McNair to Hall: April 26, 1980


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April 26, 1980

Dear Don,

Finally I find the time to write you about the poems
you sent!

I do like them — all of them — very much. I believe
that “6 October 1980” is one of the most moving poems
you ever wrote, so complicated and profound are the
feelings of sonship which it expresses. It is a
wonderful thing. “Epithalamion” is also a wonderful
poem. The “positioning” of each of your reluctant
characters is perfect — Emily in the cellar “vanishing
against a pillar” (just the right word, that
“against”!) and Walt in the belltower with
the muscular young sexton. I love that piece. And
I love “Sonnet.” The last stanza of that poem is
just delicious in its sounds and imagery. I
believe that “Marbles,” “A Novel in Two Volumes,”
and “Scenic View” are also good, strong poems.

I have suggestions about how certain aspects
of the other poems might be revised – suggestions
which I hope will be helpful. One of my favorite
poems in its potential^”Poultry” is still, I think, not
quite finished. I very much like the way seasons
turn throughout the poem, the way the life and death
of poultry suggests to both boy participant and
adult narrator the transcience [sic] of human life. What
I feel the poem needs is a fuller reference to Luther…
or perhaps references to people other than Luther, who


were alive once to eat the meals the poultry made, and who
are now dead. Without more allusions to Luther (at the
table, “leading in the singing of “hymns”, your word noted on
page 4? with others?) the poem’s conclusion seems to me
arbitrary. I do find the descriptions of chicks, chickens
and roosters most convincing, however…I love the
rooster section. One other question: In the 4th
stanza, should the phrase “when the egg making frenzy”
be changed to a phrase which more closely approximates
the other indented phrases of the section, which seem to
convey the continuous action of the hens in time
(moving toward “consumed”)?

About “The Glass.” If I have your intentions right:
it seems to me the poem should be presented in 3 stanzas.
I think the first stanza should speak of the world of
“permanence”; the second stanza, about the speaker’s
“heroic” movement through time, which leads to reading
the news about Emily Farr’s death; the third stanza,
about the glass. I especially like the image of the “old
man carrying buckets/among pale ferns under
wavering birches,” and I do believe this poem could
be quite wonderful, even though it is not (or so I
think) fully realized at this point.

“Fires for Tending.” I feel the poem should begin


with the reading of the obituaries. The prologue of the first
three lines gives so strong an emphasis to the comfortable
domestic rituals and environment of the narrator’s
present that the movement into the past does not
achieve the importance that I believe it ought to have
in the poem. I feel that if the first 3 lines were cast
and the ordering were changed slightly, the narrator would
read his news, recollect the experience of the past,
and return to the surroundings of his present life,
feeling his old attachment to them, along with an
unsettling detachment. (This tension between attachment
and detachment comes through wonderfully well, I think,
in the last 2 lines.) Another thing about the conclusion:
I feel that the story should not be characterized as
“ordinary,” since that characterization stills the reverberations
that the memory might have. Incidentally, I wonder if
the full-out statement declaration of the last stanza – the “I
will preserve” should be replaced with a phrasing
which stresses the struggle against the fact of
forgetting…or against “the forgetful kingdom of death,”
as J.C. Ransom called it. I don’t mean to suggest
that the “struggle” should be expressed in any dramatic way –
only that it might be hinted at… I do hope I
have not written here about a poem which I might
write, rather than about the poem which this one might


“Whip Poor Will.” I feel that the last line of the poem
should refer somehow to the whip-poor-will’s “voice-lessness”
during the day. Stilling the bird’s song would be a bitter
way, I think, to bring the narrator and reader back to the
“real” world of the last stanza. Also, I like your
penned-in lines “but the real/bird lifts away”
better than the 1st and 2nd lines that appear in
the typed version of the last stanza. I wonder, too,
if the whip-poor-will’s flight into “far dark fields”
in the stanza one might be more strongly linked with
the bird’s flight into the narrator’s dream, which is
suggested in stanza two. The possible link between the
two seems to be cut off by the rooster’s crowing and
by the light of the second stanza. I think that the
“cock-crow” should be cut out, and that the darkness
of stanza one should extend into stanza 2, at least
until the reader is able to catch the connection
between the flight into dark fields and the flight
into the mind. The light, then, might foreshadow
the awakening to “reality” which eventually happens –
even as it (the light) suggests Wesley Wells,
who began his day at dawn.

If I have misread your intentions anywhere
with my suggestions recommendations, I am sorry. I certainly want
to be a help to you and not a hindrance. I feel this


is a very strong group of poems, and I thank you
very much for letting me see them.

But no more ado. I must get this into
the mail!

With love,


Read Epithalamion (published version)

Read Scenic View (published version)

Read Whip Poor Will (published version)