The Poetic Mushroom

On Hadrian's Wall, front of photograph.
On Hadrian's Wall, front of photograph.

During the summer of 1970, four remarkable American writers and editors paid a visit to 70 year old Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting in his home in Corn Close, Yorkshire, England. The leader of this group was Jonathan Williams, poet and founder of North Carolina’s the Jargon Society, which published the works of innovative poets such as Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, and Duke alumnus Guy Davenport.

Williams asked his companions to stop and pose for the camera “near the end of the trek up the Pennines,” a low-rising mountain range separating the North West of England from Yorkshire. “Quite a rough go, by the way.”

On Hadrian's Wall, back of photograph.
On Hadrian's Wall, back of photograph.

Williams helpfully typed on the back of this small (2 ½ inch square) photo the names of those pictured. From the left is Williams’ life partner, the poet and translator Thomas Meyer; Dan Gerber, co-founder of the Michigan-based little magazine Sumac; and Russell Banks, then a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill (BA ‘67), and now the prominent novelist and author of The Sweet Hereafter, Affliction, and other acclaimed books.

He then sent the snapshot to R. Philip Hanes, an executive at Hanes Dye and Finishing Company, who was a founding board member of the Jargon Society.

The photo comes from the R. Philip Hanes Papers. Hanes’ papers provide a rich and entertaining look at one small, North Carolina publisher’s fund raising efforts. Williams’ wit and garrulousness shows in the letters. He has many names for money, for instance, names like “lucre,” “lolly,” “moola,” “smackers,” and plenty of others. “I’m apparently not doing as a fund-raiser. But, us mountain boys is a mess, that’s been true for hundreds of years.”

We also learn about some of Hanes’ interests: “Dear Morchella Esculenta,” Williams writes in August 1971, “One suspects there will be a conglutination of those fearsome fungi of yourn this year. Lots of showers here lately too. Everything grows heavily—the pollens, the tourists, anglophobia, anglophilia—the lot.”

That is, Hanes hunted mushrooms.

Post contributed by David Pavelich, Head of Research Services.

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