Hall to McNair: September 17, 1979


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17 September 1979
Wes McNair
N. Sutton, NH

Dear Wes,

Let’s just forget about a reading. Nobody should read for $50.

“The Thin Man” is just marvelous. I love it, and I think maybe
it is even one of your best. I have two suggestions, or one suggestion
and one query. The query is “yearning,” which seems to me a terribly
corny word, a word from greeting cards, and very dangerous to use,
especially so early in the poem. I wonder what you have thought about it –
if you have questioned it – if you think it might possibly be improved?
And on the other thing I feel more dogmatic: please remove the epigraph.
Everybody in the world has heard this business about a thin man being
inside every fat man…and therefore to use it as a epigraph is or appears
naïve. I mean, the statement itself is as commonplace as “hot enough
for you” or “it takes all kinds to make a world.” If you had a poem
about watermelons, you wouldn’t have as an epigraph that watermelons
are ninety-eight per cent water…or whatever. I mean to say, it has
the status of sort of commonplace information.

The poem exploits this commonplace information perfectly, and
when we come to the reference or allusion, within the poem, we are pre-
cisely ready for it – except if you have that epigraph there. In that
case, it kills the surprise and spoils the poem. When I say that the
poem is superb, I mean without the epigraph. I really do think the
epigraph acts like a dog with a hundred eyes, or maybe a hundred sets
of jaws, guarding the entrance and preventing anybody from getting in.

And it is a wonderful poem. What a superb ending.

If you are going to be over this way, could you perhaps drop off
the book by Jenny? Or mail it, as I mailed it to you, if you can not
get over.*

Best as ever,


*Or you could leave it with the C-S