McNair to Hall: July 14, 1980


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July 14, 1980

Dear Don,

Thank you for your bracing letter. I have mailed the book to
U. Illinois and Carnegie-Mellon–am about to mail it to U. Georgia. I have
also sent several letters about the book to the “big houses”, as you advised.
Needless to say, I am thankful that my publishing the book matters to you,
whatever the consequences might be, and I take hope in your assurance that
I will one day publish it. I will try to remember your warning about the
irony underlying all apparent successes for the writer.

You mentioned that you are in a period of uncertainty about your own
work. Perhaps this is a good time to tell you the story of a poem you wrote
not long ago which hit me like the dropped safe of the old cartoon, and
which helped me to write a poem–and later other poems–like it, even though
different from it.

I am speaking of your “Waterfowl” poem, which appeared on the back page
of APR 4 or 5 years ago. I believed then, and still believe, that no one
has written a funnier poem than that one. I loved its reliance on sources
in the popular culture. I loved how reckless and how wonderfully controlled
it was in its form and in its humor. And I was struck by its wonderful mixture
of humor and desperate seriousness. I read the poem shortly before I wrote
“The Thugs of Old Comics”. It was your poem and certain poems by Edward
Field that I thought of as I was doing “The Thugs”. Without your poem, I may
never have been able to complete my poem.

I am sure your poem also helped open the way to other humorous “pop-
cultural” pieces which I have worked on since “The Thugs”, and continue to
work on. While it is true that I wrote “The Little Louey Comic” and “The
Characters of Forgotten Dirty Jokes” before writing “The Thugs”, I did not
see the full possibilities of “pop” poems until your poem, Field’s poems
and the writing of “The Thugs”. Do you remember telling me once (and how
thrilled I was!) that “The Thugs” was the “perfect poem”, the poem “The
Little Louey Comic” wanted to become? What you did not know was that your
poem assisted in the completion of “The Thugs”, helping me to go beyond
“Louey”, and later to write poems like “Hair on Television” and one I am
doing now on “before/after” ads.

Of course, your poems about the region of [inserted: northern] New England are also very
important to me as a writer. They show me that solid work can still be done
about the place which inspired the poems of Dickinson, Robinson and Frost,
and they fill me with possibilities for my own regional writing. But I wanted
to write you here about a poem which actually influenced my writing, and
besides, I have written already how much I think of Kicking the Leaves,
whatever doubts you may have about your recent writing.

I hope I managed to lift your spirits a bit with this small
testimonial. Even if I haven’t, I thank you very much for that poem and for
writing it at the time I needed it!



Read To a Waterfowl (published version)

Read The Thugs of Old Comics (published version)

Read The Before People (published version)