Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Literary Memoir: Wesley McNair

In each of my monthly Poetry Newsletters, I include a book recommendation. The books I choose are always in some way related to poetry. The featured book might be a craft book or it might be a memoir. Or it might be a book that's related to art in general but which applies to poetry. I don't usually repost those recommendations here. However, the May book brought forth a number of emails from subscribers who thanked me for the title, said they hadn't heard of the book, but had then ordered it and were glad they had. So I thought I'd let my blog readers also know about the May book.

I love literary memoirs, especially ones by poets. Wesley McNair's The Words I Chose: A Memoir of Family and Poetry immediately went to the top of my list of favorites. In 175 pages, McNair covers his life from childhood to the current time. He is able to do this because he limits his focus to his growth as a poet. Of course, there are parts about his personal life—his difficult parents, his happy marriage to a woman with two sons—but he always returns to the writing life and how those other areas affected his development as a poet. Each chapter begins with a poem of his and then covers a phase of his life.

McNair pays tribute to the people who early on responded to his poems and sent him books. He covers the dark days, lonely ones, times of bone-crushing financial deprivation. For many years he was confronted with the problems of how to support a family, get an advanced degree, find time for poetry, and earn enough to live on. But he did it, always mindful of how all of that was laying the groundwork for poetry, how even the environment in which he lived was turning him into a narrative poet with a strong New England influence. Looking back on his life, he understands that all of the events and deprivations of his past contributed to his "transformation into an artist," that he was being "toughened…for the rounds of rejections…that are common to the writing life…," and that he was being given "a kind of gift, a source of [his] artistic development." He traveled a long and arduous journey, but one that led to being named the current Poet Laureate of Maine.


  1. This has been on my purchase list. Looking forward to reading it. I've just ordered Kim Stafford's bio of William Stafford, "Early Morning".

    1. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Thanks for the counter-recommendation of the Stafford book which has just gone on my purchase list.


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