McNair to Hall: February 12, 1981 [1982]


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February 12, 1981 [misdated: should be 1982]

Dear Don,

I heard from Joey that you have chosen three of my poems for
Ploughshares. I’m very glad. I’m also pleased that he thought
“Mina Bell’s Cows” good enough to submit to the New Yorker, even
though it was rejected.

What’s happening here in Sutton is a lot of writing and re-writing.
I thought for sure I’d have two two-page poems for your review
by the end of January, but I put them both away about a week ago,
each about finished. I’m now working on two other poems. Maybe
I’m beginning to work on batches, as you seem to. Anyway, I do
want you to know that I’m struggling each and every day on poems,
and that I’m excited by the writing I’m doing, even though I’m not
yet ready to send samples.

Incidentally, I have been doing some extra teaching—not enough
that it interferes with my writing, but enough to keep food on the table
while I’m on sabbatical. I’m working for the School for Lifelong
Learning, UNH’s continuing education school, which has branches
within commuting distance. Later on, the connection with SLL will
probably help me to put Sean through college, if we’re still here.

My manuscript, famous in its various revisions among
the readers for all the major contests, is now being read once
again by Princeton, The National Poetry Contest, Pittsburgh
and Associated Writing Programs. I have my fingers crossed
for Princeton, the first notification I must face. Rejection—
or acceptance—happens at the end of this month.


Night before last, I read for the Baptist Monday Nights (NL),
mostly older folks, some of whom no doubt expected my poetry to rhyme.
They did like the poems, nevertheless—their engaged and pleased
expressions during the reading were unmistakable. Getting people who
don’t really follow poetry involved in a reading is an especially
gratifying thing for me, since I do feel that poetry should have a
broad appeal.

That makes me think to ask you what is probably a naïve
question. Why isn’t there a book club that features regular selections
of contemporary poetry? Or a book club that features poetry only?
Don’t you think that people would buy contemporary verse if there were
such outlets for it? Probably it’s because I now see the possibility
of publishing a book myself, but I’m currently very down about
how little poetry is read today. I can’t believe the limited number
of readers is only the fault of poets, especially since there’s such
interest in poetry writing in college, and afterward, through workshops
of one kind or another. If individual presses can’t afford to
advertise for their poetry, perhaps a co-operative of some kind
would work—a book club sponsored by the presses, maybe…
I assume others have thought of such things and discarded
their thoughts—but why?

Speaking of books, I’d very much life to get a copy of
your Hobart and William Smith collection of recent essays.
Do you have a copy I could buy? I just bought two very interesting
books—The Private Life and Satan Says. Do you like them, too?
What do you think of Sharon Olds?

Just got word that Diane is leaving for shopping & mail…
so I’ll cut this off here. I hope your trip with Jane to England
went well—and that your return to Eagle Pond Farm has been good, too.

Lots of love to both of you,


Read Mina Bell’s Cows (published version)

See also a selection of McNair’s manuscript notes and drafts of “Mina Bell’s Cows.”