My problem isn’t death but old age. I fret about my lack of balance, my buckling knee, my difficulty standing up and sitting down.
It used to be that one poet in each generation performed poems in public. In the twenties, it was Vachel Lindsay, who sometimes dropped to his knees in the middle of a poem. Then Robert Frost took over, and made his living largely on the road.
Friends die, friends become demented, friends quarrel, friends drift with old age into silence.
I would work until I got stuck, and I would put it down and pick up something else. I might be able to take a 20-minute nap and get to work again. That way, I was able to work about 10 hours a day… It was important to me to work every day. I managed to work on Christmas day, just to be able to say I worked 365 days a year.
After a couple of years of public high school, I went to Exeter – an insane conglomeration of adolescent males in the wilderness, all of whom claimed to hate poetry.
There’s a great deal of stripping away; in early drafts, I may say the same thing two or three times, and each may be appropriate, but I try to pick the best and improve it. I work on sound a great deal, and I will change a word or two, revise punctuation and line breaks, looking for the sound I want.
I have seen so many poets who were famous, who won all sorts of prizes, disappear with their death. I write as good as I can and don’t try to turn that into some hope for a future that I could never know.
In 1975, I quit my tenure, and we moved from Ann Arbor to New Hampshire. It was daunting to pay for groceries and the mortgage by freelance writing – but it worked, and I loved doing it.
I was at Harvard with a whole bunch of poets, and that was very rare. They published a lot of books because there was an excitement after the war that translated into poetry.
I’m happy to feed the squirrels – tree rats with the agility of point guards – but in fair weather, they frighten my finches. They leap from snowbank to porch to feeder and stuff their cheek pouches with chickadee feed.