Hall to McNair, August 21, 1984

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

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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

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


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.