McNair to Hall, August 14, 1984

Letter from McNair to Hall, August 14, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

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August 14, 1984

Dear Don,

I’m glad you like my poem. And I’m happy to say
I like the poems you sent, too. I’d have responded
earlier about them, but house guests have recently
prevented writing of any kind. More:

I like the language of “Sums.” The odd spellings
and usages of the poem create a mysterious barrier,
which are undoes as if entering a time capsule.
The language is strange and delicious.

“The Ragpicker’s Horse” is charming and funny,
with its bits of pictures. There’s a wonderful
naïveté in it.

“A Walk in the West Country” is also a good new
poem, singing its way to a conclusion that “encloses”
like the fence. I like the repetition of “stone” in the
poem, and especially the image of the man as a leaf.


The “mutter” of the sheep is wonderful, esp. in the way it
mocks the utterance of the poem itself. I do wonder about
the word “hurl” in line 2 – it seems too active
or violent for what sheep do when they eat grass.
Do I miss some allusion in the hurling of Roman

“Waking the Next Morning” is fine, too. I do like
the odd perspective on an event. I’m not sure I
like the title, is all. Maybe “The Word,” as “The
Repeated Word,” would be better?

I suggest a few small changes in “Phototropism.”
It seems to me “long and pale,” five lines from the
bottom, pushes the erotic analogy too far
(toward a cartoon) and ought to be dropped.

Maybe that section of the poem could go like this:

just so, in August,
wrapped. tight
daylily buds tip

(like the way
this word word links
the to sections
together, echoing “below”)


I think the next-to-last line of the poem is confusing
without a comma between “rises” and “opens.” And
I think you ought to consider, at least, whether the
jade plant clutters the poem somewhat, interfering
with the human-to-plant analogy the poem
centers on. One more possible thing to consider is
whether the daylilies should have a location in the
poem. The phrase “east-by-south” halfway suggests
a location, after all, and there is a strong sense
of location in the opening lines. I’m not sure
such considerations should lead to changes, but
maybe so.

I guess I don’t like “Felix” as a whole,
though it contains an extraordinary image, the
most striking are in this entire batch, for me:
“his skin wrinkled and puffed/ from thirty years
of soaking in his watery chair.” WOW! I think
the image collides with “twenty-five-years-old
forever,” though. And it seems to me the speaker


is more articulate than he ought to be. I think you
ought to try and make him communicate roughly
the same thing in a different, more trucker-like,

About “Richard.” I love the idea of the poem,
and I think that idea would be better in execution
if the language were altered somewhat. I think
the poem’s language should somehow get closer
to the perception of the boy who actually experiences
the disparity between the people acting as if the
world all made sense, and the nonsensical world
itself. I do think you need to retain the voice
of an amused, older person in the poem, but I
feel that the voice you have becomes too knowing in
the lines between the two colons (only there),
taking the poem too far away from the boy’s
consciousness. With a few changes, this will be
a wonderful poem!


All other comments will have to wait until next
letter, as I’ve got to run to get this letter into
the mail and get to my teaching at Merrimack
Valley College (my last night there). I hope
this is helpful – and I’m sorry for the delay.



PS – Note, with poem, enclosed!


It is not what,
carrying that
afterthought of legs,
he runs to, and not
what his interrogative, foldy
face detects
on the floor, because
it is always changing, always
turning out to be
some other bug
or bush his nose wanted,
leaving his tail
behind, and
it is never
after all that scratching
and lifting of leg,
enough: not even
after he joins
the dinner party, smiling
and rolling
his testicles, not even
in his whimpering sleep,
dreaming in the tips
of his paws
that he is chasing
it, that very thing
which, scratching,
he can’t quite
reach, nor sniffing find,
because in the perfect
brainlessness of dog,
he will never know
what it is.

D- Is the second “after” (in “after he joins”) OK, or does it
repeat, awkwardly – Should I use “when” instead?

Read What It Is (published version)

Read Sums (published version)

Read My Friend Felix (published version)

Read Visiting Richard (published version)