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Canceling The Poet

May 2024
1min read

In 1952, my junior year at Wellesley, it was common knowledge among English majors that an assignment to interview the visiting poet was a reward for excellence. Only you wouldn’t have known it from the way my poetry professor, Roberta Grahame, presented it to me. “Remain after class,” she instructed, and later left me standing before her desk for a full five minutes while she read a student’s poem.

Although I knew nothing of Miss Grahame’s background, I perceived her to be one of a breed: a New England spinster educator—careful, aloof, impassive. She wore the requisite tweeds and no makeup and had written a slim volume of poetry, entitled Last Bell at Midcentury.

She told me to report to her office at six the following evening and we’d go together. “I assure you, you’ll find it interesting. Extremely interesting,” she remarked cryptically.

When I arrived at the appointed hour, Miss Roberta Grahame sat just as I had left her, but this evening she was crying, her face blotchy, her eyes streaming with tears. When she saw me, she blew her nose vigorously in a Kleenex and announced, “We’re not going. They’ve canceled. They’ve sent him away.”

“But why?” I blurted out.

Miss Grahame shrugged; her answers were choked and fragmented. “I’m not certain of the details. There was a party. Some of our people were there. He was inebriated. He’s still young—only in his thirties. He touched a breast. Who knows?” She paused and then continued but in a voice I’d never heard before, one suffused with emotion. “They’re fools. They don’t know what they’re doing. The man’s a genius!”

I was too taken aback, too abashed by her unexpected passion and distress, to say anything appropriate. “Maybe they’ll let him come back later. Maybe next year,” I said.

But by the next year Dylan Thomas was dead.

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