III. A Deepening (1/4/1980 – 10/6/1980)

Poetry Magazine
Poetry Magazine acceptance letter.

There is good news as this section opens. Joseph Amaryllis sends word that  Poetry magazine has accepted two of my poems. But there is bad news as well. Don becomes so upset about my dual submission of poems to another editor that he decides Joey can no longer represent me.

The other editor is a friend who founded a new Boston magazine about to go to press in its first issue without enough material. My work would help him with his start-up, and me with a Boston audience, I thought to myself, and besides, these were lesser poems that had been going nowhere. But Don (whose initial letter on the subject is missing) thought I had behaved badly, and he was right. The scrape I got myself into passed, but not without its lesson. I learned from it not only about proper submission, but all over again about Don’s value to me as a submitter, advisor and friend.

Colgate Hall, Colby Sawyer College
Colgate Hall, Colby-Sawyer College. Image courtesy Cleveland Colby Colgate Archives, Colby-Sawyer College.



That is likely why I begin to sign my letters following this event with love, and to take his criticism more seriously. Asmy relationship with him deepens and I feel the vindication of my NEA fellowship, my correspondence becomes more frequent. During 1980, I write him nearly as many letters as in the four previous years combined, many of them accompanied by drafts of poems, and some others appraising Don’s own poems.



The Faces of Americans
The Faces of Americans manuscript, by Wesley McNair

Don’s enthusiasm for my new work and Joey’s success in publishing it blunt the pain of not placing my book with any of the presses I send it to, including the house for which Don is poetry consultant, Harper & Row.Yet I still grouse about my situation, and Don steps in to encourage me, most notably in his astonishing letter of July 8, 1980, after which I find myself encouraging him about his own work.

CaldecottSeptember arrives with news that Don has won the 1980 Caldecott Medal for his children’s book The Ox-Cart Man.The September letters also show us in conversation poems I hope to give to Joey for submission to magazines. In this fall, the two of us switch roles. Sponsored by my NEA fellowship, I am home at my farmhouse writing and revising poems; meanwhile Don is at Colby-Sawyer College, teaching a course in composition to spark interest in the second edition of Writing Well, his college textbook.

[This section has 48 letters]