Everything I have lived has, usually in some reimagined or sublimated form, gone in my poetry. In what follows I try to tell about those circumstances and events that have formed me as a poet.
    We lived in an old house in Memphis that my grandparents had bought in 1890. In the early years of their marriage, South Cox Street was outside the city limits in a little community called Lenox, which had its own station on the L&N railroad line running cast from downtown Memphis through what I have called the "whitewashed towns and sparse farms" of West Tennessee. My grandmother's people came from the farming community of Allen's Station, near Brownsville, where the family gathered every year to celebrate Thanksgiving. While the women prepared the feast, the men went out quail hunting through harvested fields where tufts of cotton that had eluded the pickers' hands clung to the ragged plants, and faded corn stalks creaked in the wind. My father shot left handed and was known as a crack shot. I loved the smell of the spent shotgun shells. One Thanksgiving it snowed, and all of us cousins and aunts and uncles had to bed down over night in the farmhouse.
    My grandfather, Adonirarn Judson Williford, farmed near Bartlett, Tennessee, which at one time was the county seat of Shelby County. At some point he took up the law and moved to Memphis, where he was active in Democratic Party politics. Eventually he became a judge, and for obscure reasons the people in the neighborhood called him "Squire." In a field next to the house he grazed his horse, which was named "Our Bob," after Robert Love Taylor, a popular governor of Tennessee and grandfather of the Memphis novelist Peter Taylor.
    A. J. Williford died in the influenza epidemic that swept the country right after the First World War. Because I never had the chance to know him, he became a figure of mystery for me. As a child I used to dress up in his top hat and Chesterfield coat from the attic or poke through his legal papers, which were kept in a big trunk stenciled with the initials AJW. I have his pince-nez and wear his Masonic ring, made of old gold with a reddish tint. The emblem on it is now worn away beyond recognition. He was not a churchgoing man. When my grandmother, who was, brought the Baptist preacher to see him on his death bed—this was during Prohibition—he asked the preacher to go out and find him a bottle of beer. "You're probably the only man in Memphis who could get me one," he said by way of explanation. My grandmother always used to say that I was "a true Williford," by which I think she meant I was proud, had a sense of humor, and was subject to grandiose notions.
    My mother graduated from Tennessee College in Murfreesboro, where she majored in classics. In an old scrapbook I recently found a one-inch item from a Memphis Commercial Appeal of the 1920s that reads, "Miss Martha Williford, daughter of Mrs. A. J. Williford, 190 Cox Street, who is a member of the faculty at Snowden School, sailed yesterday from Montreal for Europe. She will visit several countries and will study in Paris, returning about Sept. I." She remembered this trip fondly and used to tell my brother and me about her little hotel in Paris on the rue Madame next to the Luxembourg Gardens. It's curious to think that Mama was in Paris at the same time Hemingway, Joyce, and Fitzgerald were flourishing there. For the first few years of my life she taught French and Latin at Miss Hutchinson's, a girls' school near our house in what, as the city has grown and spread out eastward, has come to be known as Midtown. I remember her walking me to kindergarten on her way to her teaching job.

The little French I still have, I speak with a Southern accent.
    I went to grammar school at Lenox, an imposing brick structure with big granite eagles perched on the cornices overlooking its main entrance, four houses down the street from where we lived. Our family took pride in the school because my grandfather was one of the men I responsible for its having been built. Lenox has now been turned into condominiums, but when ever I am in Memphis I visit the school and go round to the spot where my grandfather's name is chiseled into a stone tablet next to the front door. My father was from Great Barrington, Massachusetts —the descendant of Pardon Elisha Tillinghast, who left East Anglia and settled in Providence in 1640. In England the Tillinghasts were Dissenters who went to Cambridge University and wrote contentious books about religion and politics. They opposed the monarchy and some of them may have been among the Regicides. Daddy came to Memphis in the early thirties to work for Proctor & Gamble, met my mother, and lived in the South for the rest of his life. He was an inventor who developed several new machines for the cotton business, including a new cotton compress that he was only partially successful in convincing people in the industry to adopt.
    My parents were married in 1932. Many times during my youth I would hear how, the month after they were married, my father's paycheck was reduced by half. Readers of my poems "R.C.T.," "The Knife," and "Father in October" will know him as a straightforward man of integrity. His New England temperament-and accent-differed greatly from anything else in my experience. My brother David and I thought expressions of Daddy's like "up attic" and "down cellar" were very amusing. America has become so culturally homogeneous now, it's hard to appreciate that in the 1940s a Southerner and a New Englander—my parents, for example— were practically citizens of two different countries. As I grew up, particularly after I got to know New England better, I came to see this mixed cultural heritage as the source of certain conflicts within my own character, and then later, as a strength.
    Today it is also hard to appreciate the hold that the Civil War exercised on the imagination of the South as recently as the 1940s. Barry Pickett, a classmate of mine in junior high school, was a descendant of General George Edward Pickett, who led the Confederates' heroic and catastrophic charge at Gettysburg. Fully half of our American History class in junior high school was spent studying "the War of Northern Aggression." While considerable historical reading—as well as insight into the psychological effects of enslavement gleaned from books like Toni Morrison's novel Beloved—has brought home to me the unspeakable evils of slavery, I still regard the Southern struggle as heroic. The threadbare, daredevil troops who followed Lee and Jackson and Forrest into battle won an ineradicable place in Southern hearts. While knowing and accepting most of the reasons I should not love the Confederacy, still, as I wrote in Sewanee in Ruins, my long poem about the aftermath of the war in a small Tennessee community,

   my thoughts are with men I have heard of
       and read of
   who, possessed by a fatal romanticism,
   killed at fourteen,
    ate corn burned in the field,
   and wore the dead enemies' shoes
   in 1865, when everything burned
   but the brick chimneys
   and a way of talking.

I will confess to getting a lump in my throat when I hear "Dixie." A widely held view of American history has succeeded in defining the Civil War as a contest for or against slavery, but for the white South it was also, and more importantly, a war that tested our ancestors' loyalty, courage, and willingness to fight bravely against impossible odds. That said, I reluctantly no longer have the Confederate flag hanging on the wall of my study, because racists have, sadly, defined it as a symbol of bigotry. A statistic I cited in Sewanee in Ruins is that in 1860 only 3 percent of Tennesseans owned slaves. And though my maternal ancestors were among that 3 percent, I still see the Southern cause as a fight to defend the homeland. A story passed down in our family tells of deaf Uncle Joe in Bells, Tennessee, who did not hear the Yankee soldier call out "Halt!" and was shot in the back while riding out of town one day in 1864. I have his watch, a solid gold Elgin with a hunting case.

Shelby Foote, whom I interviewed for the Southern edition of Ploughshares that George Garrett and I edited in 1983, summed up the rationale of the average Southern soldier. "This is a rich man's war. You don't have anything to gain from it," a Union soldier called out to a Rebel across the line of battle. "Why are you fighting?" The ragged, hungry Southern veteran unhesitatingly shouted back, "'Cause y'all are down here!" Does this mean I wish the South had won the Civil War? Of course not. I would not like to contemplate what the Confederacy triumphant would have been like. But in the time and place where I grew up, the war lives in memory as the quintessential Lost Cause.
    When I was one year and twelve days old the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And though I had not quite turned five when the Second World War ended, I have discovered as an adult what a hold the images and emotions of those years have on me. I stress "images" here. Before I could read, my grandmother—no doubt in an effort to keep me occupied—had me cutting pictures out of magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and pasting them into scrapbooks. Pictures of fighter planes, aircraft carriers in the South Pacific, the American flag being raised over Iwo Jima-images which were everywhere during the war-implanted themselves in my consciousness. While writing the title poem of my fourth book, Our Flag Was Still There, these images, mixed with memories of my own not derived from external sources, came rushing to the surface. Some are seriocomic, like this picture of "Chessie," the Chesapeake & Ohio's advertising mascot, taken from the Post:

   One paw bandaged.
   A Congressional Medal of Honor
    red-white-and-blue-ribboned around his neck.
    As convincingly at attention as a military-style,
    family-oriented cat can be in a pullman car.
    On his well-groomed chest, rows of campaign
   A dignified, "can do" look
   hovers about his muscled smile.

The generation of men who won the war for us represented authority and security for me as a young child. The affection I feel toward that generation is related to the sense of security I derived from images of our victory World War II:

   Against a backdrop of blue sky and
      innocent clouds,
   a line of six blunt-nosed P-47 fighters
   boxy and powerful like the grey Olds
   we bought after the War
   and drove to the Berkshires for the
   flew off on a mission to Corregidor.

I see in my poetry a continuing involvement with history and politics, as well as a strong inclination to let images carry much of the meaning. Looking back, it seems that I arrived at both of those qualities very early on.
    As a boy I spent a lot of time drawing. My perusal of the World Book, our family encyclopedia, led me to become knowledgeable about the Napoleonic wars. Like Robert Lowell, the man who would become my writing teacher and most influential mentor when I was in graduate school, I could rattle off the names of Napoleon's generals at an early age. Some of my earliest drawings showed the confrontations at Waterloo between the phalanxes of British infantry and the French cavalry. All through my youth, until I went away to college, I took Saturday, summer, and sometimes evening classes at the Memphis Academy of Art, which in those days was housed in two wonderfully decrepit Victorian mansions in a down-at-the-heels part of town. Learning to draw, painting still lifes, sketching the models who posed for us in what had been the parlors of an Italianate mansion built by the Lee family, who had made a fortune from Mississippi riverboats, I thought that one day I would be a painter. Though I have not made a career in the visual arts, I can see now how important that training has been to my image-making ability as a writer.
    My freshman year at Central High School, playing drums in the marching band looked like a good alternative to being a cadet in our school's Reserve Officers Training Corps. Our band played for weekly military exercises when the cadets marched from Central to their parade ground. My fellow percussionists and I were a mischievous bunch of rebels. We delighted in speeding the beat up to unmarchable levels or substituting for the straight, military 4/4 rhythm an improvised samba beat we were pretty good at. The cadets would trip over their brogans and their M-Is trying to keep up with what we were playing, until the order inevitably came for us to bring the beat back to what the sergeant considered acceptable.

    My first two jobs were bagging groceries down at the local super-market and shelving books at the public library. From my earnings my first two purchases were a drum set and a tuxedo. Throughout high school I played in bands: jazz, rock 'n' roll, and country and western. The fifties were an exciting time to be playing music in Memphis. My brother played the banjo and I played the guitar, and we learned folk songs from singers in the Ozarks, where we camped and fished and went canoeing in the summers, as well as from the Weavers records and Alan Lomax folk music collections we got from the public library. When we took our instruments to parties for the employees at my father's plant in North Mississippi, there were singers among the black workers who would plug in their amplifiers and play the blues in that Delta style that had been making its way north to Chicago. At country club dances white band leaders like Colie Stoltz would sometimes bring on an old bluesman to play a set.
    Rockabilly was in its prime. Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins were popularizing an eclectic style that brought a rock 'n' roll beat to country and western lyrics. Every one my age listened to Dewey Phillips's "Red Hot and Blue" show on WHBQ and rhythm and blues was the music we danced to and played in our own bands. The hippest among us listened to jazz; Marvin Stamm, first trumpet in the band at Central High, is now well known in the world of jazz.
    The jazz and rock gigs we played were fairly conventional parties or dances attended by middle-class kids like the ones I went to school with. The country-and-western gigs were something else entirely. I played in a band with three truck drivers, and we were booked into low-life nightclubs, most of them on the outskirts of town, the very existence of which I'm sure my parents were unaware. Memphis has been called the capital of Mississippi; it also acts as a magnet to the surrounding countryside in West Tennessee and across the river in Arkansas. Some of the roughest nightclubs are to be found on the highways that run into town from Millington or Bolivar, Tennessee, or from Mississippi. I remember playing gigs at a dive called the Rodeo Club, halfway out into the county. We would set out for a gig with the piano player driving his old Chrysler, my drums in the trunk, and the bass fiddle filling most of the passenger space-the butt of it resting on the ledge behind the backseat, the fiddlehead resting on the dashboard right under the rearview mirror. The Rodeo Club was famous for its bare-knuckle brawls that would clear the entire club about once every Saturday night. The drum set offered protection when these fights erupted. When somebody broke the neck of a beer bottle on the edge of the bar and went after somebody else, I would get down behind my bass drum and watch the action unfold.
    The guitar player would arrive in his '48 Buick four-holer with his wife and kids in the car. They would sit out in the car while we played. The guitar player was really hot, but he drank. At some point during every gig he would pass out while playing. The biggest problem with this was that when he blacked out he would fall backward onto my drum set. I would listen carefully to how he played and try to anticipate the precipitating moment. When it happened I would leap up and grab him before he hit the cymbals. Then we would carry him out to the Buick, where he would be revived and sent back in to play the next set.
   No greater contrast can be imagined than between the Saturday nights I spent at the Rodeo Club and my undergraduate days at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. As a freshman I was already a reader of Southern writers, including William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and John Crowe Ransom. The sense of the South as a land of mythic dimensions had a strong purchase on my imagination. The small towns of Tennessee, with their white clapboard houses, big shade trees, and memories of guerrilla raids by Nathan Bedford Forrest, took on the dignity of literary distance in Ransom's poems. As I read Warren's All the King's Men on the bus during the high school band's tour of Louisiana, the novel's straight slab of highway blended in my mind with the actual road we were traveling. That the real life setting for William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County was only eighty miles from Memphis encouraged me to believe that I too could make something solid and lasting in words from my life in the same part of the country. Witnessing the transubstantiation of place through the written word has remained for me a thrilling and almost holy experience.
    In his memoir, Lanterns on the Levee, William Alexander Percy writes of Sewanee—which graduates of the school call "the Mountain"— as Arcadia. It was that and more for me. Dreams of myself as a future artist or musician melted away. Poetry became everything for me; I wrote constantly. The Victorian Gothic fantasy of the college's architecture, the steep limestone cliffs with their views over the surrounding lowlands, the vivid autumns and startling springs—which could begin in February and keep going through May—all of this was like a waking dream for me. I was also caught in the throes of a tragic teenage romance, which in time-honored style contributed to the sweet sorrow of my first year on the Mountain.
    Sewanee is an Episcopal college, and in those days chapel was compulsory. My time there predated the recent adulteration of the Book of Common Prayer, so I heard the stately cadences of Cranmer's prayer book along with the King James Bible on a daily basis. An enduring sense of the greatness of the English language seeped into my awareness. Our professors were our idols, however much we might parody them and chafe against their authority. Of all the fortunate things that have happened to me, the experience of studying Shakespeare with Charles T. Harrison, English history with David Underdown, Victorian prose with Abbott Cotton Martin, political science with Arthur Dugan, and modern poetry with Monroe K. Spears was one of my great pieces of luck. Monroe Spears also published a dozen poems of mine in the Sewanee Review; these were my first publications.
    In the fall term of sophomore year my habits of staying up all night, smoking heavily, and otherwise neglecting my health caught up with me. The doctors diagnosed my hacking cough, which wouldn't go away, as acute bronchitis. Early during Christmas vacation that year I went into the hospital, where about a third of my right lung was removed. When a staphylococcus infection developed in the operation scar, things started to look grave. At the time I drifted in the somnolent euphoria induced by shots of pain-killing drugs, but I later found out that I came close to dying. I actually enjoyed being in the hospital: I listened to music a lot—Gilbert and Sullivan in particular, for some reason—and sketched and wrote. Nowadays I loathe hospitals, but then the place easily replaced the reality of the outside world.
    My hospital stay amounted to two months, and then I sat around the house recuperating for some time more. My mother took me to Florida for a while. This experience barely got into my poetry, except in one called "Less Than Yesterday, More Than Tomorrow," which I wrote eight years later while spending a month in Amsterdam. In the poem I recapture the convalescent's sense of fragility:

   Rising from sickness
   my bones thin, bending, tender to the touch.
   a lightness in the inner ear

   Things seem to rush at me.
   I huddle away from them, my mother driving—
    the street is shocking to the wheels.

The poem, influenced by Sylvia Plath, succeeds pretty well in rendering how strange it felt to leave the hospital, where I floated in a comfortable passivity, feeling very little. The poem closes almost brutally, with the brittle coldness of my adolescent indifference toward my parents:

   Less and less I feel I am falling forward.
   My mother is less patient,
   My father will send me to Florida.
   For them I am closing the door to the place
   where the dead children are stored,
   where the pets have gone to Heaven.

From an emotional standpoint, that ending appalls me today. Perhaps my having, in 1966, fallen temporarily under the spell of Sylvia Plath's weird, thrilling, inhuman bravado partially explains my attitude then. Now that I have children of my own, I have a hard time recognizing the young man who could turn such a cold shoulder toward his mother and father, who had gone through the deepest grief during my illness.
    Though weakened and subsequently susceptible to colds and bad coughs, I recovered from the operation and infection. Back at Sewanee I was picked to be captain of our College Bowl team. The flight from Chattanooga to New York was the first time I had flown, and I can still feel the surge and liftoff as our jet ascended from the airport. New York was a revelation. Just as I had enjoyed the sense of suddenly being taken seriously as an adult, with ideas and talent, upon arriving at Sewanee, in New York I luxuriated in having left Tennessee behind. Plus, my girlfriend, Nancy Pringle, whom I would later marry, was at Bryn Mawr and could join me for weekends in the Village. Our team did well in the contest, and that meant four free trips to the city. One moment on the quiz show showed me the extent to which I, as the novice intellectual, was still the teen- aged rock 'n' roll drummer from Memphis. When asked to give bonny Prince Charlie's other sobriquet (the Young Pretender), I sounded the buzzer and called out, "The Great Pretender!" (For readers who are unfamiliar with rhythm and blues, that's the title of a song by the Drifters.)
    When Andrew Lytle came to the Mountain to edit the Sewanee Review, he hired me as an editorial assistant during my senior year. Also during my senior year I began to spend time at the nearby Highlander Folk School, where the first stirrings of the civil rights movement were in motion. Folk music became protest music. With a small group of professors and friends, I became gradually aware of the injustice of racial segregation. My attitude toward Southern tradition soured. We had our own, rather genteel demonstrations on the Mountain, and Sewanee was officially integrated. I was suddenly a student radical and couldn't wait to leave the South. I lost the election for editor of the Sewanee Purple because of the stand I took against a racial incident on campus. Graduate school at Harvard was the logical next step.
    Like the alma mater that she is, Sewanee gives her favorite sons and daughters a high opinion of themselves that is not always completely justified. Robert Lowell's poetry-writing class at Harvard, which I took side by side with my English Lit courses, opened me to unfamiliar writing styles and introduced me to some very good poets my age and younger.
    Sewanee had one of the best English departments in the country, but it was satisfying to get the graduate education in literature that Harvard's solid, unflashy English department was equipped to give. To read Chaucer line by line in Middle English in B. J. Whiting's class, to get a thorough grounding in eighteenth-century prose in Walter Jackson Bate's course on Dr. Johnson, to study the literature of the English Renaissance with that dry Texan, Herschel Baker, who smoked a pipe and delivered his wry observations out of the other side of his mouth-graduate education at Harvard was a revelation of good sense and unhurried reading. Most satisfying to me was the exposure to Old English I got from William Alfred's class. As soon as I heard him read aloud from Beowulf, "The Wanderer," and "The Seafarer," I knew I had stumbled onto a poetry that would remain a touchstone for the rest of my writing life.
    My one source of discomfiture was my Southern accent. This was the heyday of Northern awareness of the civil rights movement, and the sound of a white Southern voice was enough to throw one's fellow Harvard students into attack mode. There was a certain irony to this. While most of them had come no closer to the struggle than the nearest television set, I had participated in sit-ins, had confronted the vice-chancellor at Sewance over his refusal to let Pete Seeger sing on campus, had carried protest signs in Atlanta, had been threatened by rednecks in bars, and had been called names I choose not to repeat. In trying to explain the South to them, it was hard to know where to start.
    Meeting Robert Lowell, though, was the experience of my years in Cambridge. Lowell had a genius for friendship. He liked Southerners, and he saw a kind of symmetry in our literary migrations. While he as a young New England poet had gone to Tennessee to study with John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, I as a young Southern poet had come to Massachusetts to study with him. Lowell had recently published his breakthrough book, Life Studies, in which, for most readers, he had left the Paleface stockade by cover of night and joined the Redskins. All true in a sense, but not for those who could appreciate the subtle intermingling of rhyme, meter, and free verse in his new work. While I was learning about free verse from other poets in Cambridge, Lowell was clearly pleased to discover a young poet who could construct a decent stanza. He would read aloud one of my elaborate ten-line stanzas from a poem like "Enter Your Garden" and challenge the other students: "Could you write something that well constructed?" "No, and who gives a damn?" they were likely to say. But the fellow feeling that came from a shared understanding of the craft, as well as some of the familiar Southern ways, bound us together as friends. Through Lowell I renewed my acquaintance with Peter Taylor, whom I had first met at Andrew Lytle's house in Monteagle, Tennessee.
    A Lowell poem was not written but built. This was true of his own poems as well as those by writers he admired, like Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Milton, John Crowe Ransom, Elizabeth Bishop. Lowell taught taste, probably without even intending to do so. I define taste—much derided at this particular moment in time—as earned opinion. As the convicts at San Quentin, where I taught in the mid-seventies, liked to put it, "Opinions are like [anal orifices (to euphemize)]. Everybody's got one." Taste has a bad name because it is, understandably, associated with snobbery. But without cultivating taste, an artist cannot grow. Lowell lived and breathed poetry. His attention to the art was thorough and unwavering. Like Elizabeth Bishop's "Sandpiper,"

   His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
   looking for something, something, something.
   Poor bird, he is obsessed!

To those of us who were lucky enough to sit around a seminar table or, later, to drink pitchers of vodka martinis with him at the Iruna, near Harvard Square, this single-mindedness was the gift Robert Lowell transmitted.
    Working with Lowell was only one of many things that were happening to me during the mid-sixties. In 1964 1 became editor-in-chief of Let's Go: The Harvard Student Travel Guide, The editorship financed a trip or two to Europe and gave me my start as a travel writer. My parents had sent me to Europe in 1961; just as had happened the first time I went to New York, in Europe I encountered a culture that impressed me as being aligned with the things that were important to me. At least half of the poems in the last section of my first book Sleep Watch, were written in Europe-the genesis of an important circumstance in my writing life. Being on non-native ground, breathing different air, seeing unfamiliar landscapes and buildings, all this gets poems going. Having grown up feeling inwardly alienated from most of the people around me, I came to feel most at home when away from home. I first saw Istanbul in 1964. The exotic atmosphere of the city struck some chord, and I have returned there five times since.

    In 1965 1 married Nancy Pringle in Charleston, South Carolina. She studied classics at Boston University while I did my graduate work. A Sinclair-Kennedy travel grant from Harvard allowed us to spend the academic year 1966-67 in Europe. We sold the new car my parents had given us as a wedding present and bought a new Volkswagen at the factory in Wolfsburg. The way we handled the grant enabled us to see a lot without feeling we were rushing about like tourists. We spent two or three months in Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Rome, toured Burgundy, Tuscany, the south of Italy, and Greece—including several islands—and made a short trip to Istanbul.
    Wherever we stayed we met young Europeans and expatriate Americans. Their way of life, their intellectual and artistic ideas, again broadened my sense of my own possibilities as a writer and gave me confidence to rise above what I considered to be the limitations of American culture. A bohemian culture, the beginnings of what would become "the counterculture" in America, was thriving in Paris and London. We lived in the City Hotel on the rue Monsieur-le-Prince in Paris, where, after we had breakfasted on the boulevard St. Michel, I would write poetry during most of the day. Then we would go out to the cafés at night. A friend was studying anthropology at the Sorborme with Claude Levi-Strauss—my first exposure to making comparisons between different cultures, a practice that would become part of my thinking from then on. After a psychedelic experience in the apartment of my friend Henry Wolff on New Year's Eve 1966, 1 wrote my first long poem, "The Old Mill," which took me back mentally to the amusement park at the fairgrounds in Memphis to find a metaphor for the experience. On our way back to the United States, passing through Brussels, Nancy and I bought a copy of a new LP called "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
    Perhaps during our year in Europe we were exposed to too much that was new. This was the beginning of what has come to be called "the sixties," and its appeal to me was enormous because it seemed to offer liberation in every part of one's life: psychic, sexual, political, literary. Nancy and I separated during the fall of 1966 (to be legally divorced in 1970), and I moved into digs in Kirkland House at Harvard, where I was a tutor. Many of my friends thought I was slightly out of my mind, and they were probably right. But it's hard to tell how much freedom one needs, and at that time I needed all the freedom I could get. The breakup of my marriage, though that was what I wanted, wounded me deeply, and the wounds took a long time to heal. Anyone who reads poems like "Come Home and Be Happy," "The Same Bird Again," "Everything Is Going to Be All Right," and "A Letter" from Sleep Watch will know how deep the pain went.
    Up to that point I had done my course work in the English Renaissance, but now that seemed too-what? Too hidebound, too English, too tradition-bound. I decided to write my dissertation on Robert Lowell's poetry, about which very little criticism had been written at that time. Over the next couple of years I enjoyed going over Lowell's poetry carefully, one line at a time. Later, when I had finished the thesis—in Berkeley in 1969—I never wanted to see it again. But it laid the groundwork for the critical memoir of Robert Lowell I would write later.

I was wild to go to California, where every thing seemed to be happening. Academic jobs were plentiful in those days, particularly for someone with a Harvard Ph.D. When the chairman of the Berkeley English department came to Cambridge, I showed up for the interview wearing motorcycle boots and my best suit, which I had had made on Savile Row a few years earlier. As it happened, my interviewer was wearing the same kind of suspenders ("braces," we Anglophiles call them) I was wearing. We had got them at the same shop in the Burlington Arcade. Clearly we had something in common, and soon I found myself with a job offer from Berkeley.
    I had never been to California before. I had only the vaguest idea what it even looked like. But I loaded my Volkswagen full of my few possessions and took off for the West Coast. The poet Bob Grenier and his wife Emily, friends of mine from Harvard, invited me to share a house with them near the UC campus. My years on the faculty at Berkeley are a bit of a blur. I have kept up with only a handful of my colleagues from the English department there: the historical novelist Thomas Flanagan and his wife Jean; Seamus Heaney, who was at that time a little-known visiting poet; Bob Tracy and his wife Becky, whom I see in Ireland every summer; and until his death, Tom Parkinson, the critic and godfather to the Beats.
    The late sixties and early seventies were heady days in Berkeley. The campus was the scene of one demonstration after another. The pattern was: a campaign of campus demonstrations, followed by police intervention, tear gas, and police charges, with picketing, singing, and rock throwing by the crowd of students, sympathetic faculty, and lumpenproletariat from the Berkeley streets. At this point the faculty would decide to go on strike, which meant that you would be manning the barricades with your students, or else the class would be meeting off- campus at your apartment so as not to violate the strike. None of this was particularly good for formal education, but it was exciting and liberating in many ways, I suppose. We learned a lot—though some of what we learned would make our later reentry into "straight" society difficult.
    Part of what we learned was an attumement to wilderness—the environmental movement was in its infancy. My friends and I made frequent backpacking trips to the Sierra Nevada, only a few hours away. And in the San Francisco Bay Area you are never far from beaches and parkland. I was also spending a lot of time with friends who were students of a Sufi master from San Francisco; I was gradually becoming involved in the "spiritual" subculture, taking yoga classes, learning to meditate, going for weekends with Tibetan lamas, and so on. My English department colleagues were not thrilled when I proposed to offer an experimental class that would bring some of these practices to the study of works of literature like Walden, the poetry of Wordsworth, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and the Don Juan books of Carlos Castaneda. My chairman decided we would call the course "Literature and Transcendent Experience," which had a respectable ring to it.
    Every Thursday afternoon my students and I would drive up to my cabin in Sonoma County and spend two days together reading and discussing books, meditating, doing Sufi dancing, and sleeping out under the redwoods. That cabin near Freestone provides the setting for the first two poems from The Knife and Other Poems: "Return" and "The Thief." In memory the place is drenched with an atmosphere of redwood forests and incipient mysticism. I meditated and did yoga for hours on my deck, which over looked an apple orchard. Suzy Papanikolas, a friend I had met at the Highlander Folk School and traveled with in Europe years before, lived just down the road and taught me a lot about Zen.
    For three summers in the early seventies I camped out and taught meditation at the Camp des Aigles, an international school run by the Sufi master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan in the French Alps near Chamonix, precariously perched on the side of a mountain, with a stunning view across the valley to Mont Blanc. Most of the people who came there were my age or a little younger, and most of them were from France, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. We improvised madly. We turned a shepherd's hut into our kitchen, ran a Honda generator for electricity, slept and meditated in army surplus tents that flooded when in rained—as it almost always did. My poem "Legends about Air and Water" from The Knife attempts to capture some of the atmosphere of that mountain retreat.
    Pir Vilayat, who taught an eclectic brand of meditation drawn from all the world's spiritual traditions, lectured alternately in English, French, and German. Like most New Age gurus, he slept with his female students, though most of us didn't know that at the time. He also had a wife in Paris and would later have another in California. When I discovered that side of the man I regarded as my spiritual teacher, I felt he had deceived us. Looking back on it, I may have been a bit narrow-minded. I treasure the mad gleam that came into his eyes when in the midst of a spectacular Alpine thunderstorm he would play a mass by Josquin des Prez on his big reel-to-reel tape player—the generator cranking away not quite beyond earshot—and urge us to contemplate the heavenly orders that were so clear to him and so hazy to me. The "spiritual hierarchy"— that invisible government that, in Pir Vilayat's Zoroastrian view of things, fought the everlasting battle of good against evil-had, I now see, some relation to the noble warriors of the Confederacy. If the armies of the masters, saints, and prophets ever need reinforcements on the plain of Armageddon, I'm sure they can count on the astral shades of Generals Lee and Jackson.

In addition to introducing me to the arcane astral worlds that existed perhaps only in his own noble and contradictory mind, Pir Vilayat inspired me to make the pilgrimage to India. On sabbatical leave from the University of California in 1970, after spending most of the summer at the Camp des Aigles, I set out on the overland trip east. This pilgrimage turned out to be even more inspiring, frustrating, comical, and unforgettable than my years under the tutelage of Pir Vilayat.
    In 1970 one could travel unhindered overland from Europe to the Indian subcontinent. On the train from Geneva to Istanbul I met an English teacher from Tabriz in Iran who was bringing home boxes of consumer goods, including a television set he had bought in Amsterdam. He taught me some Turkish and Persian phrases, and I kept an eye on his possessions whenever he had to leave the train compartment. I remember the two of us wandering around Sirkeci in Istanbul carrying the TV and the boxes, looking for a cheap hotel, and then having to move from one hotel to another because of the bedbugs.
    After putting him and his boxes on an eastbound train a few days later, I went to Konya, headquarters of the Mevlevi dervishes, with a friend from the Camp des Aigles. In Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist countries the spiritual life of the community centers on some holy place, often a saint's tomb, called a türbe in Turkish, around which a shrine has grown up. We spent our first evening in Konya at the türbe of Mevlana Celalettin Rumi, a place with a very light, inspiring atmosphere. Mevlana—or Rumi, as he is called outside Turkey—was the founder of the Mevlevi order of dervishes, known for their ecstatic music and dancing. My friend and I happened on the building where the dervish musicians were rehearsing and sat on the ground underneath the windows for hours listening to them play haunting music on their stringed instruments, hand drums, and wooden flutes. Inside these shrines rest the massive biers of the leaders of the Mevlevi order, covered in green cloth—green being the sacred color of Islam—with the departed man's massive turban coiled and resting over the head of the long box. Pilgrims walk around the shrine with their palms raised upward in the Muslim prayer posture to receive the blessings of the place. The writings of Pir Vilayat's father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, speak of developing the capacity of attuning oneself to the atmosphere of holy places like the shrine at Konya, and for me this traditional Sufi practice is not that far from the famous sense of place that Southerners are supposed to have. I pay tribute to Mevlana in my poem "Eight Lines by Jalal-ud-Din Rumi," which appears in The Knife.
    Visiting prerevolutionary Iran, I was taken aback by the hostility I seemed to arouse everywhere I went. Boys in a bazaar once threw stones at me. At first I thought it was because I wore my hair long and sported a big bushy beard, but later I concluded it was because I was a Westerner. The shah was spending millions of dollars celebrating the one-thousandth or some other equally fantastic anniversary of the Pahlavi dynasty—a ludicrous exercise, since in reality he owed his throne to American backing, a brutal secret police, and his father, a petty general who had seized power from the democratically elected government with help from the CIA. The country bristled with soldiers. I have never seen such a display of force on the streets of any country in the world. I wanted to visit the meetings of the Kalendar dervishes in Turkestan, but they had been canceled by the government for the duration of the shah's celebration because the Kalendar rites, in which the participants would go into a trance and run metal skewers through their cheeks to prove the power of spirit over flesh, were considered too barbaric for Western eyes.
    Who can explain the appeal of travel and of all that is exotic? I was particularly taken with Afghanistan, my next stop east of Iran. This was before the Russian occupation, the war to drive the Russians out, and the civil war that followed, reducing this mountainous home of fierce tribesmen to a wreckage of charred rubble. It seems that every other person walks on crutches in Afghanistan now or is missing an arm or an eye. Twenty-five years ago I saw ancient mosques and adobe forts that dated from the days of the Silk Route caravans and the conquests of the Mongols. I was amazed by Chinese-looking faces out of which peered the bluest of blue eyes—the inheritance of centuries—old racial intermingling. Statues and murals in remote caves spoke of a time when this part of the world had been Buddhist. The history I had imbibed in my own native region went back no more than two hundred years. Here I felt part of historical currents that dated back to wars, migrations, and spiritual and cultural movements that were as old as the human race.

    In Herat, where I spent most of my Afghani days, I bargained for Baluchi rugs in the bazaar and learned pidgin Hindi from other sojouners who had preceded me to India. Then on to Pakistan, where I lived in a Sufi khankah and practiced the Islamic rituals surrounding the observance of Ramadan. The sheikh of the Khankah had a tailor sew me up a suit of the local clothes so that I would not stand out so much in a crowd of Pakistanis. In the Lahore museum I saw art from Bokhara that blended Russian and Central Asian Islamic motifs, once again sharpening my appreciation of the fluidity of cultural traditions in this part of the world. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of people to whom I had been provided invitations by Pir Vilayat and other fellow travelers on what we called "the spiritual path." Islam fosters a sense of brotherhood unlike anything I have ever seen.
    Eventually, though, I wanted to move on to India, the source of my pilgrimage. War was threatening between Muslims and Hindus on the subcontinent. From the hotel where I had moved at the end of Ramadan I could see crowds demonstrating on the streets of Lahore, calling for confrontation with India. It was in that climate that I crossed the border between the two countries. My first day in India, two things happened: war was declared, and either I lost or someone pinched the pouch that held my passport, my shot record and other travel documents, and eight 100-dollar bills. I arrived in India broke and without any legal identity.
    Mysteriously, the pouch turned up in a small town eighty miles from Delhi. Word from the chief of police in the town reached me where I was staying in Delhi, and I took a car there. The chief of police, whose name told me he was a Muslim, invited me to his house, where a good lunch was served on the lawn. Then, as I watched in amazement, he handed over everything from the pouch, including the hundred-dollar bills, whose serial numbers he wrote down on an official form that he asked me to sign. I returned to Delhi feeling as if some strange morality play had been acted out for my benefit.
    The whole time I spent in India seemed equally marvelous and unreal. With David Freidberg, a friend from California with whom I was traveling at that time, I visited holy men of all persuasions, as well as ashrams, shrines, and temples all over northern India, with results that were sometimes mind-boggling, sometimes laughable. We bathed in and drank water from the Ganges with no apparent ill effects. We roamed the hills above Rishikesh conversing with saddhus, who kept little retreats in the forest. I experienced a startling moment of awakening when we were meditating with an obscure holy man in a small temple in the Himalayan foothills. We were debating some point from the Bhagavad Gita, which I had learned Sanskrit in order to read, when he unexpectedly called out, "Do you understand!?" at the same time striking me on the forehead with his bony, ascetic hand. And then, yes, I did understand.

    There is much else to tell about that journey but little room here in which to tell it. Using Kathmandu as a base, I went trekking by myself in Nepal, carrying only a small pack. I would buy food along the way or eat rice and dahl in the little inns to be found along the path in the mountains. In 1970 and 1971 trekking had not become as popular and well organized as it would be later. I met other Americans and Europeans occasionally and sometimes hiked with them for a day or two, but mainly I was on my own in a meditative solitude where I was often lonely and introspective, at other times thrilled by views of Annapurna and the other high peaks above where I was hiking.
    As I have suggested, this is a part of the world where out-of-the-ordinary things are likely to happen. I was staying at an inn on the Tatopani River in the Kali Gandhaki Valley in western Nepal when something else happened to me that I still regard with wonderment. Tatopani has hot springs that bubble up in the places along its bank, and I was alone, bathing and washing my clothes, recovering from a day during which the trail had climbed two thousand feet and then descended two thousand feet. Sitting in one of the hot springs, writing in my notebook, I suddenly realized that I would return to America, get married and have a family. This realization came in a quick series of mental images. I even sketched a little picture of the house we would live in.

   Soon my sabbatical time ran out and I was back at Berkeley. To no one's surprise I was not given tenure, and returned to the hippie life most of my friends were living, unhindered by gainful employment. If there is anything to regret about the sixties (for most of us it began in the mid-sixties and lasted into the late seventies) it is the excessive emphasis on the nonverbal. In addition to my pursuit of that ignis fatuus called "enlightenment," I took up drumming again in the early seventies and wrote song lyrics. It was possible to draw unemployment and live on my savings for a few years, but eventually it occurred to me that I would have to earn a living. For one who had followed Timothy Leary's advice to "tune in, turn on, and drop out," it came as a hard lesson that, while dropping out was easy, clawing my way back in took every ounce of will, resourcefulness, and determination that I could muster.

    Shortly after returning from India, I met and fell in love with Mary Graves. We married in 1973, and our first child, Joshua, was born in 1974. Josh is a professional bass player, and I attribute his excellent sense of time to his having heard me practicing my drum on a daily basis while he was in the womb. I kept my drum set in our big bedroom in the communal house where Josh was born in Mill Valley. Josh's birth was the most intense experience of our lives to that point. Becoming the father of a son touched off strong feelings about being a man. In "The Knife," which was triggered by Josh's birth, that object, which is not a weapon but a tool, provides a connection between three generations: my brother and our father, and my firstborn son.

  I see in its steel
    the worn gold on my father's hand
          the light in those trees
the look on my son's face    a moment old

    like the river    old like rain
  older than anything that dies can be.

With the pride of parenthood came an impulse to provide for my family so strong I am tempted to call it an instinct. I have observed it in other young fathers. One of my first jobs was doing carpentry work for a small outfit; all of us who worked on the job were musicians. At this time I also maintained and repaired a succession of Volkswagens, and though it was often frustrating, at the same time I found physical and mechanical work satisfying. I had never done any before. This feeling developed into a respect for hard work that I had never felt before, and I began to work very hard on my poetry. I had a small workroom above our garage, and I scotch-taped drafts of poems to the walls. My new book came to life within the four walls of that room. I was still a hippie, though, and Mary and I played in a rock/soul music/reggae band called Beauty and the Backbeats. Playing alongside the bass player Leroy Shyne, I experienced the rock- steady fusion of a tight rhythm section.

    Out of many grease-stained, knuckle-bruising hours solving problems and doing work that my study of English literature had not prepared me for, I earned the long poem called "Fossils, Metal, and the Blue Limit," a somewhat comical meditation on automobiles, fishing, ecology, and much else. During the days I spent working on cars I also gained new appreciation for my engineer father and the tradition of inventors and machinists he came out of. "Fossils, Metal, and the Blue Limit" approaches that tradition obliquely, from the point of view of the frustrated amateur mechanic:

     Were days like this foreseen
     in the Platonic heaven of machinists?
     or by the generations of men,
     with boots and soiled caps and wire-rimmed
     and daughters and sons,
     who brought iron ore out of the earth,
     learned to smelt it, and formed it into steel.

      Eventually, in 1976, I started teaching again—in the college program at San Quentin Prison. If carpentry and automobile mechanics had not been part of my upbringing, the criminal world of my convict students was another world altogether. At first prison scared me, with its steel and concrete, its tattooed heavies in their mirrored sunglasses and black watch caps, the armed guards, the gut-freezing clang of the gate that slammed behind me as I entered San Quentin every night. It was the hardest work I have ever done, teaching three-hour classes two or three nights a week. After about six months I became what they called "conwise" and lost the romanticized view of prisoners I had learned in the demonstrations at Berkeley. A lot of the soul and suffering, passion and tragedy, of those men's lives found its way into what may be my best poem, "Lost Cove & The Rose of San Antone." I perform it in almost all my readings, and it never fails to thrill me as I read aloud the lines about this imaginary outlaw, based on the lives of many of my friends from San Quentin:

      The fiddles and autoharp fill up the dark room
      and push out through paint-blackened screens
      into black oaks that press against the house.
      His face hurts me. It doesn't look right.

I felt a bond with these men, some of whom were fellow Southerners. Some came out of the same counterculture I had been living in. My sympathy for Islam helped me with the Black Muslims, and a shared love for music brought all of us together. At the same time there were evil men there, men whose cruelty and willingness to hurt and victimize could not be explained away by cloudy indictments of that receptacle for all blame, "society."
    Our daughter Julia was born in 1979, and finally, six years after leaving the University of California, I was offered a full-time teaching job at Sewanee. It was only for a year, but now I was back inside the academic profession. Mary, who cried over leaving her friends in California, took to life in Sewanee like a native. She was soon involved in a quilting group there. We lived in a great big stone-and-clap- board house at Morgan's Steep on the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley, and I did research for my long poem Sewanee in Ruins, handsomely printed two years later, with drawings by Ed Carlos—who teaches art at the University of the South—by Sewanee's university press; the job was overseen by my friend Arthur Ben Chitty. Andrew Lytle used to talk about the generation of men who had fought for the Confederacy, how they had come home from the war bone-tired and wounded. The poem explores the 1870s, that defining but often ignored decade when the defeated Confederacy attempted to recover from its losses.
    The year 1980 saw the publication of The Knife and Other Poems, as well as our move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was offered a three-year Briggs-Copeland lectureship at Harvard. This move reinforced the sense that my career had moved in one enormous circle, starting in Tennessee, moving to New England, then to the West, and now circling back to Harvard again by way of Sewanee. I read Robert Lowell's letters and papers at Houghton Library, and I finished Sewanee in Ruins in the little upstairs office at 34 Kirkland Street, where Seamus Heaney had an office down the hall.
    I was once again able to have long conversations with my old friend William Alfred at his house on Athens Street; to drink single-malt Scotch with Stratis Haviaris, who ran the Poetry Room at Lamont Library; to discuss poetry with old friends Frank Bidart, Gail Mazur, DeWitt Henry, and Lloyd Schwartz; to haunt the Grolier Bookshop, now in the hands of Louisa Solano and her little dog Pumpkin; to carouse with my old friend Peter O'Malley, one of the founders of Ploughshares, of which I became an editor. Harvey Shapiro called me from New York and asked me to start reviewing poetry for the New York Times, something I have been doing once or twice a year ever since. I ran a low-budget reading series at Dunster House, where Robert Bly, Stephen Sandy, Derek Mahon, Jayne Ann Phillips, and other writers appeared and read their work for pennies.
    I recall fondly two great parties, both held out-of-doors. One was the lamb roast and christening party for Elektra Haviaris; the other was a Derby Day barbecue Mary and I gave at our house in Watertown, when we served ribs and mint juleps to what seemed like the entire Cambridge literary community. Robert Fitzgerald was kind enough to let me audit his versification class, and I learned from him everything about rhyme and meter that I would later deploy when I returned to that discipline.
    After three years at Harvard I was offered a tenured position in Ann Arbor. George Garrett had been brought to the University of Michigan to start up an MFA program, and he brought me on board. This was an offer I was very glad to get. Our sons Andrew and Charles had been born in 1981 and 1983, and our family of six needed some financial security. Charles was two weeks old when we once again moved. We bought a two-story stucco house with four bedrooms, a good fireplace, a porch, and a deck in Burns Park, inhabited by station wagon-driving, softball-playing, PTO-attending, New York Times-reading folk, many of whom are my colleagues at the university. I took up gardening seriously for the first time. After my father died in 1981 and my mother had moved into a nursing home, my brother and I had to sell the house in Memphis. One December morning in 1984 we drove off from 190 South Cox Street in two 24-foot U-Haul trucks, transporting the furniture we had grown up with to our separate homes in Michigan and South Carolina. Our house here has a Victorian feeling to it, and I like sleeping in the bed my parents slept in, using their table silver, hearing, as I write these words, the tick of the Seth Thomas shelf clock from our kitchen in Memphis.
    Our Flag Was Still There,incorporating Sewanee in Ruins, was published in 1984. These new poems concerned themselves with war, with technology, with popular American culture. While preparing the manuscript I had an inspiration: I would write a poem about America during and after World War II, contrasting the generation who fought that war with my own sixties generation, and I would call it, quoting from the national anthem, "Our Flag Was Still There." This look at postwar America would resemble what I had earlier chronicled about Tennesseans during the aftermath of the Civil War. It was the first time the title of a poem had come first as a concept, and it was certainly the first time I had set out purposely to write a poem that would solidify the theme of the entire book.
    In the late eighties I took a swerve off my path as a poet and wrote a long work of fiction called "Paint It Black." I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a novel. Writing it was enjoyable—which should have been a tipoff to me that the results might not be so satisfying. The book is a thriller, travel book, and love story, with elements of academic satire. The hero is a poet who has to solve a mystery. The agents to whom I showed it thought it would be hard to place, so I gave up on it and returned to poetry. Parts of the book are set in Turkey, and on impulse one summer night in 1987 I decided I would learn Turkish. This spinoff from the project of writing a novel turned out to be endlessly fascinating. Turkish is so hard, so different from English, the mentality so different from our own. I have translated some contemporary Turkish poetry, and in the summer of 1990 I got a fellowship from the American Research Institute in Turkey to take an advanced Turkish conversation class at the University of the Bosphorus. This gave me a chance to reacquaint myself with the city that has intrigued me since I first went there in 1964. And that renewal of acquaintance allowed me to write poems like "Pasha's Daughter, 1914," which was included in my book, The Stonecutter's Hand.

The best thing that has happened to me in the last decade, though, was the year (1990-91) my family and I spent in Ireland thanks to a travel grant from the Amy Lowell Trust. This is a grant given to an American poet every year, the only stipulation being you live outside America for twelve months. When the Turkish course was over I flew home from Istanbul, and less than twenty-four hours later the six of us took a plane to Ireland, where we had rented a house in Kinvara, a fishing village on Galway Bay. The grant was just enough to live on, and we gladly did without a television, a telephone, and a car. The children went to local schools, and Mary pursued her interest in traditional Irish music and became close friends with the other women her age in Kinvara. I had the great luxury of being able to write every day.

    I have celebrated the village in more than one poem, including "A Quiet Pint in Kinvara," which I wrote right around my fiftieth birthday and dedicated to my friend the journalist and historian Jeff O'Connell. I love Kinvara's weather, its people, and its architecture:

           the broad-shouldered gravity
    Of houses from the eighteenth or nineteenth
   Limestone, three storeys, their slate roofs
   Aglow with creeper and the green
      of mosses.
   No force off the Atlantic
   Could threaten their angles or budge their
    They rise unhurriedly from the strong cellar
   And hold a fleshy palm, palm outward,
      against the sea,
   Saying "Land starts here. Go peddle your salt
      airs elsewhere."
   From farms down lanes the meat and milk of
   Root crops and loads of hay,
   By hoof or wagon, come down to Kinvara

    I wrote most of The Stonecutter's Hand in Kinvara. I would work at a big table, given me by Jessie Lendennie of Salmon Press in Galway, set before a south-facing window in our bedroom. Or I would hitchhike into Galway and work at a table in Bewley's coffeehouse there or in a snug at one of my favorite pubs: Naughton's, Mick Taylor's, or The Quays. Galway is a medieval city with a Georgian overlay. Its streets still follow the curves and digressions of the medieval lanes and alleys. Fragments of old stonework may be seen here and there if you know where to look. Every writer, I suppose, has particularly lucky times in his career when a bit of writing time presents itself just at the moment when he wants passionately to practice his craft. That happened to me in Ireland. "I had my innings there," I wrote in "A Backward Glance at Galway":

           hitching the coast road
   Through salt meadows saturated and green,
   Then walking up from the quays-a wind at
      my back
   With the North Atlantic behind it, that
      thinned the coalsmoke
   And refreshed with raindrops the chiseled
   I would hole up in Naughton's pub with my
   Ferreting words from a secondhand thesaurus,
   Sounding out rhymes in a snug with a pint
      of Guinness.

    Also in Kinvara I started writing literary essays often for the New Criterion, the conservative New York monthly, one of the few places in the country that publishes literate, jargon-free essays of an ample length and also pays well. Beginning during the year in Ireland, I have written on Rebecca West, William Trevor, Brian Friel, Elizabeth Bowen, W. H. Auden, Somerville & Ross, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead for the Criterion, the Gettysburg Review, the Sewanee Review, and other periodicals. Somerville & Ross were two Anglo-Irish second-cousins who wrote the Irish R.M. stories around the turn of the century. Edmund Wilson is my model for these essays: I like the task of reading deeply and widely into a favorite author and then writing up my sense of that author for like-minded nonspecialist readers.
    Mary and I spent many nights in Kinvara's pubs listening to traditional Irish music, and it occurred to me that the New York Times might like an article on the experience. They did, and since then I have written often for the travel section—on Georgian architecture in Dublin, driving across Ireland from Dublin to Galway, old churches in Charleston, South Carolina, the Museum of Appalachia in Tennessee, Michigan's wilderness island Isle Royale, Memphis barbecue, and other subjects. This writing combines my love for travel with a way of financing it.
    Two weeks after I finish this piece my critical memoir, Robert Lowell's Life and Work: Damaged Grandeur, is coming out. It's a way of paying homage to the poet who taught me much of what I have learned about the art. I have nearly finished a new book of poems. I continue to travel around the country giving poetry readings. My wife and I will celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in a couple of years. Every day I look around in wonder at the four flourishing lives Mary and I have brought into this world. In my fifties I am doing my best writing, bringing a passion and exactitude to it that I seem to have built up to only slowly during forty years of working at it.



     Sleep Watch, Wesleyan University Press, 1969

      (Contributor) Ten American Poets, Carcanet Press, 1974.

     The Knife and Other Poems, Wesleyan University Press, 1980.

     Sewanee in Ruins, illustrated by Edward Carlos, University of the South, 1981.

     Fossils, Metal, and the Blue Limit, White Creek Press, 1982.

     Our Flag Was Still There (contains Sewanee in Ruins), Wesleyan University Press, 1984.

     A Quiet Pint in Kinvara, Salmon Publishing/Tir Eolas (Galway, Ireland), 1991.

     The Stonecutter's Hand, David R. Godine, 1995.


     Robert Lowell's Life and Work: Damaged Grandeur, University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Also contributor to numerous periodicals, including Antaeus, Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, Boston Review, Crazy Horse, Critical Quarterly, Georgia Review, Harper's Bazaar, Harvard Advocate, New Republic, New York Times Book Review, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Washington Post, and Yale Review.

This review is copyrighted by Gale Research and is reproduced from Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 23, 1997, pp 301-319.