Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1980
Dedication: To Richard Harteis

How much I like [Examples of Created Systems]! So gently, sweetly felt! So easily you could have slipped into slop. But you didn't. It's not your habit to do so.

    - Letter from Robert Penn Warren to William Meredith, February 15, 1975.

The Lowell poem, had I read it in Braille unsigned, were my fingertips that wise, I would have recognized it instantly as your voice, and I thank you for it.

    -Letter from Maxine Kumin to William Meredith, November 6, 1977

I like "A Mild Spoken Citizen..." It's hard for me to see Nixon as anything other than a flat character, but you have been very generous: your voice, your humanity (though I'm resisting like mad), have made him possible. I mean I believe in the speaker so much that I want to believe in Nixon...

    -Letter from Gary Gildner to William Meredith, December 8, 1970

Many thanks for the wonderfully evocative reminiscence of John Berryman. I can't tell...how moved by it and pleased with it I am. It is the best thing of its kind that I have seen on him.

    -Letter from Richard Kelly to William Meredith, August 15, 1972


reader my friend, is in the words here, somewhere.
Frankly, I'd like to make you smile.
Words addresssing evil won't turn evil back
but they can give heart.
The cheer is hidden in right words.

A great deal isn't right, as they say,
as they are lately at some pains to tell us.
Words have to speak about that.
They would be the less words
for saying smile when they should say do.
If you ask them do what?
they turn serious quick enough, but never unlovely.
And they will tell you what to do,
if you listen, if you want that.

Certainly good cheer has never been what's wrong,
though solemn people mistrust it.
Against evil, between evils, lovely words are right.
How absurd it would be to spin these noises out,
so serious that we call them poems,
if they couldn't make a person smile.
Cheer or courage is what they were all born in.
It's what they're trying to tell us, miming like that.
It's native to the words,
and what they want us to always know,
even when it seems quite impossible to do.

Reprinted from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems by William Meredith, published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 1997. Copyright © 1997 by William Meredith. All rights reserved; used by permission of Northwestern University Press and the author.

Other poems from The Cheer...

To Hazard, the Painter... | To Partial Accounts...