McNair to Hall: February 2, 1980


[Click image to view]

February 2, 1980

Dear Don,

Your letter of January 29 contains the worst
message I have ever received in the mail. I
am upset that you will no longer handle my poems.
But I am immeasurably more upset that I have
managed to hurt you and no doubt Jane
so terribly.

The least I owe you is an account of the
circumstances which led to my January 21st
letter to you. First of all, I sent the three
poems to Howard Dinin as a result of his
rather desperate request that I give him
some work related to the idea of “home” for
his first issue of The Boston Monthly, which
was short of material. There is no good
excuse for not letting you know about my
decision to send Howard the poems; I can
only tell you that since it was nine months


after I had given the poems to you, I did not take
seriously the possibility that they might be
published by someone else. Needless to say, I
should have taken that possibility seriously. To make
matters worse, I let the whole thing slide until I had
forgotten it. I did not think about the poems again until
the night of our dinner, when it came up that I had
published in The Boston Monthly. You said you hoped none
of the poems were in the batch Joey had, and I said
“no,” seeing the seriousness of my lapse, and lacking
the courage to be forthright with you and face the
loss of your esteem. Afterward, I sent my letter,
which contained the “duplicity” you have
mentioned, and which took my lack of
courage one step further.

I cannot blame you for responding as you have.
You are wrong to imagine that I might “conceal
and equivocate” as a matter of course in my
dealings with editors, though I can easily
understand why you would so imagine. Ironically,


the equivocation I have been guilty of with you,
a friend and mentor, I have not practiced with
anyone else. The only time I came even close
was when I allowed the woman from The Concord
to quote “The Thin Man,” assuming,
naïvely, that quoting a poem within an article
was not tantamount to publication of the poem.
That I have treated you in this careless
and dishonest way, failing to be straight
with you until the moment I was forced to,
is a thing that I will never forgive myself
for. I am entirely unable to square my
behavior with the appreciation and
generous support which you and Jane have
given me – without which I might well
have lost faith in my writing. I can
only determine at this point that I will
use what has happened to instruct me in
how to be more forthright in the future


with others,
especially those I respect and love.

I remain deeply grateful for all that you
have done for me. I am profoundly sorry that I
have handled this thing so poorly.