Who? Me? Come in, come in!
Had I been able to listen to my voice mail an hour earlier, I’d like to think Robert Creeley and I would have enjoyed breakfast together on that crisp autumn morning in 2003 when he called me. After I arrived at the office, I heard the message he’d left suggesting we meet at a café near his hotel so we could chat in person for an article about writers’ correspondence I was working on. Instead I settled for a continuation of our e-mail conversation, which started a couple of years earlier, when I interviewed him for this magazine, and ended a couple of years later, when he died at the age of seventy-eight. He signed off each note with “Best as ever,” which always filled me with gratitude for the opportunity to connect with the poet whom critic Marjorie Perloff called an heir to William Carlos Williams. That reference, which appeared in his New York Times obituary, reminds me of something Creeley told me in our earlier interview, about his having written to Ezra Pound and Williams in the late 1940s, “hoping for their help with a fledgling magazine that never got really started—but, most important, it gave me a chance to say how much each meant to me,” he said. “When I was finally able to visit Williams in the mid-fifties, I recall almost keeling over when he appeared suddenly at the door. I remember him asking me if I was all right, just that I looked so pale. When I said I had never been so afraid of meeting someone in my life, he answered, ‘Who? Me? Come in, come in!’”
In this issue John Freeman (page 25) writes about the magic of seeing writers we admire in person: “I had to lose people important to me before I could truly appreciate that a form of living literary history was unfolding before me. It is hard to believe some people will ever leave us, especially our heroes, but then suddenly, abruptly, irrevocably, they’re gone. I’ve spent years discovering how things that are hiding in plain sight...are parts of a history I can only catch glimpses of in person.” Katrina Vandenberg (52) makes a similar point when she describes the thrill of attending the same event as Dorianne Laux and Jane Hirshfield. “These were names I had seen only in journals and books. Suddenly those writers were real to me, and I felt I had become a small part of a larger chain.”
This issue reminds me again and again that behind words on the page are real people reaching out for connection. Given the divisive nature of today’s political discourse and the current state of our “union,” this feels like a profound gift. Best as ever,