NANCY WILLARD - 1936-2017 - A MEMORY
At the height of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich days, Nancy received the John Newbery Medal for A VISIT TO WILLIAM BLAKE'S INN: POEMS FOR INNOCENT AND EXPERIENCED TRAVELERS, the first book of poetry to receive a Newbery. The medal was given on June l2, 1982 in Philadelphia.
Nancy and I knew one another long before this date. We traveled together, she wrote original poems for my anthologies, we visited often, I spoke to her classes at Vassar College where she taught, we were neighbors when I lived in Westchester County, in New York; she in Poughkeepsie, me in Scarborough.
Visiting her home was always a thrill. One marvelled over a giant six-foot model of 'Blake's Inn' which she constructed and kept building. It was an architectural madness decorated with plaster molds for false teeth, a pendant that might become a liitle person, a scrap of cloth turned into a man's suit or curtains for a window. Look and find pipe cleaners, bits of this and that and those and an array of other castoffs culled from anywhere, everywhere.
Going into my files I found a poem she wrote for me in 2003. I never used it in a collection. I don't know if she ever published it. (If you do, let me know?)
The Bird in My Bedroom
The crack in the wall looked like a dove.
I painted a twig for the dove to sit on.
I painted leaves for the wind to shuffle.
For the dove's nest I painted a branch.
To hold up the branch I painted a trunk.
To hold up the trunk I painted roots
and a forest streaky with shadows
for the bird to fly in. I painted the sky
and in the sky I painted a door,
a door wtih the moon behind it
so the bird can fly to its own country
and be back by morning.
For one of my birthday's she painted a large bottle with anglels circling the glass. "Don't wash this," she said. "The paint will come off. I haven't figured how to use paint that doesn't vanish." I still have the bottle. I never washed it. Never will.
The bird can fly to its own country now and be back by morning because mornings will forever fly into my heart knowing Willard-words will be there for me -- for all of us. Good night sweet princess.