McNair to Hall: October 22, 1980


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October 22, 1980
Dear Don,

How do you like my new note paper? I’m not sure
I do, but Diane bought it for me, and here, we waste

You were good to take the time to warn me about the
Teaching of Creative Writing in America. I am so often
idealistic about the teaching of anything. Though I
should certainly know better by now, I still imagine the
perfect class, the perfect approach, the perfect colleagues.
I fear my mind is clouded (so to speak) with such thoughts
as I dream of a job as an instructor of writing.

You may be right in questioning my move from
Colby-Sawyer. Here, in any event, is my case against
Colby: Enrollment there is declining. In the past year,
the decline has been quite serious. Though I have
tenure, I am not certain whether the College itself
does. I do not relish the fight which may be
coming for the dry end of the deck dock. And I worry
that if I don’t try to move now, before I am 40,
I may face an even tougher time later, with
employers who are looking for a prettier, and younger

Of course, those “sub-literate” girls do get me
down occasionally – as do some of the less visionary
faculty members I have to deal with in the maintenance


and development of the American Studies program.
And I am not at all happy with the pay scale at
the College, which is not likely to improve any time soon.

[Written in margin: But this seems ungrateful as I reread
and I should add that I have made a few good friends at CSC, have
had some very good students, and have often been treated generously by the institution —]

Yet I am torn. I have a sabbatical coming up
next year. If I were to leave this year, I would
miss that – and more time off for writing. (However,
staying for the sabbatical would mean staying for one
year beyond the sabbatical year…two years in all.)
Also, I would miss northern New England in the (likely)
event I had to leave the area. Needless to say, I
would also miss the proximity to you at Eagle Pond Farm.

Since receiving your letter, I have decided to try for
jobs combining literature and writing, and emphasizing
the former. My credentials are better for that sort
of position anyway, and I certainly would not want
to end up in the lizard-infested swamp you describe.
Besides, I would miss teaching literature. I am glad
for your guidance there.

It could always happen that after all my efforts,
I wouldn’t land a job. That would settle the whole
thing for me – I would stay two more years, period.
Anyway, I will keep you posted, and should this letter
occasion new thoughts on the matter, I’d be happy to
hear what they are.

I was happy to learn of the reading you and
Jane will give at Carl’s next Monday. Of course
I will be there. It will be good to hear Jane read


(I’ve never heard her before) and to hear some of her
new work. And I look forward to hearing again
some of the wonderful poems of Kicking the leaves.
Do you take requests? Would you consider reading
“Flies,” one of my favorites, which I’ve never
heard you read? I would also love to hear an
earlier, shorter poem – one whose title I never can
recall – about the public urinals. That poem, too,
is a particular favorite.

But these may not fit your format for the evening,
and I will be most grateful to hear whatever you
may decide to read. (Believe it or not, I can still
hear whole passages of poems you read during that
wonderful evening at Colby three years ago!) I
shall be sorry to miss the trumpeting, bowing
and flugling you do to “tune up” before the
reading. I can picture the chipmunks and other
poor dumb animals fleeing deep into the woods
as you prepare yourself on the way over!

Anyway, Diane and I are glad to be beginning
next in this week in this most positive way. We will
see you Monday!



P.S. Wanted to tell you that I will not be sending the
revision of the “fat” poem I just completed or
anything else I have worked on – for a long time.
This time I mean it. You are right that
finished poems should be kept for awhile.
Certainly all poems should be given time. And
when one is writing during a grant or sabbatical
period, there is a tendency to want to
finish everything and count it all up. I have found
that a destructive inclination, and I am trying
mightily to resist it – to let poems develop in their
own time, whether it happens to fall within the
grant period or not. Whenever you may get poems,
though, rest assured I am working, working.

P.P.S. I was delighted with your prediction about Davison.
Whether it proves out or not, I am glad for the
Faith it shows you and Joey have in my poems.

A note from McNair about this letter: The reading I refer to was given for guests at the home of the English department chair at Colby-Sawyer College, Carl Cochran. My teasing about Don’s “flugling,” etc. plays off his own comic description of preparations for his reading three years before….. The “fat” poem mentioned in the postscript is “The Fat People of the Old Days,” discussed with Don in Section III of our correspondence and still underway.

Read Flies (published version)

Read The Repeated Shapes (published version)