McNair to Hall: January 24, 1981 (misdated January 24, 1980)


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January 24, 1980 [misdated, should be 1981]
Dear Don,

Thanks very much for your letter from The Atlantic and the
check. I thought Davison had taken “Old Trees” instead of “Trees
That Pass Us,” and so I am twice surprised. Anyway, it is
awfully good to be appearing in that magazine.
Also, thanks for your words about my “bad patch,” I’d
hope to be reborn soon, as the lack of sleep alone is killing me.
I am very sorry to learn of your own current bad patch.
Lest whatever “guilt” you may refer to makes you feel like a
bad man, please remember that you have saved my life
as a poet, and continue too do so. Whoever may be taking notes
on us both has a whole page about that.

I am in the process of rewriting “A Dream of Herman,”
and I have the thing done except for the last line. The problem
is, I still like the line, I knew it was perfect iambic
pentameter when I wrote it, and I liked the way the poem
found its way to the line, resolving itself in content and form.
I feel that way now. I sense you do not like the perfection
of the line, meter, especially given the lack of meter in the
rest of the poem (except for the movement toward iambic
in the next-to-last line). What really worries me is that you
seem so sure of your position in this, since that usually
means I am dead wrong. Yes, I say, I like the
line and am therefore unable to find a suitable alternative
for it. I even like “lovely,” because for me the reference to
“trees” gives the word a definition it wouldn’t ordinarily have/
takes away the vagueness you have mentioned.

I may very well be unable to see the poem clearly because
of my closeness to the material. I do know the tendency toward
sentimentality one has with this stuff. Perhaps that is what you
hear coming through in that last, perfect line. (Maybe you
hear sentimentality in other pieces?) I thought I was
saved from sentimentality of the closeness of the ride to a
hearse ride, and by certain lines which conjure up Herman,
and half suggest, at the same time, that he isn’t there (“as if
just back” “breathing the scale,” etc.)

Please tell me more if you can, about the last line!
I need to see it better. The shortest note will do…
Would it be any help to get rid of the first “as”?

Thanks to you and Joseph again for The Atlantic



P.S. Manuscript is now out to other places—U.
Alabama and the National Poetry Contest. Next month
is just Yale and Princeton Pittsburg—again! Will soon be
sending ten (published) poems to the Discovery/Nation