Hall to McNair: September 21, 1979


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21 September 1979

Wes McNair
No. Sutton, NH

Dear Wes,

“Hair on Television” is absolutely marvelous. I think it is one
of the truly best. There are two problems with it, one of which you
cannot do anything about. I don’t think the poem is derivative at all,
but it might well be taken so, because of Bly on the subject of hair.
This poem, and you, will just have to weather that sort of thing. And
I’m delighted that you went right on into it, without any misgivings,
and did it! It is just wonderful!

The thing I don’t like about it, which you can do something about
if you will agree, is the look of it on the page. I think it is visually
ugly. I like total asymmetry sometimes, but this is not that, just has
a tendency to get longer as it goes down the page, and this looks
inadvertent, it looks therefore slack or thoughtless…visually only.
It doesn’t read that way. But the visual is as real as anything else.
I don’t mean to say its [sic] equally important, but every single little
thing is important. I find the line about two and a half inches up
from the bottom kind of long, for instance, and I think of rewriting
it to make it: “detergent and dogfood experts helping ordinary housewives
discover…” I don’t think you need the two “experts” and this would
move the line a little bit to the left… Then I would do similar
things at the end, or I might tend to take one of the earlier stanzas
which is four lines, and re-break into three lines, making them longer
lines… I do this sort of tampering with things in order to achieve
a visual coherence all the time – but of course I don’t want to do it
if I think it hurts the rhythm, the line-breaks, anything like that.
The whole business, as you well know, is simply to be perfect in every possible way!

Anyway, I do love it dearly. It seems to me that pretty soon it you
might be ready to send Joey for four new poems to make a batch for sending out.

About that other poem. Can’t you hear Bing Crosby singing the word
“yearning”? Tin Pan Alley. And the word also reminds me of the most
prosperous poet ever to emerge from Tin Pan Alley… I mean Rod McKuen.

But it’s not that bad.

I guess my notion is that nobody should ever offer a poet $50,
but instead should save up three $50 offers, or preferably four $50 offers,
and offer a poet $150 or $200. But I’m always getting crabby about this
sort of thing. Yesterday Scholastic Magazine called up, to ask me if I
was accepting their invitation to be on their Board… Some sort of Board
that would meet annually to talk about writing in high schools… I
pointed out to them that they had asked me two months ago, that I had
answered their letter asking them some questions, but I’d never heard
from them. Among other things, I wanted to know what they were paying me.
Well, umm…umm…they were not paying me anything. And I asked,
with my most vicious imitation of innocence, if Scholastic were a
non-profit organization? If they had stockholders? Had the stock-
holders ever received a dividend? And why did this idiot think that I
should donate my services to create profits for rich investors? Really,
people are always thinking that poets should give something away for nothing,
or almost nothing – and nobody ever asks the paper manufacturers to give
away the paper, or the ink makers to give away the ink!

None of this is directed to you, who are a poet and not a
rich investor! But it is my suggestion that it might be better not
to have poetry readings than to pay $50.

Best as ever,


Read Hair on Television (published version)