VII. “What a year you have had.” (1/2/1984 – 12/28/1984)

What a year you have had,” Don writes in the final letter of this section looking back on 1984.

Wesley McNair
Wesley McNair on the road as a weekend teacher, c 1984.
Letter from Poetry about the Tietjens prize, November 1984.

During this last year of our correspondence, there have been publications in The Atlantic, PoetryIronwood, and the Iowa Review. Poems have been requested for three anthologies. Moreover, the appearance of my new book has led to a request by an editor at Norton to see a second book; the offer of a visiting professorship at Dartmouth College in the fall; and Poetry‘s annual Eunice Tietjens Prize.

The letters show how important Don has been to my success,sending my poems out in the person of Joey Amaryllis, and when my book comes out at last, advising me where to send review copies and prodding interviewers in New Hampshire. Our letters reveal, too, how important I have become to Don. In 1984 I send him more pages of criticism about his poems in progress than he sends me, adding to this, on August 24, advice against using Joey as a pen-name when submitting his recent formalist verse.

In his final letter Don contrasts my good year with his and Jane’s “lousy” one. He is no doubt thinking in part of Jane’s continuing bouts of depression, which he remarks about more than once in this early correspondence. He seems to have forgotten the good news that he has just been inducted as Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, even though, in the moment of writing his letter, he is wearing the sweatshirt I sent to him commemorating the event.

Donald Hall
Jane Kenyon


Anyway, there have been lousy moments in my year, too. My moonlighting during the spring and summer at area colleges has interfered with my writing. And though I do not speak of it in these letters, I, too, experience depression, even though it’s less serious than Jane’s; in fact, the very poem Don discusses in his final letter is based on my low mood. This dark poem, which describes a journey by car through a scary New England “town of no” full of menacing houses and buildings, results directly from my fall semester at Dartmouth College, where I’ve felt isolated, and rejected by my sources as a poet.

But from one’s sense of imperfection comes the need to achieve perfection in art. So it is fitting that Don ends this selection of our correspondence by longing, despite life’s disappointments and distractions, to “look at a piece of paper again” — that is, to write poetry. Generous to a fault, he also reaches out to me, helping me once more to make the new poem as good as it can be.

[This section has 84 letters]