McNair to Hall: September 13, 1980


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September 13, 1980

Dear Don,

While I am delighted that Joey finds “The People Upstairs”
“absolutely perfect” (his enthusiasm for my poetry is, after
all, one of the main things that keeps me going), I am also glad
to have your more reflective judgement [sic] of the poem.

I did worry about “faint scream” as a cliché, and I am
sure you are right that the phrase should be changed. I hope you
feel as I do that the new word of 3 is more resonant (in all
senses) than “faint”. I also hope you like the change in 1.
Please feel free to let me know if otherwise.

I have decided to go with the rest of it. “Weightless”
[Written in margin: It’s also the enjambment
which the word makes possible, in the preceding line that
I’d have trouble replacing -]
and “earshot” seem to me irreplaceable, and if 2 doesn’t say
enough, I can’t see how to fix it. At this point, it does feel
right to me. Or right enough that I am ready, with Valery, to
abandon it.

I always worry about these poems which depend so much on
the space around themselves to complete their utterance…That is,
I worry that the space does more for me than it might for the
reader. In this poem, visual space should become aural, and
both kinds of space should contribute to the “distance” between
upstairs and downstairs. I have tried for similar effects with
the page around the poem in “Memory of Kuhre” and “Elinore Quelch”,
and while I am reasonably sure the first of the two works, I
do not know about the Quelch poem. Nobody seems to like that one.

I hope you like this piece, in any event. If you do, please
give it to Joey.

One more thing: Would you please let me know which five
poems you think I should send to Houghton Mifflin? I should be
writing them soon.




A note from McNair about this poem: Eventually, Don’s “reflective judgment” about “The People Upstairs” as well as my own led to pulling the piece from my book-length manuscript of poems; I also dropped the verse about Elinore Quelch (See Elinore Quelch). However, I “raided” parts of “The People Upstairs” for my later poem “The Longing of the Feet,” whose published version is available in the footnote of the letter from June 3, 1982.

Read Memory of Kuhre (published version)