Christmas, 1968


Dear Barbara—


This won’t be the letter I meant to write, but at least it’s typed—the day having arrived when I admit to being unable to read my own scrawl when it’s more than half a day old. First of all, condolences over the Constitution. I can imagine what that must have been like, better than I might have before, as a consequence of something like total immersion in politics—this being the latest phase in my ever-changing career, or more precisely education. What I mean is, I’m in it enough to have gotten into some fierce internecine disagreements, and lost one of them—over whether or not to endorse, even tepidly, Humphrey-Muskie over Nixon-Agnew. I guess I shall have to explain that I was against—stubbornly enough that I actually voted for Dick Gregory. You see what a radical I’m turning into—or more precisely, to use a word that already begins to sound faintly obsolete—an unreconstructed dove. From a quasi-recluse as late as a year ago, when I was immersed in reading and note-taking on Vietnam for David Schoenbrun, I’ve become a night-time gadabout, and do you know what, it agrees with me! Imagine me as an election captain in not one but two E.D.’s, launching a sort of guerrilla operation to stuff literature under doors in a building I’d once been thrown out of, and succeeding. Or imagine me, after the election, throwing a party along with another member of my team, an N.Y.U. law professor, for no very precise reason except to bring a few of the dissidents together (but in the end including people from the opposite faction) and [here it turns] out a huge success. But that isn’t all. In the midst of all the running around at night—which goes on even now, with the election all but forgotten, but things like the grape boycott and rent control rising up in its place—I’m also on the biggest poetry-writing binge in my history. Behind it all is the great love of this mad year, with whom I rang doorbells in the spring but who has since defected from the whole thing—very, very young, but articulate as the young seldom know how to be, and likewise gentle, and at the same time radical as only the young are, perhaps, even nowadays. In short, I never felt more alive. I enclose a sample of what’s been coming out of all this—one of a series of memorials to people I’d been fond of, and one that was a joy to write as such things aren’t always. I hope you might like it . . .





“The Dahlia Gardens”

one of Amy Clampitt’s most fiercely political poems, set during the Vietnam War.