Look Homeward, Angel
I have few remaining illusions, but here are two of them. I have always hoped to return to my hometown of Jackson, Michigan, and to my undergraduate school, Albion College, and give readings. Even at the age of 54, I am naive enough, or stupid enough, egotistical enough, or dreamy enough (who knows what defects of character go into such a calculus?) to believe that I have something to say at places that have meant something to me, that what I have to say is worthwhile--perhaps even of some lasting value; that someone in those places might want to read my books and hear what I have to say.
So yes, I have asked for readings over the past eight years. I have, in fact, begged for readings. At Albion, I have been brushed off, ignored, and was finally told several years ago that decisions about who comes to read are "so political--we'll see." So I gave up on the English Department at Albion and sent copies of my books to the History Department (I was a History major) and asked for a reading. I heard nothing back. I sent copies of my latest book to the Public Library in Jackson, and heard nothing back. Finally, I sent a copy of Figured Dark to a small bookstore/coffeehouse in Jackson. I volunteered to recruit a well-known fiction writer to come with me to help assure an audience--though, frankly, I have enough relatives in town to pack the place. I was told that while they could not arrange an actual reading, I could appear for "Local Author Day" in April and sell books, with perhaps a ten-minute opportunity to make a presentation of some sort during the course of the day. In other words, I could participate in a four-hour Gong Show with the women who compiled a mimeograph cookbook of "Favorite Macaroni Dishes of the Methodist Church Altar Guild" and the self-publisher of a book about how the author was abducted by Martians and given an anal probe.
And yes, I made it clear that I would read for the American poet's standard wages (i.e., nothing) and that--no problem--I would bring my own books.
Is it any wonder that Weldon Kees stepped off the Golden Gate Bridge?
Shown is "Thomas Wolfe's angel" from the cemetery at Hendersonville, North Carolina. Wolfe's second book was You Can't Go Home Again, published after his death.