McNair to Hall: March 3, 1984

Letter from McNair to Hall, March 3, 1984, Page 1, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire

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March 3, 1984

Dear Don,

It’s great to see some of your new poems, about which I
now write my opinions, worthwhile or not.

I think there are two poems in “The Day I was Older” (love
that title) that are so good, they out to be taken out of the
sequence to stand on their own. One is “The Pond”–a wonderful
thing. The other is “The Day”–but not in the latest revision.
The earlier poem, which I looked up in my file, is for me still
stunning–breathtaking–and I think you ought to consider returning
to it. I believe the earlier revision is one of the best poems you
ever wrote. I like the other poems of the sequence–notably
among them, “The Clock”–but I don’t think they have the power
of the other two I’ve mentioned.

“Six Naps in One Day” is a good sequence all the way
through, I think, containing several arresting images which
dissolve into more arresting images. I love that gibbon
“in his gown of claws and hair”; the raccoons (which
I recall from an earlier poem) with their stolen cargo; the
skulls “as blue/as the bones, etc” (nice collision of dream–
detail there at the end of that verse); and especially the
baby, “Little Joe Jesus”! The only thing I’d change is
in poem 4: the “library smelling/of Golden Bantam” does


provide a transition of sorts from earlier poems, but does not seem
right for the poem. And the phrasing feels mannered. But I like
the whole of it a lot.

And I like “New Animals”–the way “waking one morning”
moves to “In my dream” and all that happens afterward,
excepting the business about Jack, which for me intrudes upon
the rest, reminding me too strongly that you are outside the
dream commenting about it, when I want to be drawn into
the “reality” of what happened. Perhaps the Jack part should
go and the middle-to-end part could be compressed somewhat.
I very much like the ending with the “sheep dog ostrich”
and “aiee aiee”.

I do not like “Acorns” so much. I think that’s because I
can’t find the right link between the description of the climb,
and the intricate description of the acorn. Also because I
can’t find enough poetry in the description, it is so particular.
I like the idea I sense of “writing acorns large” with
the short lines that spell out each detail of acorns–
but I don’t think what actually happens is complete yet.

I don’t think “The Granite State” is ready yet, either.
It is clear what you want the poem to do. But for me
the poem strives to fulfill the thesis of the title, without


fully becoming poetry. I can try to write more about this if
you think doing so would be helpful. For now, I’ll leave
it there.

I save “Another Elegy”, the most interesting poem, til last.
My delay in responding to you all this time results from
reading and rereading this verse. First, I like the poem very
much. I like it because it attempts so much in relation
to Wright: in addition to his life and death; the lives
of others in his generation (esp. you); of past
poets; of the (generic) poet, burdened by vision and
“ambition.” And I like it especially because of its many moving
passages–some of the best, I think, you’ve written.

These are the passages I mean: part 2, the part about
sitting beside Wright at Mt. Sinai; part 4, from the beginning
line to “Stripmines”–and those last two lines!; part 5,
all; the last six lines of part 6; part 8, all; the
resolution, so sweeping, in part 10. Not to say I don’t
like other parts–but these are wonderful.

And the poem is in all awfully good, intricate in its
imagery and large in its scope; yet there are still a few parts
I’m not sure of. These are the parts about you–with you


in parentheses, questioning your own motives, wondering about
the poem you are making as you are making it. I like
the idea of this–of what such a thing might do in the poem–
more than I like what’s been done somehow. I think the
poem would be stronger without the parenthetical parts….

Then I think there are certain passages that might
be tightened. It seems to me that part 4 is loose–
too close to prose–in the center. I find the same thing
in 6, to the name “Thomas” (but then, that’s another
section about you and Wright, which might be taken out?).
For me, 7 needs tightening, too.

But it’s a wonderful project–and wonderfully “ambitious.”
I like it very, very much.

As you’ve perhaps noticed, the NHTimes article has
hit the stands. Although the paper’s photographer called
to line up an appointment for photos, the Times ran
the article without photos, I’m not sure why. And
there was not one word about Jane, the one terrible
omission for me. I can’t complain about my treatment
in it, but I do wish I had remembered to say


something in the first place, rather than writing to Begiebing
and hoping for the inclusion after the article was done.
I can’t believe he wouldn’t have tried to accommodate
my request. I assume that anything more would have
made the article too long.

Anyhow, aside from the absense [sic] of Jane, I find
little to “cringe” about in the piece. Of course I basked
in it’s [sic] praise of my poems. (I hope some of
the good words actually apply.) In some cases, I
didn’t say exactly what Begiebing had me say (to
save space, he occasionally pieced together quotations [that about “form”, for instance]
from different parts of our conversation), but what he
transcribed was almost always accurate, tics of speech
and all.

In spite of all, I was pleased. Please tell me what
you think.



Read the article in the New Hampshire Times: “Wesley McNair: Poet.

Read The Day I Was Older (published version)

Read Six Naps in One Day (published version)

Read New Animals (published version)

Read Acorns (published version)