Hall to McNair: November 2, 1981


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2 November 1981

Wes McNair
North Sutton, NH 03260

Dear Wes,

Jane is doing just fine. Of course after the relief –
even the high of the death of someone whom you have seen to
suffer the torture of the absolute damned…then there is time
for the grief to begin. But she shows every sign of taking it
all well. What is so important: she knows that she did the right
things. Oh, maybe some day there will come the day when they make
a computer which relieves us of being good. But I don’t look forward
to the day.

Jane got an NEA. The relief and pleasure for her, the
independent affirmation of her worth…you know something about
what that feels like! Very good for her.

I know Gerald Costanzo a little bit. He is a good man.
I’m delighted that he liked the book, and that
he wants to publish it… As you well know, nothing is firm until
you have the book in your hand, or see ten copies of it at once!
Still, I’m absolutely delighted.

I don’t think that one should ever save poems for a new
book. One should at any moment present the strongest possible
book. On the other hand, sometimes it is wise to leave poems out
of a book, not in order to save them, but in order to give a shape
to the book. I don’t know which you are doing, or whether you are
doing something else… I wondered if I might be able to help by
supplying an external opinion. I didn’t mean to leave you “most

You know, even after a book is taken, you are usually allowed
to revise it, to add to it, to subtract from it, to revise the poems
in the manuscript. Jane’s From Room to Room hardly resembled,
when it was printed, the manuscript that was accepted.

Your reasons for leaving out these eight poems… A lot
of them make sense. But sense isn’t always what matters. That is,
I think you may be worrying too much about “affirmative” and “negative.”
The quality and power of the poems is what matters, I think I might
argue. Do you have copies of these eight? Obviously I know them all –
but I don’t have copies of them handy. Could you make xeroxes of them
over at the English Dept., and send them to me, and let me play
with the manuscript as a whole, and make a (non-dogmatic) suggestion?


I don’t think enough people pay attention to the book, [as shape,]
but pay attention just to making an anthology of poems; it is
possible that you pay too much attention to the book, and not
enough to the anthology of poems. But I don’t mean to tell you
so, in this letter – just to think that I might think about it,
and might wind up saying so…and if I did, that would be no
disaster, and if you disagreed with me, that would be no disaster

I think it is important – and I’m sure you agree – to
put your best possible foot forward. Spend every penny you have.
Save nothing. In your first book.

I did not get a bunch of poems recently, except for the
book itself…maybe you sent them more recently than you think –
but I got the letter here, and have not yet received the revisions
of a dream of Herman or others.

Joey is about to submit some McNair poems to Donald Hall
for a special issue of Ploughshares. Probably the new revisions
are in order, in such a case.

Love as ever,


A note from McNair about this letter: The poems Joey submitted to Ploughshares for Don, as a guest editor of the magazine (which was a matter of Don submitting them to himself) were: “Old Trees,” “The Fat People of the Old Days,” and “Calling Harold.”