McNair to Hall: October 12, 1977


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12 October, 1977

Dear Don —

I was delighted to hear from you. Letters from the States
are special things here, and letters from you the more so.

Your indefatigable revisions of “Stone Walls” give me
strength for my own revisions. I agree with what Bly says
[Written in margin: in Contemporary Poets]…
about the “absolutely genuine” character of your best poems –
even though I bridle at his appreciation of that “Theory of
The Three brains” to your work. And I’m convinced that
“Stone Walls” will soon be one of your best poems, ranking
with, say, “Flies”. I would like very much to see it when
you think it’s finished. And do send “Traffic”, too.

I have been writing steadily and producing little, as is
my habit. Soon I will be translating contemporary Chilean
poets, since I have already enlisted the aid of two people
at the University for the enterprise. I will meet one of
these poets – a man named “Montes” – next week. I
want to include these translations in my book (they
will be in its last section) to extend the book’s “Americanness”.
The themes of the Chilean poems will parallel certain
themes in my poems.


I enclose a recent production, “The Poetic License”, in the
hope that you and Jane might like it. I was going to send it to
Paris Review and then remembered that I can’t send a SASE from
here. Any suggestions about how to send poems to little magazines in
the states. Please let me know what you think about the poem,
in any event.

Glad to hear you have chosen a topic for your A.S.
lecture. It will be first-rate, I’m sure, one of the good things
I’m forced to miss by being here.

I’ve been invited to do a series of lectures on
center stage at an all – South American A.S. conference
in January. Americanists from Argentina, Brazil, Columbia,
Peru and Chile will be there. Will cover major themes in
American culture as expressed in the art and literature of
various periods. Needless to say, I’m pleased with the

All is otherwise well, too. Diane and I are meeting
new people still and have begun to settle into the rituals
of life in Santiago. More about these subjects in my
next installment. Please hello to Jane. We miss you both.




P.S. Forgot to mention that C.W. Truesdale rejected The Faces
of Americans in 1853
. Said that my book placed among
the ones he wanted to publish, and that he responded especially
to the “farm poems” (there are only two). But, he said,
he couldn’t agree with my choice of the word “ponderous”
in the poem called “Memory of Kuhre”. That was all.
I am not so troubled by the rejection as by the reasons
for it.

Thus, I’m going for broke on the idea of the
“big book”, which I should have in another year.
I may call it The Poetic License. The title would
relate to my recent poem, to my attraction to “America” in the 19th century
in the book as a whole and to the nineteenth century.
(There will be 6-8 poems about the 19th century in it.)
Also, the title would relate to the nature of “poetic
license”, to the limitations of, the ironies involved
with, poetic license in my poetry. What do you think?


On the poetic license it is the nineteenth century.

A ship named Conventional Poetry
is just sinking on the horizon.

Nearby in a lifeboat
Form and Vision shake hands holding the strings
of ballons between their lips.

In the balloons are word of enthusiasm about sailing to America

the country where dawn is breaking and the Muse collapses
on the grave of Washington
naming the states.

Her balloon is so large it grazes the face of the farmer
plowing far off in the field
He goes right on waving,

songs come out of the mouths
of his wife and children

out of the mouths of pioneers watching the figure of Columbia
lift off the prairie and rise
half out of her robe. Oh Burgeoning Art

Oh Poetry Yet To Be, they say
pointing to her breasts

that part of the clouds
pointing to the clouds

pointing to my name inscribed across the West in longhand.

Editorial note about this letter: The version of The Poetic License that McNair sent to Hall in this letter is similar to the published version of the poem, except that the “Oh Burgeoning Art” in line 18 becomes line 19 and opens the next stanza.

Read The Poetic License (published version)

Read Stone Walls (published version)

Read Flies (published version)

Read Traffic (published version)

Read Memory of Kuhre (published version)