thumbnail of Reader's almanac; John Hall Wheelock
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
It's time for the readers all men to act with one by our originally broadcast over station WNYC in New York and distributed by national educational radio. The reader's almanac is America's oldest consecutive book program. Here now is Mr. Bauer. Tonight I begin the 2090 here the readers Allman hack a program of which have appeared some of the greatest of American authors as well as many from other countries during that period of time. These writers appear here when new books by them are published and we talk intimately about their work. This will be the pattern for another year when you may expect to meet here a number of authors whose works are significant in contemporary literature. My choice of guest with whom to open this season was made obligatory some months ago when scripters announced that they would publish a new book of poems by John Hall Wheelock one of this country's most distinguished poets has appeared several times on the almanac and books of his poems have appeared.
The current book his eleventh volume of poetry is called Dear men and women. Its poems are mature wise beautiful and moving in their insights and eloquent in language. But I would like to give a special emphasis to the fact that there are men and women has appeared in the 80th year of its author's life as a poet in credit. Alan Tate is said Mike Hardy and Yeats John Hall who has done his best work in old age. This linking of Mr. Wheelock with some of the best poets who write in English will seem altogether justified as one reads in this volume. No diminution of power and feelings here rather there is a calm certainty of expression as if the wisdom of many years had been summed up here. All else is fresh and vital. It's a remarkable achievement for any man. We were like It's good to have you on this program again thank you for coming in from your Long Island home for this special occasion. To be sure you did that for something like 46 years if you were on the staff of the
Scrivener publishing house which has been an illustrious career by itself but now happily you can devote yourself in a degree greater than before to poetry yet it may be that I put too much emphasis on your age so I certainly feel that it is worthy of some note. But you are more than a geriatric phenomenon. I would venture to say that you are now a man released to do what he most likes to do. I hope that is true. Yes I hope to go on and this may be my latest but I trust not my last book. I certainly trust that too because I want you to come again. Do you attach any particular importance however to your ADF here. Reza just another milestone. Well I've been fascinated by the whole experience of growing old. I've heard a great deal about it. Read about it but to experience it oneself is something outs again and I've found myself compelled to make a record as it were of
my experiences. I began to think of myself as. Getting on at the age of 70 and I wrote a poem then called Song On reaching 70 and this book is frankly the book of an old man an old poet who finds life extremely exciting and worthwhile still and who has tried to put into words what it feels like to grow old. You say that you are fascinated with time and its workings upon you particularly. Yes I am interested in the whole experience I have as a young man and I often wondered what it would feel like to be older and to grow old. And I've noticed that although people never speak of us. And very few poets have spoken of it because Yates made some human rights references to an aged man it is but a tattered coat on a stick and wanton savage
Lando wrote some very sad poems about growing old browning some very optimistic ones Grow old along with me the best is yet to be. And there have been other poets all the poet Sophocles who gave a very discouraging picture of all age. But I have just tried honestly to record my own feelings. This is supposed to be peculiarly a time for a new theory. Would you like to reverse that tendency just a little. Well I would have I think in age one has something to say that one cannot of course have in you. I think it's something that it's very difficult for youth to understand but today there are a great many people more than in past periods who are old or elderly and I've had a very remarkable response to these biomes for instance the series of sonnets of which
the book opens which is the first series of poems I know of about love in old age married loved in old age where the Saudi hangs over the couple the inevitable separation draws nearer. And this has never been written about in poetry. And then another poem so I have recorded these things particularly in one called the part called age. A long poem which begins what was this thing called growing old. All his life he had heard about it had read about it had seen others grow old. He remembered his father's words. Some day when I am gone and you are older perhaps you will understand. I want to ask you if you if your method of work. I mean on your own writing has changed to any degree. Now that you had time since leaving it for time can certainly publishing. Well of course in the old days I had to do most of my work at night
and on weekends whenever I got a chance. Fortunately I began early in life the habit of writing my poems in my head. I did not need to be in a room with a piece of paper and a pencil. I began this habit in the summer as in vacation time when I very fond of walking the beach in trunks in the sun instead of staying at home and working it over in a room. And so I was forced to make up my poems as I walked along. And this becomes a habit and it's amazing how much you can carry in your head. I didn't like to lead you even further into a some discussion of how you write poetry. What you just said intrigues me but I'd like to go further that the whole process from inception to finished work to it's fixing into a final form which means I assume it's a publication. Now how does a
poem start. For example what seed does it grow with you. Well I think you'll find that most poets agreed on this that the poem begins. With a rather vague feeling of something that you feel very strongly about that needs to be said or that you'll experience toward it. Life has brought to your attention or that you had a dream about and it's still very big and unformed and it presses on you. And when you get a chance you would try to put it into some shape where other people can look at it. You'll have the feeling how can you get others to have it especially when you don't know quite what your final result is going to be. So by working it out.
It gradually takes shape and sometimes a shade quite different. As far as the idea and structure are concerned then you had thought it would have when you began. I have written something about this in my book. What is poetry and tried to explain it in terms of some well-known primes. How the poet gets the feeling of something that he can't quite. Define in his mind but it's a very strong feeling that presses on him and he walks around it like a man who's walking around some animal that he wants to trap or catch in a net. But he mustn't frighten it. You mustn't think of it too hard you mustn't concentrate too much on it think a little bit of something else and gradually take shape and as it takes shape you'll begin to see what you have there. Like a man who comes up with his net and for the
first time discovers what is in the net and that net of thought and feeling that you flunk and you may be surprised to find what is there something so different from what you had expected. Then of course begins the shaping of that thing and the hard work. Does that mean with you then committing it to paper. You well I got into the habit. I think anyone would who wanted to be out DAWs and moving. And at the same time of work I got into the habit of being able to work over it and endure various versions and I remembered all those versions as I went along. I had this faculty becomes developed if you'll have to use it. And I did most of my work frankly during my summer vacations walking along the beach. But I had no paper or pencil and I would carry these things in my head sometimes for my entire
vacation of a month and not write any of the poems down till I got back to New York. Now is there a maturing process perhaps somewhat like the aging of wine which involves time passing over the poem in this case perhaps with some attention from you. Pencil in hand perhaps or another version created in your mind ready to make changes whenever insights come to you. Yes I think that the work done on the original version of the poem is very important indeed. And of course that is hard work because the impulse the original impulse that was exciting is rather faded by then also you get very tired of working over and over something trying to get it right. But I think that that kind of work is is extremely important it's amazing what can be made of something that in downcast moods
will seem hopeless to you by hard intelligent critical work. I think that in the making of a poem the impulse and the critical frankly have to go together. How do you know when a poem is finished and ready to go out into the world on its own. I'm told that painters especially among all kinds of artists have to special problem when is a painting finished not any longer to be touched up. And I suspect that poets may have this concern as well. I think so and I think that as painters well know there comes a time when if you do any more work on the canvas it's going to spoil a certain quality in it. And I think the time when you will is reached finally when you just. Feel it you can't bear to do anything more that you made it as good as you can and it's getting a little stale in your own. Your impulses are turning away. I want to do something else.
And that's a good time to drop it. But of course as you know all the poets go back to their work in later years and make improvements or at least what they consider improvements I think. Usually it will be found that a part who has progressed in his own development and goes back on all the work written in another period of development and rewrites it in the light of the later period will spoil it. I don't think it can be done. It's better to leave it alone. Gates is a supreme example of that. He went back over his early work and rewrote it in the light of his much greater later accomplishment. And he spoiled some of the early part of us. I wonder if it would not be useful and illuminating to our listeners especially India what you've just been saying. If you were to read a poem from this current volume there are men and women. And then you might speak of its first growth and development.
It's natural history as it were. What if you do that. Yes. I leave the choice altogether to you of course. Well I have in mind a poem called the poet. Actually the poet I had in mind in writing this was a friend of mine who. Died much too young but it seemed to. As I worked on it. To sum up many things that I had felt about poetry and hadn't been articulate about and learned as it were in the making of the poem. It gradually became clearer to me and I remember writing this poem. This was written walking on the beach taught em against it on the tip of Long Island on the south shore
and was written actually written in my head in one day but worked over a great deal afterwards. It's called the poet. He has an eye that watches in secret an ear that would listen for what can only be overheard. A mouth to tell us something we have forgotten. In a word to tell us all over again something we always knew. Oh if he only could. This is his tormentor and Supremes challenge for words are clumsy symbols inadequate and reality is subtle and very great greater by far than we have guessed is every day reality stranger than any dream deep in him always the intuition is there that something more than what is seen and heard is meant something lost with the innocent delight and wonder that have it will destroy and which to recapture is its
prime despair so-and moonlight on a meadow of cocktail toward dawn or sunlight falling through still the apple trees. What nudges him here. What speaks from the silence of the stars or of the dead. What is it trying to say. The Cock a funny role where Broadway and Forty-Second meet the somber flow of bodies through Avenue and street. These are things will bear much thinking about. They are what they seem and something more. Oh to discover the formula the device that will give us back forgotten reality again. So we may share it with others then by the thrall of the lie and the fall of the wood to reopen the door. If but for an instance into a lost paradise. Such is the constant dream that keeps him strong through days of labor sleepless nights strange miseries and delights. It is the cause of many a
wound he takes the perpetual hope behind its song. Living He may be widely heard and become well known. Or is fame wait upon days that are yet to be dead. The branch he clung to on life's tree will tremble a little for a little while like a branch from which some nightingale perhaps has flown. Mr. Ely got a very impressive poem indeed. Any further losses that you can give to it commenting upon how it came to be well trained and have this form of years a life of the. This this poem actually followed a statement made in a prose book of mine called what is poetry in which I had tried to say some of these things. But I felt not very successfully so that it rather nagged me to
put them better. And this feeling pressed on me for a long time until that summer when I was down on the Long Island shore and started working on it on my walks along the beach and it began rather vaguely in that there were elements in what is poetry in the prose work that I felt I hadn't succeeded in conveying and I wanted them to be in the poem so that it grew slowly in that afternoon and was very much changed in the rewriting later. Now I'd like to have you eliminate another matter for me and our listeners. The naming of the volume which is grown one poem at a time and being worked on for a very considerable period of time. Now this involves giving a title to a book it involves many considerations I should think. Like getting
a good book title has to be brief and suggestive it has to be in tone of the major elements of your work. Like I think your present title dear man and women which has all the virtues and above all it is consonant with all that your poetry means to as many readers as if it were the text for all that you have written. Dear men and women. And yet you have to raise one poem above the others in a way of speaking giving it a preference over others as if though I suppose this may not be true. As if that poem were your favorite. Tell me how dare men and women came to be the title of this book. Well as you know choosing a title for a book of primes can be a very difficult thing. One of the difficulties is that so many possibilities occur and they are gradually discarded for one reason or another. But in this case I had very little difficulty. I had published a poem called Dear men and women. It came out in The New Yorker
and brought me a much bigger mail than I'd ever had before about any one point. In fact The New Yorker People were amazed at the extent of the volume of the mail that came in to them and they forwarded to me so that when I came to get a title for the book since it was the book of an older man and dealt with people many of whom were no longer living who had been very dear friends of mine it seemed the right and natural title for the book I had in mind of course the practical consideration that so many people had read this poem and that the title would mean something to them so that I took the title from that poem which stands well toward the end of the book. And.
Wanted to put the emphasis on the fact that this is a book by a man who is getting old and who has had many and has still fortunately many good friends whom he feels very strongly about and I felt at the title. Dear men and women was simple enough and direct enough not to be sentimental and yet to have some charge of feeling in it. But it does seem to me that it is the most felicitously named book of yours this present one. I think that day human fantasy which is another of your volumes is perhaps too explicit and perhaps sententious in porn is old and new is a kind of big graphical note as is porn 111 to 36. The break Dune is imagine even a story as a reader. But other law dear men and women is warmest its most immediately felt and appreciated. I would have to call it the happiest title of them
all. I'm glad you like it I think it's well suited to the book. Do you have any time to do any editorial work these days. I know that you take a great deal of pleasure in discovering as we like to say a number of poets in and bringing them out and by describing your publishing house. Yes that was that went on for a good many years eight years I published a book which presented three complete books by three poets here the two unpublished and I had the pleasure of presenting them for the first time in book form in a book which held each one held three complete books for which I wrote an introduction. It was one of the most exciting experiences I had and also I learned a great deal from it because I had to be steeped in the reading
the work of younger poets who got a great many submittals and I read them almost carefully and I learned a great deal. Well my warm thanks to you John Hall Wheelock for this opportunity to talk with you again. Taking off from this book of beautiful poems and write wisdom dear men and women just published by Charles Scribner's Sons. What you have said of how poems come to be complex and subtle texture of ideas and fancy of music and meaning a wide ranging suggestion and penetration into both the certain days and the uncertainties of life has been very illuminating to me and I put it to our listeners as well. Not often does a poet speak so well as you have done of such complex matters. Thank you for your coming here once more. You have heard Warren Bauer and John Wheelock in a discussion of Mr. Wheelock book Dear men and women. This was a program in the series the reader's almanac on our next program Mr. Bauer's guest will be Jessamyn West.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Reader's almanac
John Hall Wheelock
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-2f7jts11).
Episode Description
This program features poet John Hall Wheelock.
Series Description
A literature series featuring interviews with authors, poets, and others in the literary world.
Media type
Host: Bower, Warren
Interviewee: Wheelock, John Hall, 1886-1978
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-28-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:24:21
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Reader's almanac; John Hall Wheelock,” 1967-06-19, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 28, 2023,
MLA: “Reader's almanac; John Hall Wheelock.” 1967-06-19. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 28, 2023. <>.
APA: Reader's almanac; John Hall Wheelock. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from