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

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,



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)