William Packard

"What do I myself mean by poetry? The mysterious charge of language that takes place when passion combines with consciousness to create rhythms, the inevitable and intuitive rhythms of the bloodstream, ear and eye and voice." -- William Packard, craft interview, NYQ (The New York Quarterly) 40, reprinted in NYQ 59.

News of Bill Packard's death (Nov. 3, 2002) reached me late -- I don't remember now which of my writer friends told me about it. My memory of him was buried deep among other layers of memory of writing efforts and contacts and barely stirred. But then this weekend, at the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses' "Lit Mag Marathon," I met Raymond Hammond, his successor editor at NYQ, the poetry journal that Bill had founded in 1969, and then read Bill's words in interviews, essays and poems in NYQ 59. Confronting his ghost reminded me of how frightening I had found him, when he came to lecture at the New York University Summer Writers Conference one year when I was also an instructor.

How could such a gentle, love-projecting, wild-eyed, dissheveled old bear frighten anybody? Especially when he was seated behind a desk at the bottom of the auditorium and I was safely seated in one of the back rows? I wouldn't have admitted I was frightened, but now I think that is the only explanation of my confused reactions as examples of poetic devices poured out of him in long heartfelt renderings of passages from the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Auden, Rilke, and maybe a dozen other poets. Bill Packard would look at you and into you, no deeper than he needed to, but far enough to probe your first line of defense, and challenge you like Rainer Maria Rilke's "Apollo" in a poem that Packard translated (also included in NYQ 59): "You must change your life."

NYT obit | NYQ obit (much fuller, and with a wild-man photo that Packard himself liked to use) | Council of Literary Magazines and Presses

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