. I sent it back in March, I think,

    2/

    but maybe you do have it, come to think of it,
    in your recent backlog of mail. I certainly
    don’t want to push you to answer! (I don’t
    even remember much of what was in the letter–
    so wouldn’t know whether an answer is required.)
    Just want to make sure you got the letter!

    Love,

    Wes


    Editorial note about this letter: The poem referred to in the opening of the letter is “The Shooting.”

     

  • Hall to McNair: April 18, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, April 18, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    18 April 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I think you probably have had a letter in the meantime. It
    has been a difficult time. Monday Jane got out of the hospital, where
    she spent a whole week. She is doing better. Complications with various
    illnesses, getting adjusted to a new drug…but we are optimistic, and
    she is feeling better.

    The poem goes to old Howard today.

    Tell me how the Monitor interview went. I thought he was a good
    interviewer.

    It has been a difficult spring. Three weeks in Connecticut with
    my mother’s illness. I have been on the road a lot. I went off to
    Arkansas and Pennsylvania while Jane was in the hospital – and I did not
    want to go; but Jane clearly wanted me to go very much. I burned up the
    telephone wires, I’ll tell you. Sunday night I got back from Pennsylvania,
    and drove up and got her in the hospital, and found her better – as
    I had felt she was, talking with her over the phone.
    [Written in margin: Did you see her poem in the NYer?]

    I don’t even think of being a poet anymore! Possibly some day…
    (Actually I am discouraged. But Iam [sic] terribly frantic, life is
    very hectic, illnesses, being on the road…and trying to finish the
    new edition of Writing Well and A Writer’s Reader.) Come June, I suspect,
    things will be better.

    Love as ever,

    Don


     

  • Hall to McNair: April 30, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, April 30, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    30 April 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    Very good piece in the Monitor… Mike Pride is a
    good man. What a serious bit of writing, for a small-
    town daily newspaper… Amazing.

    Good for you, and you deserve it – and a whole lot
    more.

    Best as ever,

    Don


    Read the Mike Pride article on Wesley McNair: “Poems for the Back Pockets of America” (from the Concord Monitor, April 27, 1984.)

  • McNair to Hall: May 3, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, May 3, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    May 3, 1984

    Dear Don,

    It was a nice piece Mike Pride did–and he
    is a good man, who did a wonderfully invigorating
    interview.

    The Concord Monitor–New Hampshire, in fact–is
    lucky to have him!

    More later!

    Love,

    Wes


    Read the article: The Concord Monitor.

  • McNair to Hall: May 6, 1984

    Letter

    [Click image to view]

    May 6, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Thanks again for your note on the Monitor article. I
    like Mike Pride a lot, and I was glad for two reasons,
    therefore, that we got together for the interview. And I
    especially liked how he dealt with Emerson, using E. to
    resolve so much of what he had developed in the article. It
    was an amazingly serious piece for a small-town newspaper.

    I still think about the confusion with pronouns in
    The Shooting (my poem)–the words in that last stanza,
    “…called his name over/and over”, which might have
    referred, without your suggested comma, to the “face” which
    the quiet twin held. I have about decided that the current
    version, making they the ones who called, is so right for
    the poem, I may even have intended to make them call all
    along. Certainly the emphasis on “they” is the only right thing
    to end with, and I do like the strange use of “call”–the
    resonance the word gets in the new context, too. Were you
    ever protected from making a mistake in a poem by the patterns
    of syntax you yourself created?

    On to the main reason for writing this letter: news
    about jobs. It appears I have gotten a position for the fall
    term at Dartmouth, as acting head of the writing program. I’m
    sure your reference in my dossier helped a great deal in
    forming Cleopatra Mathis’ decision to put my name forth. She
    says the reference that helped most in convincing others was
    the one by James Cox. If I had know [sic] Cox had such influence,
    I would have asked him to recommend me three years ago, when
    I sent my dossier to Dartmouth (this time, I didn’t send it,
    but was recommended when Cleopatra called AWP). However the
    idea to hire me was hatched (I will bet you had more to do
    with it than I now know), I’m extremely glad it was. I would
    guess even a filling-in position at Dartmouth could be a
    stepping-stone for something later.

    As I mentioned, I would like to see you sometime soon
    about approaches to creative writing. I never get tired of
    asking for things, as you can see! I have taught creative
    writing before–fiction and poetry–but I want the teaching
    for the term to be something more than adequate.

    Oh, and there’s another job that has become available,

    2/

    through a sad event–the death of David Battenfeldt, who
    taught American literature for several years at my alma mater,
    Keene State. Before the Dartmouth possibility came up, I
    was in contact with Richard Cunningham, the acting dean of
    humanities there. I underscore “acting” because if he is
    not chosen to continue as dean, he, an Americanist, would
    take some of Battenfeldt’s assignment, with the possible
    result that there would be no new position.

    What seems likely to happen, though, is that KSC will
    advertise for a professor of American lit. next fall,
    referring to an opening in the 1985-86 academic year. I have
    already had Middlebury send my dossier to Cunningham, and
    have asked AWP to send letters by you and Cox. Of course,
    even if a job does become available at KSC, I may by then
    get lucky with some other position, in some other state. Yet
    I’d still like to stay in this area. And I love that part of
    New Hampshire.

    I am so tired of not being able to write! Knowing that
    my two extra courses would be coming to a head in April, I
    gave up all hope of writing in that month. I haven’t had to
    do that sort of thing for a long time. And of course even my
    periods of writing this year, with all the extra work, have
    been full of distraction! I look to the next weeks (after the
    finals at Colby are finished, in mid-May) as a time of the
    greatest luxury. I will be offering no more than two courses
    simultaneously during the summer–and there will be no more
    than two class meetings per week. Heaven! I can become a poet
    once again!

    Please pass the news about jobs on to Jane. I promised
    to get back to her about it, in a card I recently wrote to
    her. I do hope your recent period of mad activity is now
    over, and that you can become a poet once again too!

    Love to both of you,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair: May 9, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, May 9, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    9 May 1984

    Wesley McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Good to hear from you – and good news. Have you told Mike Pride
    how much you liked that piece? I suppose you told him first. I wrote
    him a note…

    I think I like “The Shooting” the way it is, however we explain it.
    Alas, the New Yorker turned it down. It is off elsewhere now.

    Tell me more about the Dartmouth job. It is just for one term?
    You will be taking leave from Colby-Sawyer, and only leave? When you
    say “head of the writing program,” you mean the creative writing, or the
    composition? Because you mention Cleopatra, you must be speaking of
    creative writing. Very good.

    [Text redacted] I have spoken of you to Cleopatra, and I do believe that I
    sent her a copy of your book. I know I did. Therefore maybe I was some
    help. I would like to think so, as ever!

    Speaking of which, tomorrow I go down to Washington, to address
    the National Council on the Arts about the necessity of literature, and
    even of the endowment’s support of literature…and you (probably unnamed)
    will be one of my best examples.

    It will be fun to talk with you about teaching creative writing.
    Glad as I am not to be teaching it, I like talking about teaching it.

    They will be able to demand a lot up there. I hate Dartmouth,
    as I suppose you do also, for perfectly good reasons – but the students
    who will take creative writing will by and large be very bright kids. And
    there will be a good number of women. And I think it will be a terrific
    job – and surely it will be a help for future jobs.

    I did not remember that you went to Keene State. I read my poems
    down there this spring, and had a good time talking with Bill Doreski,
    who teaches there. Do you know him? That would be good. Maybe you could
    live in your same house and just commute down there? (You can get a tape recorder,
    and like me dictate while driving!)

    I don’t want you to go away! And I do want you to be able to
    write…

    Me too. (Not that in general I can complain!) Right now I am revising
    Writing Well for the fifth edition, and working on the fourth edition of
    A Writer’s Reader, and it is driving me out of my tree. And I keep thinking:
    Oh, if only I could spend hours and hours and hours working on poems.
    Well, in a month or so I will be able to, and then I will decide that I
    am a terrible poet and get all depressed and everything. It is absolutely
    impossible to win!

    Good for you this summer.

    I have gotten back into that Day I was Older again, and the other
    one in Iowa about the Sister at the Pond, and have made major revisions
    in both poems. As usual. And in fact my revision of the Day I was Older,
    although it will not please you so much as the original poem, owes a
    great deal to you, and to the copy of the poem that you dug up for me.
    Thank you. I will show it to you when it gets less volatile.

    For that matter, the other day I revised “The Man in the Dead Machine.” I had
    read it aloud one thousand one hundred and forty-seven times, and that last time I saw
    something about it. What do you think?

    Love as ever,

    Don

    THE MAN IN THE DEAD MACHINE

    High on a slope in New Guinea
    the Grumman Hellcat
    lodges among bright vines
    as thick as arms. In nineteen-forty-three,
    the clenched hand of a pilot
    glided it here
    where no one has ever been.

    In the cockpit the helmeted
    skeleton sits
    upright, held
    by dry sinews at neck
    and shoulder, and by webbing
    that straps the pelvic cross
    to the cracked
    leather of the seat, and the breastbone
    to the canvas cover
    of the parachute.

    Or say that the shrapnel
    missed me, I flew
    back to the carrier, and every morning
    take the train, my pale
    hands on a black case, and sit
    upright, held
    by the firm webbing.


    Read The Day I Was Older (published version)

     

  • McNair to Hall: May 13, 1984 [misdated 1983]

    Letter from McNair to Hall, May 13, 1983, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    May 13, 1983 [misdated 1983]
    Dear Don,

    Thanks for your letter. I did write to Mike Pride, the day
    after his article came out. In fact, I will soon write to him
    again, since the article will be published in The Valley News
    on Monday, the day before you receive this, probably. There
    will be even more photography, even. I’m sure Mike had
    something to do with this.

    I guess I did a lousy job describing the Dartmouth
    position. I will be there for the fall term (Sept. 23-Dec. 1),
    filling in for Cleopatra, who directs all activities connected
    with creative writing and teaches in that area. As “Visiting
    Associate Professor,” I will teach a class in introductory
    creative writing (12 students or fewer), a class in fiction
    (4-5 students) and 3 poetry tutorials. It’s a 9-hour
    schedule. I will also be in charge of readings, though
    much of the fall program has been established. The pay I’m
    to get for this will be high enough that I will not have
    to do any extra teaching. If I am lucky with my NEA
    application, and with another, higher-paying job afterward
    (Keene?), I may never have to do extra teaching after
    this summer! (……Expect nothing! “–Donald Hall).

    I like very much what your poem, in its revision,
    says about 20th-century man, machine and state. And
    I like how active the title has become. Also, I find

    2/

    the switch to “I” in stanza 3 strange and arresting.
    There are a couple of worries I have about the poem–
    small worries. In stanza 3 there is, I think, an
    awkward distance between “train” and its verb “sit.”
    Also, I wonder about that “webbing” in the stanza–
    Do commuter trains have seat-belts? (I haven’t
    been on a train with a seat-belt.) If you aren’t
    speaking about a seatbelt, I don’t know what
    “webbing” refers to – literally, at least. I think the
    charged conclusion is quite interesting, overall!

    Miscellaneous: Do I know Bill Doreski? I’ve
    heard of him–that he is there at Keene State,
    that is….I understand he teaches creative writing
    and is a poet. I worry a little, to tell the truth,
    that my being a poet might hurt my chances
    of being hired at Keene, since he or others
    might feel another poet ought not to be hired.
    The Keene position is in American literature, and I
    have done lots of things in that area. I only hope
    the lit. background will carry me along. More: Thanks
    for thinking of me as one of your “best examples”
    for your presentation before the NEA people!

    Will contact you later about the instruction of
    of [sic] creative writing! In the meantime, love to you both,

    Wes


     

  • McNair to Hall, May 15, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, May 15, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    May 15, 1984

    Dear Don,

    My mother-in-law cut this
    out & I send it in case you
    never saw it–

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: Enclosed was an article about a visit Don made to a public school as state poet laureate.

  • Hall to McNair, May 17, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, May 17, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    [Written in top margin:] Thanks for the Union clip! I had not seen it. A
    nice piece!

    17 May 1984

    Wesley McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I did talk about you down in Washington, used you as my example.
    It was by and large a boring* ceremonial occasion, and I think I did what
    I was supposed to do. [Written in margin:] *Not your part!

    Good to hear about The Valley News reprinting the article. That
    is a first cousin to the Concord Monitor, or sibling or something. Mike
    went up there and worked as managing editor for a while.

    Thank you for the clarity of your description of the Dartmouth job.
    Excellent. Maybe I can give you some hints about that introductory creative
    writing course. Not so sure I can help without the class in fiction.
    Wonderful. It sounds like fun. Of course, expect nothing… “And
    Mithradeates, he died old.”

    Now I am a little confused about you and this poem. I send a xerox
    along, in case you don’t have a copy of The Alligator Bride (and if you
    don’t, I can repair that omission, the next time we see each other.) You
    say you like how active the title has become, and the title is the same.
    But maybe you just mean that the change in the last stanza has activated
    the title. There are little changes in the other stanzas too.

    But it is the switch to “I” is what excited me.

    And now let me tell you a funny story. When I first published that
    poem in the New Yorker, maybe in 1966, the two lines in the third stanza
    were “and every/ morning takes the train, his pale/ hands on his black
    case, and sits/…” etc.

    Well, I have been telling a story for years and years now, at poetry
    readings, when I have usually read it the revised way, as it is printed in
    Alligator Bride, and I talked to them about revisions and such. I tell them about
    how I first wrote it with the train, and then the first person I showed
    it to, who was Louis Simpson, got all dazed-looking, and said, “But they
    don’t have seat-belts, on trains…”

    Everybody laughs! And then I say: “But nobody since has ever made
    that mistake.” Well, now I cannot say this anymore! Of course it is not
    “making this mistake,” it is a kind of literalness that I would expect poets
    to do more than anybody else. Because poets are the most literal-minded
    people in the world, which is what makes metaphor work. But if it didn’t
    confuse the old New Yorker, how could it confuse you and Louis?

    No, they don’t have seatbelts on trains, and the point is that this
    guy, though he is an active sort alive at the present time, is really also,
    at the same time, the skeleton crashed in New Guinea back in 1943…

    2/

    The reason I took the train out, all those years ago, was that I
    feared it looked like social commentary – the poets running down the commuters
    again. And really, I had no such thing in mind: this is how I felt, how
    alas everybody feels, from time to time. So I wanted to generalize it,
    so that it could be anybody, and not just a businessman carrying an attache
    case… So I changed it to “takes his chair, etc.” But I lost that assonance.
    Having those four dipthongs on a train/ pale/ takes/ case… That just kills me.
    That to me makes the high point of the poem! For years and years, I have
    been looking for a way to get that assonance back in.

    A few years ago, at a reading, somebody took me to task for not
    printing it the original train/assonance way, and so I have mostly been
    reading it aloud in the old way. But worried about the social implications.
    Then I thought that changing it to “I” would help get rid of the social
    associations, although that is irrational enough. But I think maybe it does.
    And I get my assonance back!

    However, I am stuck maybe with the smartest people I know thinking
    that I think that there are seatbelts on trains…

    Love to you,

    Don


    Read The Man in the Dead Machine (published version)

  • McNair to Hall, May 21, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, May 21, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    May 21, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Well I, too, am excited by the switch to “I”
    in that poem–anyone would be. And I like
    (to be clear this time) how the change in stanza
    three has activated the title, offering new meanings
    for machine, death and life. I guess I remain
    literal-minded about metaphor, so that I expect
    that every metaphor have a clear literal meaning,
    as well as a figurative one. Why The New Yorker
    published the earlier version of the poem in spite
    of
    my expectation is a mystery. I should perhaps
    find here a clue to my own bum luck in trying to
    publishing there! Anyway, I like the poem–though
    I still do stumble on its last line!

    Misc: Thanks for using me as your example!
    As I think I told you, I am currently an
    applicant for another NEA grant, which would,
    if it came through, give me more time to
    write. I expect nothing (mostly). I would
    very much like a copy of The Alligator Bride.

    2/

    I had one, lent it, and never got it back–
    since the lendee is now in Alaska, I may
    never see it again, and I miss it!

    What would a good time to come and
    discuss teaching creative writing? Some
    afternoon at the end of this week, maybe?

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, May 25, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, May 25, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    25 May 1984
    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    Good to hear. Good to have the clarification.
    When we get together, remind me to give you another
    copy of Alligator. That won’t be the end of this week…
    how about next week? We will be gone Wednesday through
    Friday, and I won’t mail this until Saturday…at which
    time I may be seeing you anyway.

    I hope you have another NEA. However, the numbers
    are up – and as number increases, the Lottery Effect in-
    creases. It becomes more a matter of luck. Less insult-
    ing to be refused…but more frustrating all around. But
    good luck in any case.

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, May 28, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, May 28, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    May 28, 1984

    Dear Don,

    What a pleasure to see you get that new square
    for your honorary quilt!–even though I was sorry
    you had to earn it by suffering through that Solemn
    Tribute to your literary contribution.

    And I wanted to say, too, how much I liked
    the “Sister by the Pond” poem I finally got the chance
    to pore over (in The Iowa Review). I love that part 6!

    –Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: I refer in my first paragraph to Don’s receiving an honorary degree at the May Colby-Sawyer Commencement…. The definitive version of “Sister by the Pond” is somewhat different from the one I read in The Iowa Review. Don has already revised the poem when he receives this note. Nonetheless, the final published version, below, is close to the one I saw.

    Read A Sister by the Pond (published version)

  • Hall to McNair, May 31, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, May 31, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    31 May 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    Thanks for the card. It was good to see you two –
    though we didn’t do much more than see you. Nick was so
    proud of that piece. I enjoyed his erudition, anyway.

    Well, naturally, I have thoroughly rewritten A Sister
    by the Pond…so you will have a chance to bring me back to
    reality. I will send you the rewritten Day I Was Older and
    Sister probably in a week or two. Every part of every poem
    is altered I think. Some of them just a tiny bit. Well, I
    think that maybe the first section of the Day I was Older is
    not changed at all. The changes are all minor and crucial. EX-
    cept with the last two parts of the Day I Was Older.

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, June 1, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, June 1, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    June 1, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Thanks for the call. Wednesday is fine!

    I learned today I got the first Honorable Mention
    in poetry from the Great Lakes Colleges Association New
    Writers Contest (for a first book). Somebody from the
    Association says that’s the second place award of
    the contest. Anthony Petrosky, I believe the Walt
    Whitman Award winner for 1983, also got an
    Honorable Mention. Since the first place prize was
    won by a book which had not already gotten
    an award (US, published by the Cleveland
    State University Press), I am wondering if they
    prefer to give this prize to an awardless book–?
    –A way of consoling myself for not being first.
    I want it all!

    No letter has come about all this yet
    (the announcement is sent to the nominating
    publisher first). I was told by Joseph Parisi,
    the new editor of Poetry, who was kind enough to
    send me a note of congratulations, having
    received a news release. More of this

    2/

    world-stopping news on Wednesday!

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: Don has invited me by phone for a Wednesday visit at his farmhouse.

  • Hall to McNair, June 5, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, June 5, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    5 June 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    Well, honorable mention is better than no mention at
    all. I don’t think you ought to come second to anybody!

    Parisi really goes for you!

    Best as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, June 8, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, June 8, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    June 8, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I enclose When Paul Flew Away and
    The Fat Enter Heaven. If Joey
    thinks its OK, I’d like to have
    these sent to Robert Wallace, for
    his annual anthology, Light Year.
    The anthology accepts poems that have
    been accepted or printed elsewhere–
    The address is:

    ROBERT WALLACE
    BITS PRESS
    DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
    CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY
    CLEVELAND, OH 44106

    Many thanks!

    Wes

    P.S. I don’t mean to burden Joey,
    only to avoid confusion . If you
    want me to send the poems, I’d
    be glad to!

    THE FAT ENTER HEAVEN

    It is understood, with the clarity possible only in heaven,
    that none have loved food better than these.
    Angels gather to admire their small mouths and their arms
    rouns 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 weight, the ridicule
    fade and disappear. They come to the table
    arrayed with perfect food, shedding their belts and girdles
    for the last time. Here, where fat itself is heavenly,
    they fill their plates and float upon the sky.

    –Wesley McNair

    (printed in Poetry)

    WHEN PAUL FLEW AWAY

    It was the same as always,
    Paul opening the big, black lung
    of it with that worried look
    while the cats watched
    from under the stove,
    but when he closed
    his eyes and begun to sink
    down between the straps
    of his bib overalls,
    it was like he died. Except
    the accordion was still breathing
    a waltz between his hands,
    except he called back
    to us every so often
    from wherever he was, Shit.
    Which meant everything
    he had ever known
    in his life up to that
    moment, but this song.
    Not some sock-drawer
    music of getting a tune out
    and then rummaging
    for the chord to match,
    but together, exactly like
    he was breathing the thing
    himself. No stomping
    either, Just Paul twisting
    like he was after some deep
    itch, only right then
    he was starting to lift
    out of his chair. Slowly
    at first, like flypaper
    in a small breeze, then
    the whole enormous weight
    of him hanging over the sink. God,
    he was happy, and I
    and the kids was laughing
    and happy, when all
    at once it come to me,

    2—WHEN PAUL FLEW AWAY

    this is it. Paul is leaving
    the old Barcolounger
    stuck in second
    position, and the TV on top
    of the TV, that don’t
    work, and all my hand-paintings
    of strawberries as if he never
    said this would be Strawberry Farm.
    Hey! I said out in the yard
    because he was already going
    right over the roof
    of that goat-shed, pumping
    that song. What about you
    and me? And Paul
    just got farther and smaller
    until he looked like a kid
    unfolding paper dolls over
    and over, or like
    he was clapping slowly
    at himself, and then
    like he was opening up the wings
    of some wild, black bird
    he had made friends with
    just before he disappeared
    into the sky above the clouds
    over all of Wisconsin.

    –Wesley McNair

    (accepted by Ironwood)

    [Text on back of envelope]

    Thanks for that news about Tilton School!
    I look forward to whatever additional
    discoveries you may have!


    A note from McNair about this letter: My envelope note refers to Don’s mention by phone that he’s learned of a McNair who was once on the faculty of the Tilton School, in New Hampshire, and a Communist, like my father. He elucidates in his next letter.

  • Hall to McNair, June 11, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, June 11, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    11 June 1984

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Good to talk with you. And I like “Seeing Cooch.” I have a
    couple of questions, about possible ambiguities. He will be out on
    his porch, “lifting/ a tire or something/ without a door.” It seems
    to say that he would be “lifting something without a door.” What, which
    lacks a door, would he be lifting? If I sound dumb, it is genuine. I
    think of “something without a door” as if it were a car rotting in the
    front yard, a doorless car – but then he wouldn’t be lifting that. And
    I don’t know what sort of object, lacking a door, that he would be lifting…
    But I don’t really understand what it is that he is doing. Then the next
    “sentence” isn’t a sentence. And it seems to me not exactly connected.
    Or it seems to me that the things beginning “ or some night/ in a room/
    beyond his/…”; that it depends on “you see” many many lines earlier.
    How does “or” follow “without a door”?

    Other little things. First I had trouble connecting “it,” and then
    I decided that it was probably my fault. Then I wondered if you really
    needed “nobody/ wants.” What sort of thing is a loaf of bread that nobody
    wants? I love it described as a great loaf of bread…but when you say that
    this is that kind of loaf of bread (the kind we all know) that nobody wants…
    maybe you complicate it a little more than you need to? It remains visual,
    if it is wrapped like a big loaf of bread…but if it is wrapped like a
    big loaf of bread…the kind that nobody wants…it goes beyond the visual
    to something else that may confuse the visual.

    I love almost everything that is here – I guess except “without a door”…
    and I love the end of it. But maybe it is too elliptical right now?

    Another question. If you find it finished now, or if it is finished
    in the next draft, do you want it to go out this summer? Or do you want
    to wait to try The New Yorker in the fall? Poetry is shut down all summer
    also. At least it usually is, and I believe that it will be now also.

    Also, could you send me another copy of The Shooting? It is in
    the house some place, but I cannot find it. It came back from The New Yorker.

    P.S. The McNair who taught at Tilton School was called Luther, as I
    understand. So I guess it is another one – but that is quite a coincidence,
    another Communist.

    Joey would be happy to send these two poems to Robert Wallace – though
    Joey himself doesn’t really think that they are light. But that is not up to
    Joey, but to Robert Wallace. However, are you assured that “When Paul Flew
    Away” will come out in Ironwood before the new Light Year will be
    published? Ironwood would not be amused, to have publication anticipated
    by the anthology. Probably you have ascertained this – but reassure me,
    please.

    Love as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter: After Don’s critique of “Seeing Cooch,” responding to a draft that no longer exists, I revised my poem for the last time. The poem’s final version, below, bears hints of Don’s earlier suggestions.

    Read Seeing Cooch (published version)

     

  • McNair to Hall, June 14, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, June 14, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    Sorry for the scribbling!

    June 14, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Enclosed, a revision of the last poem I sent.
    Please let me know if you doubt anything.
    Otherwise, it’s Joey’s. Thanks very much for
    all your help, as usual. As usual, you were right!

    I’ve also enclosed a copy of “The Shooting.”
    I’d like you to send both to The Atlantic
    now, forgetting The New Yorker, if that seems OK.
    Only, though, if “Seeing Cooch” seems OK.
    How odd to think it two unrelated Communist
    McNairs in this area at roughly the same
    time! Thank you for the sleuthing!

    Love,

    Wes

    P.S. Went to lunch with Mike Pride yesterday-
    I paid in his honor. He sure is excited about that
    Nieman! And I am excited for him. One of the great
    benefits of that interview was I got to know him!


     

  • Hall to McNair, June 14, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, June 14, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    14 June 1984

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH

    Dear Wes,

    I thought you might have missed this review in the
    Harvard Advocate. This undergraduate misses your music,
    cannot hear it…but on the whole it is not a bad review,
    as reviews go, and I thought you might enjoy it.

    Best as ever,

    Don


    Read the review in the Harvard Advocate here.

  • Hall to McNair, June 19, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, June 19, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    19 June 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    I love Cooch now. First-rate. OK, they both go to
    The Atlantic. If this one should come back from the
    Atlantic, maybe then I will save it for the New Yorker.

    I’m not sure that Peter wants to see poems when the
    poems have not yet come out…but we will find out.

    Maybe there was a special cell of people named McNair.

    Love as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, June 21, 1984 (1)

    Letter from McNair to Hall, June 21, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    [Postmarked June 21, 1984]

    Dear Don,

    Will you please write and
    tell me whether your
    “investment” as NH Poet
    Laureate is on for this
    month – and if so, when?

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • McNair to Hall, June 21, 1984 (2)

    Letter from McNair to Hall, June 21, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    June 21, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I am very glad you like the present
    version of “Seeing Cooch.” The Atlantic
    has published “Shorty Towers,” the only poem
    I know of that was pending (April issue).
    Does he have others?

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, June 23, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, June 23, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    [Postmarked June 23, 1984]

    The coronation will
    be 20 October.

    The Gov. swore me
    in on Friday.
    Call me Larry.

    Love,
    Don

    What about Ironwood
    & Light Year?


     

  • McNair to Hall, June 26, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, June 26, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    June 26, 1984Dear Don,

    It was good of you to send that review in the
    Harvard Advocate. I did see it before because one of
    Sean’s friends who attends Harvard brought it over (the
    review, not Harvard).

    And thanks for reminding me about the Ironwood/Light
    Year conflict. Since I don’t know when Light Year goes to
    press, maybe all I can do is hope for a publication soon
    in Ironwood and forget sending to Wallace for now – unless
    you can think of another way-?

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, June 27, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, June 27, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    27 June 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    I think it is probably better to wait for Ironwood…
    and Light Year tends to be an annual publication, so
    probably there would be a chance for Light Year 86. (And
    I don’t think they are light anyway, as I mentioned before.)
    I don’t think it is worth it, to risk putting people off.

    When it comes out in Ironwood, do remind me please.

    Love as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, June 29, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, June 29, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    June 29, 1984
    Dear Don,

    I will wait until the Ironwood publication of these
    poems before submitting to Wallace. You are right
    that the poems are not light, though I thought they
    might work under the category of “funny” (another
    adjective Wallace uses in his ad). True, they’re
    not exactly “funny”, either, since the humor is
    complicated. Thanks for telling me about the date of
    the NH Poet Laureate ritual. Spent the afternoon fitting
    the book-to-be together (there are still a few poems to go)
    and I’m newly excited about the total design of the thing –

    Love,

    Wes


  • Hall to McNair, July 4, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, July 4, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    4 July 1984

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH

    Dear Wes,

    Joey thinks that he has failed, so far, to place
    Thruway, The Before People, My Brother Inside…,
    The Minister’s Death; as well as Killing the Animals,
    The Shooting, and Seeing Cooch…

    Is Joey right?

    Very good to see that big bunch in Poetry!

    Love as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, July 5, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, July 5, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    July 5, 1984

    Dear Don,

    An update on publications // These have been placed
    in Three Rivers Poetry Journal: The Before People,
    My Brother Inside, The Ministers Death. Thruway
    I’m holding onto as inferior, so please don’t send
    that one around any more. Killing the Animals,
    The Shooting, Seeing Cooch – all are still available-
    if Peter Durkin hasn’t taken the latter two-
    Did he already see and reject them?

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, July 9, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, July 9, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    Wes McNair

    9 July 1984

    Dear Wes,

    Sorry about my stupidity. Of course I remember. I
    knew I was forgetting something. What I was really for-
    getting was to put it down at the time! Davison sent back
    the latter two. I will see what I can do. That is, my
    friend JA will…

    Best as ever,

    Don


  • McNair to Hall, July 23, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, July 23, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    July 23, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I await your judgment of the enclosed.

    In the meantime, I trust Joey will find a
    way to spend the money you’ve found in here
    (re: Poetry sale) – not quite enough for medication,
    but more than sufficient for a bean and cole –
    slaw dinner in Blackwater Bills’, which is bound
    to make medication unnecessary anyway.

    I regret I somehow did not receive my July
    Atlantic (got June late, and then August), since
    somebody told me awhile back you have a poem in it.
    If it’s handy for you to send a photocopy,
    I’d love to see the poem…if not, I’ll see
    it when (if) the subscription people respond
    to my complaint.

    At Kathleen Anderson’s [–NORTON] request, sent what I now
    have at the manuscript-to-be. Am trying
    to EXPECT NOTHING!

    Love,

    Wes


    Editorial note about this letter: The poem enclosed with this letter is “The Name.” This is the poem as McNair sent it, deciding to keep it this way despite the concerns Hall voices in the following letter:

    Read The Name (published version from The Town of No)

    A note from McNair about this letter:  In my dual reprint, The Town of No & My Brother Running, I changed the poem to the version below, which deletes line 10 (“including his”). I made the change because I found that this line, with which I meant to refer to the woman’s husband, confused readers. Besides, I wanted to emphasize the poem’s main drama, between the woman and her daughter:

    Read The Name (published version from The Town of No & My Brother Running)

  • Hall to McNair, July 25, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, July 25, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    25 July 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I handed Joey the cheque, and he immediately telephoned People Express…
    He says he will be back in September…

    And in fact, I propose saving the good new poem until Howard Moss
    is back. I know it has been useless to try him so far…but he will
    come around eventually! Summer is actually a very difficult time to
    place things. Most every place closes down, and when you send out poems,
    they come back with a slip saying that nobody is reading them until October.
    Not all places but most.

    “The Name” is very nice. I have mild skepticism about “searched,”
    as a commonplace, mildly-speaking a dead metaphor. Then I have no others…
    I like it a lot.

    Here’s the Atlantic poem.

    Good luck with Norton. Like all other editors in New York, she
    tends to take eight or nine months to get around to replying. How can
    they do this! Jane is floating around, at two publishers right now –
    then we’ll clear the decks for Alice Quinn at Knopf – who averages eight
    or nine months.

    Love as ever,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: For more background on the genesis of “The Name,” click here…. The Atlantic poem Hall refers to is “The Baseball Players,” which he published in the magazine.

  • McNair to Hall, August 3, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, August 3, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire width=

    [Click image to view]

    August 3, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I like the content of your poem, The Baseball Players,
    very much, and I especially like the form – the way lines
    are broken, and (especially) the verbs you’ve chosen.
    The poem, through these verbs, is active, yet arrests,
    as you intend it to. How few poets today know the potential
    of verbs!

    Incidentally, my favorite verb in the poem is “established.”
    Thanks for sending the photocopy. As it happens, I received
    my July issue a couple of days before your letter arrived.

    I enclose a poem which I hope you’ll like. Fine
    to wait on the other poems. I will send you a retyped
    batch, perhaps including this one, and some others, in
    mid-September.

    Best to you, Joey, Walter Blake Adams, et.al.,

    Wes

    P.S. Glad to have your positive response to The Name.

    P.P.S. Got a call the other day from the Walt Whitman
    Poetry Center, asking for a reading in November. The man
    said he’d been “following my work,” and especially liked
    the poems in the June Poetry.


    Read The Baseball Players (published version)

    A note from McNair about this letter: I enclosed a new poem titled “What It Is,” available in the footnote of the next letter.

  • Hall to McNair, August 8, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, August 8, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    8 August 1984

    Wesley McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I love this new poem. When I first looked at
    it, I was bothered by what/that…right on top of each
    other. And of course there is the rhyme on “not” a
    little later… I think in the long run I like it much
    better than I don’t like it. I like the whole poem.
    You are terrific.

    I know that a version of the new book is at Norton.
    I had a letter from Fran McCullough the other day, at
    Dial, saying that she wanted to start a new poetry series,
    and would I help her. I said yes. I told her that you
    might have a book. Nothing to do about it right now.

    Here is some more stuff to look at. What do you
    think?

    Good for your Whitman reading in November. There
    will be more!

    Love to you,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: Hall responds here to McNair’s poem “What It Is,” sent on August 3, and published in the same version he comments on in this letter–though McNair has one last question about the poem. To find this question and a text of the poem, see the next letter, which also contains McNair’s responses to the “more stuff” Hall sends him.

     

  • McNair to Hall, August 14, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, August 14, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    August 14, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I’m glad you like my poem. And I’m happy to say
    I like the poems you sent, too. I’d have responded
    earlier about them, but house guests have recently
    prevented writing of any kind. More:

    I like the language of “Sums.” The odd spellings
    and usages of the poem create a mysterious barrier,
    which are undoes as if entering a time capsule.
    The language is strange and delicious.

    “The Ragpicker’s Horse” is charming and funny,
    with its bits of pictures. There’s a wonderful
    naïveté in it.

    “A Walk in the West Country” is also a good new
    poem, singing its way to a conclusion that “encloses”
    like the fence. I like the repetition of “stone” in the
    poem, and especially the image of the man as a leaf.

    2/

    The “mutter” of the sheep is wonderful, esp. in the way it
    mocks the utterance of the poem itself. I do wonder about
    the word “hurl” in line 2 – it seems too active
    or violent for what sheep do when they eat grass.
    Do I miss some allusion in the hurling of Roman
    herds?…

    “Waking the Next Morning” is fine, too. I do like
    the odd perspective on an event. I’m not sure I
    like the title, is all. Maybe “The Word,” as “The
    Repeated Word,” would be better?

    I suggest a few small changes in “Phototropism.”
    It seems to me “long and pale,” five lines from the
    bottom, pushes the erotic analogy too far
    (toward a cartoon) and ought to be dropped.

    Maybe that section of the poem could go like this:

    just so, in August,
    wrapped. tight
    daylily buds tip
    forward….

    (like the way
    this word word links
    the to sections
    together, echoing “below”)

    3/

    I think the next-to-last line of the poem is confusing
    without a comma between “rises” and “opens.” And
    I think you ought to consider, at least, whether the
    jade plant clutters the poem somewhat, interfering
    with the human-to-plant analogy the poem
    centers on. One more possible thing to consider is
    whether the daylilies should have a location in the
    poem. The phrase “east-by-south” halfway suggests
    a location, after all, and there is a strong sense
    of location in the opening lines. I’m not sure
    such considerations should lead to changes, but
    maybe so.

    I guess I don’t like “Felix” as a whole,
    though it contains an extraordinary image, the
    most striking are in this entire batch, for me:
    “his skin wrinkled and puffed/ from thirty years
    of soaking in his watery chair.” WOW! I think
    the image collides with “twenty-five-years-old
    forever,” though. And it seems to me the speaker

    4/

    is more articulate than he ought to be. I think you
    ought to try and make him communicate roughly
    the same thing in a different, more trucker-like,
    language.

    About “Richard.” I love the idea of the poem,
    and I think that idea would be better in execution
    if the language were altered somewhat. I think
    the poem’s language should somehow get closer
    to the perception of the boy who actually experiences
    the disparity between the people acting as if the
    world all made sense, and the nonsensical world
    itself. I do think you need to retain the voice
    of an amused, older person in the poem, but I
    feel that the voice you have becomes too knowing in
    the lines between the two colons (only there),
    taking the poem too far away from the boy’s
    consciousness. With a few changes, this will be
    a wonderful poem!

    5/

    All other comments will have to wait until next
    letter, as I’ve got to run to get this letter into
    the mail and get to my teaching at Merrimack
    Valley College (my last night there). I hope
    this is helpful – and I’m sorry for the delay.

    Love,

    Wes

    PS – Note, with poem, enclosed!

    WHAT IT IS

    It is not what,
    carrying that
    afterthought of legs,
    he runs to, and not
    what his interrogative, foldy
    face detects
    on the floor, because
    it is always changing, always
    turning out to be
    some other bug
    or bush his nose wanted,
    leaving his tail
    smoldering
    behind, and
    it is never
    after all that scratching
    and lifting of leg,
    enough: not even
    after he joins
    the dinner party, smiling
    upside-down
    and rolling
    his testicles, not even
    in his whimpering sleep,
    dreaming in the tips
    of his paws
    that he is chasing
    it, that very thing
    which, scratching,
    he can’t quite
    reach, nor sniffing find,
    because in the perfect
    brainlessness of dog,
    he will never know
    what it is.

    D- Is the second “after” (in “after he joins”) OK, or does it
    repeat, awkwardly – Should I use “when” instead?
    W


    Read What It Is (published version)

    Read Sums (published version)

    Read My Friend Felix (published version)

    Read Visiting Richard (published version)

     

  • Hall to McNair, August 16, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, August 16, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    16 August 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I like the second after. It is a music for me. Stet!

    I’m really pleased that you like the poems I sent. I have all
    sorts of questions of course. Isn’t “Sums” a weird one? I cannot read
    it aloud!

    Now about “The Ragpicker’s Horse.” You find it “charming and funny.”
    Two other people to whom I sent it have hated it, I think because it was
    charming and funny. Their notion – which I understand – is that this is
    a poem about horror, about destitution…in which the children are first
    of all mourning a horse, and then howling in terror because they hear their
    parents howling, and their parents are howling about rickets and starvation.
    So what the hell am I doing being charming and funny about it? Do you have
    an answer? Why is it funny? I mean the last line mournful and horrible…
    but can I do that when I rhyme “tsoris” with “horse is”? My fear is that I
    allowed the decorativeness of the rhyming to carry the poem away with it,
    and that in the process I became a heartleass beast.

    I love it that you talk about three poems here, written in rhyme and
    meter, without ever mentioning that they are in rhyme and meter. That is
    the way I want it to be also. There are so many friends of mine who will
    believe that I have turned from Communist to White Russian…the politics,
    totally mistaken I do believe, of formal poetry!

    Maybe you are right about “hurl,” but it seems to me that I remember
    sheep standing quite still, staring around, and then throwing their heads
    with great impetuosity down into the grass again. Does this ring any bells?
    Didn’t you You didn’t miss no an allusion. Of course from “hurl” I took up an r with
    Roman, and h with “heads.”

    I felt that “Waking the Next Morning” – the title itself – was
    necessary for the plot of the poem. Is it clear without it?
    [Written in margin]: Why’s it wrong? Not that I’m wedded to it.

    You are extremely helpful with Phototropism. You did not notice
    that it is written in syllabics – and I don’t blame you. I never thought
    of the jade plant cluttering the poem – and it is going out! Well, the
    only thing I think about it – thinking further – is that it links the
    woman to the gardening business. Maybe it doesn’t go. But I had not even
    considered the idea that it cluttered it with an extra plant. I must
    think more about that. I also think that the daylilies might have a location.
    All sorts of good help here.

    I have a lot of questions about your reading of “Felix.” You say
    that the image which you love – me too! – “collides” with “twenty-five

    2/

    years old forever…” Why? I don’t know why. This morning I was looking
    at it and I noticed that there is all sorts of figures and numbers in it,
    and the word “years,” would not be the problem? I seemed to need to say
    that he is still the same age he was when he drowned. But I could have
    that, without the numbers of twenty-five years old forever, by saying
    “forever still out of flight training school, or recently graduated from
    Yale…” as it were.

    You think that the speaker is more articulate than he out to be.
    But then you say he ought to be more “trucker-like,” and he is nobody’s
    trucker. At the very beginning he has that image about the ruler’s line,
    which is supposed to make it possible for him to “talk poetry” again at the
    end. And he is a Yale graduate, fifty-five years old, who is driving through
    Texas for some unnamed purpose – doubtless to meet a client, who is a rich
    oilman, about buying Manhattan.

    I think I make him middleclass. They are driving from New Haven
    to San Diego because they were back there for their third reunion at Yale.
    (I do realize I didn’t tell you this!) But here is a man who has been divorced
    a couple of times, who has been in a detox center, and who wishes to think of
    himself as being mild, speaking reasonably…as he revises his old arguments,
    in his driver’s daydream. What more do I need, or where have I given you
    misleading information?

    Troubles with “Richard,” also. I suppose that this is a poem more or
    less “about” childhood schizophrenia. But it is not early childhood.
    I think that I will change “school” to “high school,” or something like
    that. Because Richard, who is having this fantasy, is probably fourteen
    or fifteen years old anyway. Then I think of putting It in quotation marks
    again – my sign that I am using “I” as a persona, or some persona other
    than the usual persona that might call itself “Donald Hall,”… (Forgive
    me the word “persona”; it is an MFA word and when I hear it I reach for my
    gun.) That is to say, I would put it in quotation marks and use the word
    “I” instead of using the word “he”.

    You want the poet’s language to be closer to the perception of the
    boy who actually experiences the disparity… Well, that is what I want too.
    There is no amused adult in the poem. What makes it sound amused? I find
    it grim. These are the fantasies of the adolescent himself. Maybe I will
    repair it simply by the minor changes I mention. Would you look at the poem
    with these in mind? See what else I need to do. I need all the help I can
    get! You give me a lot of help here – most especially with Phototropism.

    Love as ever,

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: Unfortunately, the drafts that Don sent of his poems at this point in their formation do not exist; one or two were later abandoned. Yet there are signs that through McNair’s previous letter, and his letter following this one, he had influence on Hall’s work–especially “My Friend Felix,” which Hall sent for additional help during 1985.

  • McNair to Hall, August 18, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, August 18, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    August 18, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I see from your letter I was not clear in my response
    to three of your poems. I will try to be clearer.

    I still think “The Rag Picker’s Horse” is a good poem,
    because of the tension between what is “charming and
    funny” and what is serious. I don’t think the humor
    takes places at the expense of the poem’s serious
    content. I think the humor intensifies the seriousness,
    and vice-versa. This approach must be OK,
    because Frost approved it: “If it is with outer
    seriousness, it must be with inner humor.
    It is with outer humor, it must be with
    inner seriousness.”

    For me, the poem exploits the language and
    tone of the nursery rhyme. Nursery rhymes
    have the simple phrasings, the naive pictures –
    and sometimes the half-rhyme, comic rhyme
    and extra metrical syllables – of this poem.
    All of these devices give to the childhood
    rhymes their enchantment and their
    humor. Yet the content of nursery rhymes

    2/

    is often unpleasant and unsettling. There’s the woman
    who lived in a shoe and “Had so many children, /
    She didn’t know what to do.” What she finally did
    do, you’ll remember, was (after feeding them a
    very limited supper) to “whip them all soundly /
    And put them to bed.” Certainly there’s futility and
    despair in that poem, however comic it may be on
    its surface. Or recall the poem Wally Tripp includes
    in his illustrated book of Mother Goose:

    Granfa’ Grigg had a pig
    In a field of clover,
    Piggy died, Granfa’ cried,
    And all the fun was over.

    What sort of “beast” would tell the story this way?
    Yet we could argue that an inner seriousness lies
    behind the outer humor here, too.

    When I first read “Richard,” it seemed to me
    you were writing about a young, imaginative
    child who was so in tune with the variousness
    of the world, he could not see how adults,

    3/

    or other creatures of habit, could behave as if the
    unique things he knew were parts of an
    unsurprising and unpredictable reality. The
    “amused adult” was the narrator who, in
    furnishing some words Richard doesn’t have to
    explain his thought, was sympathetic. And while
    he is also aware of the realities that had
    already begun to threaten his imaginative view
    of the world, I thought you wanted him to be
    on Richard’s side in the struggle. Again, I am
    speaking here of the poem I thought you wanted
    to write – the poem that seemed as yet incomplete.

    Obviously, your saying that Richard is not a
    young child changes the poem for me. To make
    him older, I do think you need to change
    “school” to “high school.” Maybe that would
    be enough, though I’m not sure about the
    words “children” and “babysitter” (kids in
    their mid-teens don’t usually have babysitters,

    4/

    so far as I know). Aside from the revisions regarding
    age, maybe you should consider other changes:
    Aren’t “crowds / seated in rows at the movie” (line 5)
    “spectators” in the first place? I know you make these
    crowds special spectators, but you do so after the
    comma which follows “spectators.” And besides, movie
    crowds ^already are in a way “rehearsed to behave as crowds
    behave.” More: Should “subject” in line 6 be
    changed to “object”? I seem to think so, given
    the infinitive that follows the colon. Yet changing
    to “object” would make what’s around the word
    awkward – as if the spectators see something they
    can’t yet see…..Incidentally, I still think this
    is potentially a good poem!

    How I got the idea your speaker in “Felix” was
    a trucker, I do not know – except that the idea
    had to have come from negligent reading. Yet
    maybe a little part came from something else: my
    feeling that you ought to give some identity to
    the speaker beyond the identity provided in the
    poem. I’d still like a hint about why he’s

    5/

    driving west this time (I like the continuous direction
    of west in the poem, and the continuous failures resulting
    from westward journeys). And I’d like, still, a language
    that is less, well, literary. I fully accept the speaker’s
    metaphoric leaps (the “watery chair” sort of thing).
    People do make leaps like these in spirited talk – and
    capitalizing on that fact is all the better for poetry. What
    I object to is this sort of thing: “The voice of my mind /
    turned mild and persuasive.” I’d prefer a speaking voice
    closer to what someone might actually say – a voice
    with more emotional tone, showing how this guy feels
    about what he’s going through, so I can sense him
    more strongly as a character. I’d especially like a
    more feeling recollection, and daydream, of Felix, the
    emotional center of a poem, and of the life. I
    find the emotional neutrality of the language odd.
    I know you could say that the man is frozen
    emotionally, the outcome of his past experience and
    current despair. And you might be right in saying so.
    But I don’t think you would be.

    About “Waking the Next Morning,” you are right:
    you do need the title to explain the circumstance of

    6/

    poem. I made the suggestion of “The Word” or
    “The Repeated Word” because “Waking the Next
    Morning” seems to tell too much, referring to what
    happens in the morning, and implying also what
    happened the night before. But I can see no other
    title at this point that would work.

    Incidentally, I agree that the essential thing is
    not whether a poem has rhyme and meter, but
    whether it is a poem. And besides, I have always
    put rhyme – or related sounds – in poems, even when
    I never thought about such things. Even now I
    am surprised at how often images and lines come
    complete with appropriate sounds – before I work
    on them. And when I don’t like an image or line,
    I often discover I don’t like it because its sound
    isn’t right – the sound within, as at the end of,
    the line. And of course rhythm is extremely important,
    too, though rhythm-as-meter still feels
    uncomfortable to me now. (I like too much the
    excitement of arguing with the space to the right

    7/

    of the poem as I write it.) But who knows? Maybe
    someday I will turn Communist with you –
    and join the other New Hampshire McNairs! I do
    think that you achieve something in a poem like
    “A Walk in the West Country” that free verse
    could never quite get. A fine sense of order
    that makes the disorder of which the poem speaks the
    more overwhelming.

    Anyway, I do like all of the poems in this batch,
    some of them as is, others in their potential.
    I only hope this attempt to help with them
    is less confusing than my last attempt!

    Love – and courage

    Wes

    PS. Thanks for the affirmation of the second “after.”
    P.P.S. Forgot to mention that “watery chair” image works
    in its context. I’m sorry I sent you scrambling for nothing.
    You should have no worries there. The mistake is mine.


     

  • Hall to McNair, August 21, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, August 21, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    21 August 1984

    Wes McNair
    Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Many thanks for the good letter – and the good last one. You
    were not unclear. One is thick about understanding the objections to
    one’s poem! Well, this one is, anyway. And then maybe I have a defense
    of a poem which might be like yours, but I cannot be sure it will be like
    yours, unless you make it – as with the Ragpicker. You know, I was just
    reading those lines of Frost’s last night, before I got your poem this
    morning. I’m really glad you like that poem. There may be only two of
    us! Well, I think Jane makes three of us.

    I had not been thinking about nursery rhyme. It makes me like the
    poem better, to think of it as you think of it. Thank you!

    Have you shown that poem to anybody? I have a half-idea of selling
    the metrical poems as Joey’s. What do you think of that notion? I mean
    to say, eventually I could print them as my own – if I was ready at that
    time to blow Joey’s cover. Or for that matter I could claim that I had
    given them to Joey to print as his own…

    I was in Richard, not you. I felt him as high school age,
    and without noticing it I made him younger – especially with the word
    “babysitter.” Everything rides on the words chosen at the end and the
    sequence of them. You have helped me a great deal. It is possible I
    might coinclude a tentative, interim version with this letter – I will
    see what it looks like when it comes back from Lois! More likely I
    will show you another version of this and of others in a later letter.
    [Written in margin]: nope

    It is possible that I cannot write the poem I attempted to write
    there – and I may then try to write the poem that you were thinking I
    was trying to write. Or that I partly slipped into. But as of now,
    with your help, I am working on what I thought I was doing in the first
    place.

    It has been subject and object and then it has been subject again…
    changing every day.

    The one question I don’t think you exactly answered in this letter,
    is why “twenty-five years old forever” detracts from “the wrinkled and
    puffed skin in the watery chair.” After you wrote that, I have noticed
    that the “twenty-five years” is almost repeated a couple of lines later
    with “thirty years” – and I decided that maybe there were too many years
    around. What do you think? Or do you now think that “twenty-five years
    old forever” is right and necessary? At the moment, I seem to miss it a
    bit, when I cut it out… just fiddling with things in there.

    I love the sounds you make. I pay some conscious attention to making
    sounds – but the best sounds I make are unconscious, and they always turn

    2/

    out to be the high points of the poem – but I think that I get into
    high sounds (for me, especially repeated dipthongs) because of the
    excitement of the poem; and not the other way around. I think of the
    in and out, the up and down of excited sounds in something like
    Names of Horses. Quite unconscious.

    But in the long process of working on a poem, I will occasionally
    get conscious – I will see that there are three of a dipthong…I will
    look around and see if I can add a fourth.

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, August 24, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, August 24, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    August 24, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Before I lose them, I want to get to your questions.

    First, the one about “Felix.” I was troubled by the
    “twenty–five-years-old forever” because I expected
    the narrator to recall Felix as a young man before
    the accident. I expected that Felix because I was
    stuck in the earlier sentence which seemed to set
    up the recollection: “thirty years passed and I was
    a young man driving / … with Felix.”

    True, you go on in the passage afterward to
    speak about what happened after the driving,
    but that whole passage is predicated by the
    subjunctive “would.” So when you go to the
    next sentence, “For a moment Felix sits beside me
    again,” I think of driving again, and the
    pre-accident Felix.

    Now that I reread these parts, I go back
    to being troubled by “twenty-five-years-old
    forever.” Am I worried by the repetition of “Thirty
    years”? What bothered me about the phrase is
    that I half want Felix to be a different Felix –
    not the undead one, but the living one.

    2/

    The other question was about printing the
    metrical poems under Joey’s name. I’m
    not sure why you should be reluctant to
    sell the poems as Donald Hall, since I’ve
    begun to see a fair amount of formal verse
    around, particularly in Poetry. Your misgivings
    may stem from being seen as a literary conservative
    a long time ago- – and so now will be thought of
    as a poet who has all along wished free verse
    would go away. My own sense is that you’ve
    written some exceptional free verse, and that
    by now you should be able to write any damn
    thing you please. Who knows but that printing
    these poems under you own name, you’d
    become known as the pioneer of the new poetry?
    Why give such distinction to Joey?

    Good luck with the revision – and the selling.

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, August 27, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, August 27, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    27 Aug. 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    I am sure you realize this, but: you are eligible
    to enter the NEA again this year. Do you have the applica-
    tion form and so forth? Do it! I don’t think you need any
    urging.

    Best as ever,

    Don


     

  • Hall to McNair, August 28, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, August 28, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    28 August 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    From what you say about Felix, I think it is still unclear.
    This is the plot. In 1984 a man of fifty-five or so is daydreaming
    while driving in his car alone all day. Of course he daydreams about
    unpleasant things in the recent past… Then there suddenly a mnemonic…
    he sees a sign that makes him remember driving all day with his dear
    friend, same age, thirty years ago, just before the friend was killed
    in the Navy. That is, he and his friend were driving to catch the
    carrier where the guy flew an airplane, and shortly thereafter the friend
    went off the edge of the carrier and drowned. That is the only accident.
    Because he remembers his old friend, he suddenly has a vision of him
    beside him sitting there. Naturally enough, he does not see his friend
    at fifty-five, but at twenty-five… However, the morbid imagination
    pictures him as rather waterlogged, you might say! In the moment of his
    vision (not an hallucination, just say a quick flash) he remembers some-
    thing that happened on this trip, connected with the sign for the Bar.
    Then he remembers that story, just as it happened thirty years ago.
    He remembers drinking pitchers, coming out, having a near-accident,
    and what Felix said. That is all.

    So there was only one accident, and it was the fatal accident on
    the aircraft carrier. There is only one Felix, but he remembers another (?)
    Felix
    , and it is as if the old Felix is restored to the carseat beside
    him for a second. When you copied out one line you made a mistake in it,
    and it is interesting because I have changed the word. You write “thirty
    years passed and I was a young man driving/…” It should have been “thirty
    years perished.” I am trying out “drowned” instead of perished.

    I have got rid of twenty-five-years-old forever. I think.

    You are probably right about my reluctance. I am afraid to be
    known as the Vicar of Bray. Some people seem troubled by the great
    variety within my work, even within the same book, often. I think that
    a lot of “voice” is faked continuity. But. Anyway, doubtless I will
    publish the metrical things under my own name. When I get around to them.
    Wendell Berry hates the Ragpicker with a fierce passion. I hope that
    you are the right one!

    Best as ever,

    Don


    Read My Friend Felix (published version)

  • McNair to Hall, August 29, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, August 29, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    August 29, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I wrote you earlier that I have applied
    for an NEA – that is, I sent before
    the deadline, last March. Do you mean
    there is a new and up-coming deadline?

    If it means money for time off, I
    am shameless! Let me know if there’s something
    I haven’t thought of!

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, August 30, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, August 30, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    30 August 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    The new NEA guidebook just came. So I was thinking
    of next year. And if you don’t get it this year, you
    must try then…but you know about all that!

    Love as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, August 30, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, August 30, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    August 30, 1984

    Dear Don,

    How sloppy of me to write “passed” instead of “perished” in the
    line I quoted from “Felix”!

    Anyway – to set your mind at rest – I do not find “Felix” in any
    way confusing except maybe for that section where he is recalled as
    “water logged,” for the reasons I said that section might be confusing.
    Perhaps I am at fault and not you. However that may be, the plot
    is clear to me, and was before your explanation.

    I still would like a different presentation of the narrator in
    the poem, as I mentioned in the letter before last. Nonetheless, I
    think the material you are working with there is rich – enough so
    that I wouldn’t mind working on it myself!

    Love, Wes

    P.S. The Ragpicker is a good poem, Wendell Berry be damned!


     

  • McNair to Hall, September 16, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, September 16, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    September 16, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I am now trying to get together a batch
    of poems for Joey. Will you let me know
    whether you think this one is ready for
    the batch?

    The past 2-3 weeks have been taken over
    by course preparation for Dartmouth (I
    start Monday). I’m hoping that by
    spending so much time before the term starts,
    I’ll be able to create room for writing.
    I know I’ll have more time this term
    than I would normally have at CSC.
    Will soon know how much more!

    Love,

    Wes

    PERLEY HUNT WALKING

    Perley Hunt is off
    balance. Each day

    the part of him
    that is no longer

    afraid to fall, and the part
    of him that is,

    argue all the way
    to the mail.

    People who come out
    of the postoffice see

    him walking,
    by almost falling down

    on one side
    and on the alternate

    other, holding aloft
    the bony wing

    of his cane,
    and in this moment

    not one thinks
    of his bad luck

    or of the lucky life
    he might have had.

    None thinks of any life
    beyond these hands

    slowly passing a cane
    back and forth,

    this miracle of walking
    on the undulant earth.


     

  • Hall to McNair, September 20, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, September 20, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    20 September 1984

    Wesley McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    Joey just made a submission to the New Yorker.

    We don’t like Perley Hunt quite so much as other recent things,
    but will be happy to send it out. It seems thin for its length, to take
    kind of a long way to say things…wonder about “alternate/other” as
    redundancy… I wonder if I might like it better if it were speeded up
    simply by being printed as one stanza. It seems a little slow to me.
    Then the last two lines…I guess I really doubt them. The positive
    side of “miracle” seems a little strained, maybe, and maybe as if you
    were trying to drag a lyrical or glorified ending out of your hat…and
    really if there were not so much space, and therefore delay, one might
    come on the last couplet more as a combination of surprise and as of
    matter of fact…a funny combination but I think it might be better.
    If there were any other way to trim it down a bit, make it move more
    quickly, maybe I would like it better. But I don’t dislike it a whole
    lot either. I like the old fellow, and think he is well observed.

    Good luck with Dartmouth. I hope you can continue to write and
    use your time…and at the same time I hope you like it, and I hope they
    like you – and that it may lead to some better form of employment in the
    future.

    Best as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, September 24, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, September 24, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    September 24, 1984
    Dear Don,

    Thanks for your letter. I’m glad you made
    a submission to the New Yorker. I was about to send
    copies of Seeing Cooch, What It Is, The Name, and
    The Shooting. Should I now assume you have copies
    of all? I do like your pattern of sending to the
    New Yorker, then to The Atlantic, then to Poetry –
    at least I think that’s the pattern – isn’t it? And
    it’s so nice not to have to worry about rejections,
    since I never see them!

    As for the poem about Perley Hunt, I’ve wanted
    almost from the beginning to make a prose poem
    out of it – and this is what you’ve given me
    the courage finally to do. I do like the rough,
    unpolished language in it, the way it becomes
    slack and suddenly taut. Maybe the prose
    poem offered all along the only way to convey
    this feeling. I hope so. Please let me know
    what you think!

    In the meantime, I thank you for

    2/

    the kind hopes you’ve expressed about teaching
    at Dartmouth and writing time in between.
    I will keep you posted about both as soon as
    my schedule jells – and of course I’ll let
    you know about job prospects.

    Love,

    Wes


    Editorial note about this letter: Here is the revision of “Perley Hunt Walking” McNair enclosed:

    PERLEY HUNT WALKING

    Perley Hunt is off balance. Each day the part of him
    that is no longer afraid to fall and the part of him that
    is argue all the way to the mail. People who come out
    of the post office see him walking, by almost falling
    down on one side and on the other, holding aloft the
    bony wing of his cane, and in this moment not one
    thinks of his bad luck, or of the lucky life he might
    have had. None thinks of any life beyond these hands
    slowly passing the cane back and forth, this miracle
    of walking on the undulant earth.

  • Hall to McNair, September 27, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, September 27, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    27 September 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I hope you don’t write too many prose poems. If I love
    any one thing most about your work, it is the way you use your
    lines! I love your ear…

    This is OK. I still think that the end sounds a little
    bit as if you wanted to glory-off into space, and that comma
    after “walking” is awkward, but of course it would be ambiguous
    as all get-out without the comma… I still don’t love it.

    I think there is no point in trying The New Yorker with
    this one, because they have never been known to print a prose
    poem. May Joey have your permission to skip them with this one,
    and just try the others? As for your assumptions on Joey’s
    pattern… Joey is not going to tell you nothing! You might
    be right. But then again you might not be. Maybe he gets them
    all rejected from Poetry Now, even before he tries Peter Davison?
    Weird fellow, that fellow.

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, September 29, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, September 29, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    September 29, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Since I myself am not sure about the Perley
    Hunt poem, please tell Joey not to send it at all.
    I will return to it, maybe later on.

    Joey is wierd [sic], but then that’s why we love him.

    This Dartmouth job has been taking me away from
    the poems I wanted to finish, but today I attempt
    a return…. I look forward to your testimonial banquet.
    I will be taking Eberhart to it. See you there!

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter:  The testimonial banquet is a celebration of Don as New Hampshire’s new poet laureate. Having met Richard Eberhart, the former poet laureate, at Dartmouth, I offered him a ride to the event…. In 1985, some months after my conversation in these excerpted letters, I returned to “Perley Hunt Walking,” retitling it, and writing it out as it needed to be, keeping Don’s earlier comments in mind.

    Read Hunt Walking (published version)

  • Hall to McNair, October 5, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, October 5, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    5 Oct. 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    Oops. It turns out that the New Yorker’s poetry
    department is closed down until the beginning of December.
    Shall I wait two months and try again? Shall I try else-
    where in the meantime? I’m not sure what I’m going to do
    with my own things.

    Best as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, October 12, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, October 12, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    October 12, 1984

    Dear Don,

    I guess you should wait until
    the New Yorker is taking poems
    again. I do feel obliged to get
    one in that magazine sometime.

    Look forward to seeing you
    next Saturday. In fairness, the
    Poetry Society seems to be going
    all out for the event – as they
    should do. I can think of nothing
    so right as your being Poet
    Laureate of New Hampshire!

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • McNair to Hall, October 21, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, October 21, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    October 21, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Yesterday, I had a nightmare that I was asked
    with no forewarning to make a speech at a
    testimonial dinner for you. I still can’t wake up!

    This is the absolute last straw for PSNH
    (The Public Service Co.?). That society is like a
    disease which must be stopped!

    I would have liked to do that assignment
    above all others right. Oh, well. I can be glad
    about the main part of the day, at least:
    That you got the dinner, and most of all,
    that you read poems from the new manuscript
    which prove once again you are entirely worthy,
    apart from any banquet or award.

    So the important things did happen,
    in spite of all, and to hell with David Cote.

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter: David Cote is the president of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, who turned to me at the banquet without any forewarning and asked me to make a speech on Don’s behalf.

  • Hall to McNair, October 21, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, October 21, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    Sunday 21 Oct 84

    Dear Wes –

    It was lovely to see you & hear you
    yesterday. You talked good! Dick Smart
    thought you were great too.

    Hoorah for Italy! We’ll be seeing
    you.

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter: Don and Jane will shortly take a week-long trip to Italy.

  • McNair to Hall, October 22, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, October 22, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    October 22, 1984

    Dear Don,

    Please send some biographical info
    for publicity about your reading to Pat
    Anderson at Colby-Sawyer when you can.

    I’ve settled on a new fee, as you requested.

    Love,

    Wes


    A note from McNair about this letter:  I have set up a poetry reading for Don in early November at Colby-Sawyer.

  • McNair to Hall, October 24, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, October 24, 1984, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    October 24, 1984

    Dear Don,

    There will be a dinner before your reading on
    Dec. 3 (details shortly), and I’d like to ask
    Dick Strong to it, along with his wife. Can you
    send me address or phone number?

    Also: Anderson (Pat) wants bio stuff about
    you for publicity. Just send to him, at CSC.

    Also, I’m giving a reading at Dartmouth
    on November 15, 8:00 pm, in the Wren
    Room, and I’d like you and Jane to come –
    [Written in margin:] Sanborn House
    if you can work it into your no-doubt-
    already-busy month.

    Will you let me know if you can come,
    in the note about Dick Strong?

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, November 6, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, November 6, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    6 November 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    If anybody had carried a tape recorder, and if they could strap
    you into a chair long enough for you to listen to it, you would discover
    that you spoke with an absolutely gorgeous eloquence, out of all your
    terror. I realize you have absolutely no recollection of what you said!
    It was absolutely dear and I appreciated it tremendously. It was also
    sheer eloquence. Terror does wonderful things. Anyway, I value what
    you said – and not nearly so much as I value you. And your work.

    Wasn’t that a wonderful woman who had just lost
    four hundred and twenty-two pounds?

    We had a wonderful time in Italy. You mailed your card about
    sending publicity-stuff to Pat on the day we flew away. Therefore it
    goes out today.

    In your letter of October 24th, you speak about the dinner before
    my reading. You want to ask somebody to it – and I think you mean Dick
    Smart, right? His wife is my Aunt Nan, my mother’s sister. Dick and Nan
    Smart/ Tilton/ New Hampshire. If I have misunderstood, just forgive me.
    I am out of my mind with fatigue right now.

    While you are reading at Dartmouth I am reading in St. Petersburg,
    Florida. Exact hour. Jane wants to come. I hope that she can…

    I will be here this week, not leaving until the next week Tuesday…
    in case I have made some stupid mistakes in my fatigue here…

    Love as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, November 7, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, November 7, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    November 7, 1984Dear Don,

    How klutzy of me to call him
    Dick Strong. I don’t forget his
    face, his manner and his wonderful
    NH accent, in spite of my other
    confusion!

    Your dinner, incidentally, will take
    place at 6:00 pm on December
    3 – and your reading, at 8:00 pm.
    Carl and Elinore will be joining
    the party, along with (I hope)
    Dick Smart.

    It should be a great evening!

    Glad you enjoyed Italy!

    Love,

    Wes

    2/

    PS – Am working on a Jane reading
    for next term, even though I’m
    now off campus. One good way to
    get acquainted with those New
    Yorker poems I missed!


     

  • Hall to McNair, November 9, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, November 9, 1984, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    9 November 1984

    Wes McNair

    Dear Wes,

    Dick Smart is a terrific guy – and so is Nan.
    [Written in margin:] not guy
    I look forward to the dinner – but I need to know
    where to go. Where is the dinner? Good that Carl and
    Eleanor will be there.

    Now I see Diane all the time, as I pop around for
    airline tickets. That’s good. But lately I spend a total
    of about fifteen seconds in the office…

    Will anything ever slow down? Things are a bit
    knotty just now.

    That would be good, if Jane could read at Colby-Sawyer
    nest [sic] time.

    See you soon. I’m delighted to read again at old
    CS at of which I am now an alumnus, heaven knows. Best as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter:  In his second paragraph, about Diane, Don refers to her work for him as a travel agent in New London.

  • McNair to Hall, November 14, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, November 14, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    November 14, 1984

    Dear Don,

    How silly of me not have said
    where the dinner before your reading is
    being held: The Gray House! We all
    look forward to it!

    I enclose a review from the VQR.
    Do you know who reviews there? If
    I knew, I’d be sure to pass by
    his/her house late one night with
    a dark little note tied to a rock.

    What did I do to be so black
    and blue?

    Wes

    PS – Since I don’t have a copy of
    this, please send it back, though
    I don’t know why I want it, come
    to think of it – Lightness of ambition?

    Undemanding? This guy is out for blood!


     

  • Hall to McNair, November 19, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, November 19, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    19 November 1984

    Wes McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    You will get worse than this! Cheer up. This is condescending
    but it is not murderous. I hate this stupid little review…but
    cheer up, it will get much worse. You will be reviewed by people
    who want you to die very slowly, in public, while thousands of people
    laugh… It is a wonderful feeling, this hatred and loathing from
    strangers.

    So why did we go into this racket anyway? I cannot always tell
    you. No, I have no idea who reviews there.

    Did the University of Missouri send it to you? They shouldn’t
    do it. But they almost always will. And if they don’t, there is
    always some “friend” somewhere who will do It for you. Cheer up!
    The worst is yet to come… When you get more famous. Something to
    look forward to!

    Jane said you did a marvelous reading. I look forward very much
    to seeing you at the Gray House, six o’clock on the 3rd…

    Best as ever,

    Don


     

  • McNair to Hall, December 4, 1984

    Letter from McNair to Hall, December 4, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

    [Click image to view]

    Dec. 4, 1984

    Dear Don,

    It was good to be with you both last night,
    and good to hear you read again – in voice
    for all that music!

    Please remind Joey to send McNair’s poems
    to the New Yorker – and thanks for your help at
    U/MD.

    Love,

    Wes


     

  • Hall to McNair, December 26, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, December 26, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    26 December 1984

    Wes McNair
    Box 43
    North Sutton, NH

    Dear Wes,

    What a lovely thing! It hangs on the hangers behind the
    stove in the livingroom, but eventually my excessive modesty
    will cause me to remove it to a more private place…unless
    my excessive modesty of course allows me to wear it in public.
    I love it. So does Jane. And all our visitors have been looking
    at it and loving it and laughing. Thank you so much! You are
    a dear, and you please me no end. Thank you!

    Love to you and Diane, as ever,

    Don


    A note from McNair about this letter:  Don refers here to a gift I sent him, a sweatshirt bearing the words  “N.H. Laureate of Poultry”–the shirt in green and the words in white, which are New Hampshire’s official colors.

  • Hall to McNair, December 28, 1984

    Letter from Hall to McNair, December 28, 1984, Colby College Special Collections

    [Click image to view]

    28 December 1984

    Wesley McNair
    Hominy Pot Rd.
    North Sutton, NH 03260

    Dear Wes,

    I am wearing my Poultry shirt, as I sit in the privacy of my down-
    stairs study dictating on a winter morning. I love it. So does Jane.
    I knew what it came from, the Poultry…

    What a year you have had. We have had more or less a lousy one –
    except for Philippa’s happy marriage, and of course the wedding was some-
    thing else. Christmas has been just too much. John Wain and Brenda have
    been here for eight days from England. Andrew was here four days. Jane’s
    mother a week, and Philippa and Jerry a couple… Today the last Wain
    goes back to England, but Joyce and Jeff arrive to take the cottage over…
    We will stay in bed for two days when they leave, then go down and see my
    mother… Then I go to New York for a week… Then I go to Ann Arbor for
    one day for a reading… and then…I think in February I may be able
    to look at a piece of paper again.

    I like this new poem very much but something troubles me about the
    ending. I do know one thing. You give away the last line in the title
    and that is something you should never do. When we come to the last line
    it is no surprise. We were waiting for it all along. It is a wonderful
    title – but it spoils the last line.

    Then I have trouble coming to the last line – I do believe – by itself…
    I wonder if it should be “or the Town of No…” I wonder if “or” is right.
    I wonder if there might be a line-break between “don’t/Blink…”? I know
    that something frays apart at the end.. It isn’t quite solid I think.
    And I think that my complaints will be solved by something as small as
    one syllable. And for that matter maybe I’m nuts.

    Don


    Editorial note about this letter: The new poem McNair sent to Hall was “A Traveler’s Advisory,” whose title he changed from “The Town of No” at Hall’s suggestion. Later he used the rejected title “The Town of No” for his second collection of poems.

    Read A Traveler’s Advisory (published version from The Town of No)

    A second version of “A Traveler’s Advisory,” below, appeared in McNair’s dual volume The Town of No & My Brother Running. He changed line 12 from “a closed garage” to “a closed gas station” for clarity.

    Read A Traveler’s Advisory (published version from The Town of No & My Brother Running)

    See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts of “A Traveler’s Advisory.”