The Words I Chose: A Memoir of Family and Poetry

The Words I Chose: A Memoir of Family and Poetry

by Wesley McNair

A memoir by Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair.See more details below


A memoir by Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
McNair (Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems) has authored nine collections of poetry and is the current poet laureate of Maine. His aim in this memoir is to examine precisely his own history, to untangle the weave of his construction both as a poet and as a man. He does not attempt to answer the general question of how a writer is made but instead sets himself to deciphering how his familial relationships guided his development. At the roots of this development—and of many of the challenges of his adulthood—are his complicated relationships with his parents. He explores his humble beginnings and early trials straightforwardly; his conclusions are guileless. VERDICT This is an earnest, unprepossessing look at the evolution of an artist. Readers who enjoy memoirs that discuss the writing process will appreciate McNair's work here. Recommended to memoir connoisseurs and lovers of contemporary poetry alike; the unflinching candor sets this one apart.—Audrey Snowden, Orrington P.L., ME
Kirkus Reviews
A New England poet and teacher affectingly recalls finding his voice amid a rural New Hampshire childhood deeply scarred by divorce and discipline. McNair (Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems, 2010, etc.) was born in 1941 to a young Missouri couple who migrated to find work in New Hampshire; soon after his father abandoned the young family, now with three young sons. In 1952, his mother remarried a French Canadian with horticulture aspirations. The children worked on a small West Claremont farm, observing their parents' sense of strict discipline and scrimping and saving. After the novelty wore off, the three boys came to view their farm life as "an endless grind," and the author especially was perceived as spacey and ill-focused, called a "hammerhead" and frequently whipped for infractions. McNair's stepfather aimed to inculcate in the boys a sense of the meaning of work, yet the excessive punishments--e.g., being grounded for the summer for being late one evening walking a girl home--made the author only want to plot continually to run away from home. He did so after high-school graduation, making his way from one menial job to the next, all the while planning ways to progress in school. Steeped in the work of Cummings, Eliot and Dos Passos, he wanted to be a writer. Yet his big chance to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt learning poetry at the feet of John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate in the early 1960s was derailed when he fell for a divorcée with two children. For readers, who will root for the author's young persona, his decision to hunker down and pay the bills marks a denouement that is stunning and bitter; after about 80 pages, the details of parental grief predominate. McNair went on to various degrees and teaching accomplishments, yet his memoir from then on tellingly dwells more on his family than on his own work. Sensibly wrought, without lyrical affectation.

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Product Details

Carnegie-Mellon University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are saying about this

George Core
"In The Words I Chose Wesley McNair has forged an engaging and memorable account of the role that poetry has played in his life as he describes three generations of his family. The story, in its bare outline of hardship and vicissitude, is preposterous but nonetheless true; and the reader is quickly and surely involved in this odd and taxing world of what begins as poverty of nearly every sort imaginable. McNair triumphs over adversity of many kinds, all along making and remaking himself as a poet—and as an essayist to boot. Few poets have ever worked so hard to perfect their craft. Anyone interested in contemporary poetry should relish this memoir, which includes snapshots of Robert Frost, John Nims, Donald Hall, and other accomplished poets, and memorable anecdotes about everything from farm work to the nuts and bolts of poetry."
Philip Schultz
"Reading Wesley McNair’s superb memoir, The Words I Chose, the word that comes to my mind is nobility. Of character and heart; of ambition and generosity. Another word is honesty, in the Hemingway sense of the word, as in authentic and profound. This story of family is more than a chronicle or history, it’s a personal story inside the story each of us carries all our lives. Yes, McNair tells us how he became a poet, of a young man discovering his art, but its meaning stretches beyond that, making it original: this is a story about hope, how when it is necessary to survive despite one’s family, despite the sometime bitter auguries of love, truth, and beauty can not only survive, but thrive. With nobility and grace. Powerfully."

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