Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Open Letter to Peter Davison

Over the last two days, I've been reading Peter Davison's wonderful history of the Boston poetry scene between 1955-1960, The Fading Smile. The book has changed how I look at poetry -- and how I look at Boston, as well as literary communities in general.

While flying from San Francisco to New York this evening, I wrote Davison a brief letter of appreciation as thanks for his book. I was sad to learn upon my return home that he died two years ago, almost to the day. Here is my letter, which will never be mailed:

Dear Mr. Davison,

I am on an airplane, flying between San Francisco and New York City. I have just finished reading your book The Fading Smile and want to write you a letter about how much I enjoyed it.

Yesterday, while in SF, I went to City Lights Books, as I often do when visiting. I picked up some punk-rock fanzines, a couple of New Directions books by Bob Kaufman, and your book in hardcover. It was rather worn, and "had been around forever," the shop girl said, and so I got 10% off.

Such a strange way to obtain your book. I am forever finding books about places I love in other places I love, but never in the same place (especially in the case of older books!). I was attracted to your book for several reasons:

One, I adore local history, especially that of places I love and in which I've lived. I lived in Boston -- primarily Somerville and Cambridge -- from 1996 to 2004 and miss its streets and sites madly. I have highlighted all of the addresses and locations you mentioned in the text and as soon as I am able, hope to come north to walk and see them all myself -- some perhaps again!

Two, I've been on a bit of a poetry binge recently. My girlfriend and I have been reading from the Seamus Heaney green-cover anthology near nightly, and because of that, I've recently been inspired to seek out work by Auden and others. I don't have much of an education in poetry, although I did take a writing class at Northwestern.

And I was intrigued by the history by way of collection of profiles approach you took. I think it worked well, especially with the intertextual page references later on. Very well done, although I do feel ending with Lowell was a bit anticlimactic despite his status as the central figure.

So there you go. Thank you for your book. It will lead me to read more poetry! I hope this brief note finds you happy and healthy. I'll have to look you up on the Internet when I get home to learn where I might send this to best reach you.

Heath Row

P.S. Oh! Given the season, happy holidays -- any and all. May 2007 bring only the best.

The green-cover anthology I mentioned is The Rattle Bag, which Heaney edited with Ted Hughes -- and which title I couldn't remember. Oddly enough, Davison died in Boston just a few days before I left Boston for New York. If only I'd learned about him and his work sooner.

Please check out a copy of The Rattle Bag or The Fading Smile in remembrance of Davison. I miss him terribly, and I never even knew him.

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