Letters Between Poets
My project has to do with an exchange of letters between me and an important mentor of mine, the poet Donald Hall, during my early struggle as a poet. The goal is to put these letters online so students and teachers can read them and learn what it’s like to develop as a poet. I hope especially that they’ll give encouragement and guidance to other beginning poets and writers trying to find their way. I will need technical support in order to mount this project, and your contribution will go straight to programming, design, and tech support.
My own struggle to become a writer began in my early twenties. Probably the best thing I ever did was to marry my wife, Diane, but we got married pretty young – she was barely 22, and I was 21 -- and she brought a couple of children from an even earlier marriage, and we quickly had 2 more. Both of us worked to support the kids – she as a waitress, and I as a high-school teacher, trying to fit in graduate courses – and there wasn’t much time to be a writer. But I was still desperate to be one, and I’d somehow managed to put together a skinny manuscript of poems.
So when a couple of my high school students offered to introduce me to their neighbors, Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, I brought this skinny manuscript along with me, and when I left, I took it out of my coat pocket, and put it on their kitchen table, and got out of there!
A couple of days later a letter from Don came in the mail, and when I finally dared to open it, I found these six words I’ll never forget: “I am dazzled by your poems.” I carried that note around with me everywhere. I probably even took it to bed with me. And as it turned out, Don’s letter was the start of a correspondence between the two of us that has lasted to this day.
What I want to put online in this project is just the first part of our correspondence, from 1976, when I met Don at his farmhouse, to 1983, when I published my first book.
Those letters include a range of themes about the writing life, for instance, advice about the craft of writing, suggestions for the revision of poems in progress, encouragement in the face of rejection by editors, and the effort to find time for creative work. What begins as a correspondence between a student and mentor moves toward an exchange between friends and peers. Online visitors will be able to experience the correspondence as a conversation that unfolds chronologically, letter by letter. They’ll also be able to access letters by topics, dates, and titles of those poems in progress under discussion.
I should add that the McNair/Hall correspondence will be part of an innovative online exhibit sponsored by Colby College, which now has my personal papers. For more about the exhibit, which includes poems, poetry manuscripts, audio readings, and questions for students, go to http://web.colby.edu/specialcollections/wesley-mcnair/loversoflost/ .
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