Thursday, October 28, 2010

William Morris Meredith and Richard Harteis

The poet, William Morris Meredith.

We watched the movie Marathon tonight and enjoyed it so much that I decided to Google it. It's based on the book by Harteis who was Meredith's partner for 36 years.

From IMdB:
Explores the relationship between two poets Richard Harteis and William Meredith, former US poet laureate and winner of every major American award for poetry including the 1988 Pulitzer prize.

In the 17th year of friendship, William suffers a debilitating stroke. Richard stands by his partner fighting for his right to care for him, despite the inevitable restrictions on his own life and against the wishes of William's family. The strength to overcome disability with dignity becomes a lesson in physical and spiritual endurance, hard won knowledge indeed.
Meredith died in 2007 and Harteis published a book of poems, Legacy, the same year. From Peter Klappert's review of Legacy:
Legacy is a series of poems for Richard Harteis’s lover of 36 years, the gentle, quietly elegant and rather traditional poet William Meredith.
If Meredith’s poems are less read today than the work of Robert Lowell and John Berryman, his friends and contemporaries, it may be because he employs his mastery more quietly and because he was, as Harteis says in “Evensong,” a “model of / civility, the ultimate good guy,” a poet who did not expose, let alone exploit, his private, most personal life. Emotion in Meredith’s poems is no less honest and intense, but it is subtle and more objectified. Loneliness is a recurring theme. The Open Sea begins with its title poem:
We say the sea is lonely; better say
Ourselves are lonesome creatures whom the sea
Gives neither yes not no for company.

The next poem is the lovely, delicate “Sonnet on Rare Animals”:

Like deer rat-tat before we reach the clearing
I frighten what I brought you out to see,
Telling you who are tired by now of hearing
How there are five, how they take no fright of me.
I tried to point out fins inside the reef
Where the coral reef had turned the water dark;
The bathers kept the beach in half-belief
But would not swim and could no see the shark.
I have alarmed on your behalf and others’
Sauntering things galore.
It is this way with verse and animals
And love, that when you point you lose them all.
Startled or on a signal, what is rare
Is off before you have it anywhere.
In an inspired act of matchmaking, Maxine Kumin introduced William Meredith and Richard Harteis around 1971, and despite the 28-year difference in their ages William and Richard were devoted to each other for the rest of William’s life.

Legacy opens on “Memorial Day, 2007,” as Richard keeps vigil by William’s bed “in the hospital penthouse,” “alone with / my dying lover contemplating / hospice decisions, what to hold / what to give.” Richard uses “lover,” rather than the asexual and antiseptic “partner,” to convey the depth and intimacy of their bond and to make it unequivocal that they were more to each other than simply devoted companions. Anyone who has had to make “hospice decisions” will recognize the anguish in Richard’s phrase. As he struggles, alone, with such awful responsibility, William, who had been a navy aviator in World War Two and the Korean War, breathes
steadily into the blue
oxygen mask, preparing for lift off.
What adventure awaits you? This
private mission we all must undertake.
The succeeding poems, all addressed to William in a kind of conversation Richard has with silence, record a survivor’s adjustments and the way dailiness is infused with memory, loneliness and grief.
From Wikipedia:
William Morris Meredith, Jr. (9 January 1919 – 30 May 2007) was an American poet and educator. He was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980.
He worked briefly for the New York Times before joining the United States Navy as a flier. Meredith re-enlisted in the Korean War, receiving two Air Medals.

In 1988 Meredith was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and a Los Angeles Times Book Award for Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems and in 1997 he received the National Book Award for Effort at Speech.
That book was about his struggle to relearn speaking.
In 1983, he suffered a stroke and was immobilized for two years. As a result of the stroke he suffered with expressive aphasia, which affected his ability to produce language. Meredith ended his teaching career and could not write poetry during this period. He regained many of his language skills after intensive therapy and traveling to Britain for treatment.
Harteis is still alive. Here's his pic from his Facebook page:

Harteis and Meredith in 2006, the year before Meredith died: