The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Great Poet

Because the wife and boy are gone this week, off meeting the brand-new niece, I took the opportunity to spend the weekend of the 4th getting some legwork done for the new book. I drove up to central New York State (Munnsville) to interview a Great Poet who had been involved in the 1950s magazine that I'm currently writing about. Beautiful drive. I've never been in what is apparently called the "Southern Tier" of New York State, and I got to wander all over it.

Great Poet was, in many ways, straight out of central casting. Crotchety, potbellied, with a beard almost covering his "Where the Hell is Truckee?" t-shirt. Because of emphysema he's on oxygen, and his air compressor hummed through our interview. (I taped it with a Dictaphone that I picked up on 14th St. in NYC about eight years ago before another interview—I haven't used it or changed the batteries since, so I hope it worked.) He lived in a ramshackle little house in farm country, and when I went to the door and knocked loudly several times nobody answered. I called from my cell, got an answer, and told Great Poet that I was standing in front of his garage, here for my 1:30 appointment. He's well into his eighties, so his hearing's not great.) We talked for an hour, he mostly retelling stories that I had just read in his book but occasionally giving me some good material. Although he is certainly a Great Poet—his National Book Award was piled on the kitchen table next to some old newspapers—he's also largely an Unrecognized Poet with a chip on his shoulder about that. We talked a little poetry; he's partial to the lions of his generation who are gradually being phased out (Allen Tate, Randall Jarrell) and slagged on Jorie Graham, who (he told me) plopped down in his lap and tried to get him to join the faculty at Iowa several years ago.

I didn't get a great deal of material for the book, but he did confirm that a few of my paths were dead ends, as I suspected.


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