Grace Paley is dead. I read the news in the Times this morning. I'd met Ms Paley a few times at the Frost Place over the years and had the chance to hear a distinctive American voice. Grace was living in Vermont when I met her but she was all New York City. A beautiful voice filled with the rhythms of New York. Strong and clear. She was to have read this summer with Maxine Kumin, Donald Hall, and Galway Kinnell but her failing health kept her away. Her absence that day was a deep and palpable thing. All of the poets that read are men and women confronting the end of their lives in real life and in verse. It was a wonderful afternoon of stunning power.
Losing a voice in American letters is never a good thing. Tonight I was listening to my ipod shuffle and Robert Frost came on. Right after Bruce Springsteen and right before Dave Brubeck. How wonderful. His clear and distinct reading of Stopping by Woods was a little gift on a hot summers night. Maybe you can remember a poetry reading that took your breath away. Maybe after hearing some poet in a bar or a barn or on a stage you stumbled out into the night thinking this is what poetry is about.
Losing those voices is such a sad thing. Keeping them in our hearts is all we have. Raise a glass to dear Grace. Wish her well on her journey. Hers was a voice that could not be stopped. It sings forever, like all the best writers. We lose great people every day. Fathers, mothers, friends, children. It's always sad and it's inevitable but that doesn't take away the sting.