Hall to McNair: May 28, 1982

Letter from Hall to McNair, May 28, 1982, Page 1, Colby College Special Collections

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28 May 1982

Wes McNair
Box 43
North Sutton, NH 03260

Dear Wes,

Good to hear, good to have the poems.

I spoke to Joey the other day, and he is obsessed with
sending your stuff to the New Yorker. And the New Yorker is
shut down from now until Labor Day. And on Labor Day, they
get four thousand poems a day for two weeks, and nothing gets
in except the contract-folks… Therefore it is probably
best not to send the poems to the New Yorker from now until
Columbus Day.

So: with new poems, should we just hold back until
then, and then start with the New Yorker at that time? I am
inclined to say so. With new poems. Save them up. If there
are eight or twelve by that time, then I would send them to
the New Yorker in three groups or two. And then go on down
the line. But if you would rather start with other magazines,
we can do that. Poetry is closed until the fall too – but
then you do have some things coming out there.

“The Before People” really bothers me visually, the
way it looks on the page – and I don’t think that the Fallacy
of Imitative Form can be invoked, even if it were not a fallacy.

I like it. I think it’s ready. Shall we save it?

I cannot remember whether this was there before, whether
it bothered me or not…it almost seems as if I remember it:
“…suddenly, the feet/ are for…” That is, I get “the feet”
as the object, direct object, of “discovering,” and then when
I get to the next line I discover that the “that” has been omitted.
But if I had “that feet” would I be tempted to think of an eccentric
demonstrative? I like it a lot, and maybe the end is just fine.
I worry about this little patch… Let me know what you think.

And I like “My Brother” very much, but myself think that
“heartbreakingly” is a mistake. Did I see that before? Did I
miss it before? Was it there before? I am bothered by its
triteness, by its continual use on soap operas and sports pages,
by the dead metaphor… I think that some people would like it
just because it is corny, because that would mean that you were
taking a chance, being vulnerable…and today I think they are


Joey says: if you don’t want to wait, he will be happy
to send these to APR. (Actually, he will ask Don to send those
to APR, if you want.)

Love from both of us, and Jane sends her love too,


(Note: Don’s markings on the poems are in bold and brackets)


At first the crawling
child makes his whole body
a foot.

One day, dazed
as if by memory,
he pulls himself up[,]

discovering, suddenly,
[that] the feet
are for carrying

the hands. He is so
happy he cannot stop
taking the hands

from room to room,
learning the names
of everything he wants.

This lasts for many years
until the feet,
no longer fast enough,

[are] forgotten,
say, in the office
under a desk. Above them

the rest of the body,
where the child
has come to live,

is sending its voice
hundreds of miles
through a machine.

Left to themselves
over and over,
the feet sleep,

one day
beyond the dead

conversation of the mind
and the hands.
Mute in their shoes,

your shoes
and mine,
they wait,

longing only to stand
the body
and take it

into its low,
mysterious flight [—?]
along the earth.


I see you in Chicago twenty-five years ago,
a tall kid, heartbreakingly sure of yourself.
You are just arriving from the goat farm
to meet your father, the god you invented
after he left you in childhood.
It is the sunniest day you can remember,
and you walk the wide streets
of the city by his side in the dream
you have had all along of this moment,
except you are starting to see how different
he looks and how he does not care
about this in the same way that you do.
Which is when it happens, you are taken
into the doors. Just like that,
you are closed off from him, walking
in the weightlessness of your own fear.
And when you push your door, it leads
to other retreating doors, and again
and again it takes you to the voice of him,
the fat man standing outside who has nothing,
suddenly, to do with your father and shouts
let go! let go! and you cannot let go.

-Wesley McNair

Read The Before People (published version)

See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts for “The Before People.”