From Donald Hall’s Essays After Eighty, “A Yeti in the District.”
The next day I got back to writing. What else was there?
Well, there was anticlimax. When Linda and I returned to my house, we found a stack of five Concord Monitors, the local paper, delivered in kindness by the morning deliverer. Top of the first page was a photograph of the President looming over me, hanging the medal [National Medal of Arts] around my neck. My mouth is open in life’s widest smile as I confront the neatly dressed Obama in my sports coat and khakis, with my frizzy hair and reckless beard. I thought it was the best photograph of my life. It must have been Alexandra Petri’s favorite too, who blogs for the Washington Post and a day later posted the joyous picture. (She graduated from Harvard in 2010, fifty-nine years after I did.) She identified me, called me a poet, and assured her audience that I was not a yeti. She announced a contest for a caption. Entry upon entry rolled in, uniformly gormless and gleeful with ridicule. Then there were reactions. I was praised and Ms. Petri was scolded. I was defended as a poet, and flattered despite my appearance. Philip Terzian wrote a kind essay in the Weekly Standard–but attacked the Washington Post as liberal. An Alaskan eye picked it up, and Sarah Palin blogged to defend a nameless “eighty-two-year-old cancer survivor” against the WaPo. Of course I enjoyed the attention, an extra scoop on my ice cream cone. With our increasing longevity, Ms. Petri should live to be a hundred. May she grow a beard.
Links below to the articles mentioned.
Perhaps this is Petri trying to defend herself, or strike back, oh so wittily, in 2013: ‘Poetry is not dead,’ says poetry. Probably just being involved in a snark-world with Dana Milbank trolling for clicks distorts all the world’s stages. But the truth of this isn’t just disrespect. It’s also a fact that Donald Hall has written two of my favorite books: The One Day (poetry) and Life Work (Essays). If you don’t know them, which means more than just having read them, you will do well to rectify this asap. Which is to say that Petri’s careerism is as nothing by comparison.