The tale of the author’s discovery of a compelling “minor poet” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
In the early 1990s, novelist Towler (Writing/Southern New Hampshire Univ.; Island Light, 2010, etc.) moved to Portsmouth, where her husband had taken a position as a psychologist. At first, she was surprised to find herself in a place whose conservative politics felt alien to her and where unannounced visits by neighbors were a common occurrence. Having moved 20 times along the East Coast, with “a vaguely articulated notion that staying in one place too long” would undermine her ability to gather observations for her first novel, she worried about settling down. In Portsmouth, though, the author found inspiration for several novels and, now, a closely observed memoir of her ultimately inscrutable friendship with Robert Dunn, whose aspirations to be a “minor poet” were as intense as Towler’s desire to become a major novelist. “Minor poets have more fun,” Dunn declared. “There is no joy in the struggle for recognition, for money and fame and all they entail,” the author came to realize, “but there is a joy in the thing itself, the making of the poems.” Despite Dunn’s overt satisfaction with his life, Towler often imagined negativity for which there seemed to be no evidence. Celebrated as the poet laureate of Portsmouth, Dunn was pleased to offer readings and appear at events, a response that surprises Towler. She imagined that he found meetings of the Poet Laureate Program dull and tedious, when in fact, he seemed to enjoy them. She imagined that he was annoyed at her “frantic anxiety” over her “craving for recognition,” seeing in his eyes “a hint of accusation” that he did not articulate. As Dunn aged and was beset by illness, he came to rely on Towler for errands and support, a dependency that often puzzled her and is likely to puzzle readers.
A gently told memoir of an elusive poet and a mysterious friendship.