As a very small child, my favorite alternative self was the little boy in
A. A. Milne's "Halfway Down the Stairs," the one who describes his
psychological state in terms of an indeterminate location:
Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn't any
Other stair
Quite like
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:
It isn't really
It's somewhere else
I'm not really sure why my German refugee mother chose the quintessen-
tially British
When We Were Very ¥oun8
to read to me as she stuffed one
more spoonful of lunch into my mouth. But from then on poetry became
what Shakespeare's Leontes calls magic, "an art / Lawful as eating." It
presupposed a way of being that included, among its other pleasures, a
way of being "someplace else." In college and graduate school, where my
childhood escape mechanism became the center of my working life, I was
privileged to study with such finely tuned and imaginative readers as
Alfred Fisher and Francis Murphy at Smith, Anne Ferry, David Kalstone,
and Robert Lowell at Harvard, and Edwin Honig at Brown. I can still hear
Murphy reading (with unflinching New England probing) Stevens's "The
Previous Page Next Page