Close Encounters

Hanging out with playwrights and poets.

Once upon a Snackable I wrote about the time I got to interview Ray Bradbury over the phone and said I would keep telling that story until I had a better I-met-a-famous-writer tale. Well … last week I got to sit around a table and listen to Edward Albee tell his life story (the funny bits anyway).

If I am half as witty and cantankerous as he is when I’m 79, I’ll be a happy man. He talked about how he got into playwriting, but to do that he had to talk about all the other forms he tried before he began writing for the stage — forms which included poetry.

“I was an alright poet. Not great,” he said.

He told us he had been living in New York and sending his poems out to magazines and basically having no luck. Then he decided to take a chance. He knew the address of a guy who could help give him solid criticism on his poetry, and perhaps help him get published. So one day he walked up to this guy’s house, rang the bell, and when the man answered, Albee shoved a stack of poems in his hand and said, “I’m Edward Albee. These are my poems. I’ll be back in a week.” And he left.

He came back in a week.

“And the guy hadn’t moved,” Albee quipped, “so they can’t have been all bad.”

The man let Albee in and sat down with him and talked about his poetry — perhaps to help him become a better poet, or perhaps to ensure that he tried his hand at some other form and leave poetry the hell alone.

“I was young. A couple of years later I wouldn’t have been brave enough to just go up there and knock like that.”

I wouldn’t have been, either. The man on whose door Albee knocked and who let him, a perfect stranger, inside to talk about his poetry? W.H. Auden.

Too, too cool. I don’t think I’m retiring this story for a long, long time.

Article © 2007 by Steve Spotswood