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Jan 27, 2013

R.I.P. Jack McCarthy

The following piece was written by my one of my writing mentors and friend, Josh Peterson, who has graciously consented to share his remembrances of one of his early writing mentors. I hope his eloquent sentiment touches you in the same way it did me. I've still not stopped thinking about that poem.

Back in 1993, when I was just starting to seriously think about my writing, I saw an advertisement at the Newton Free Library in Newton, Massachusetts for a writing workshop held there on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m., run by a man named Jim McGarry. Poetry? Who writes poetry anymore? But it was free, and it late enough in the morning that even a recent college graduate should be able to get up, and so I went. Jack McCarthy sat there in one of those uncomfortable metal chairs, with his jeans and an aged long-sleeved shirt rolled up for heavy labor, his moustache framing a mouth in a mischievous curl. There, and on the many weekends to follow, he, Jim and the others fostered in an ignorant scientist a love for poetry that nothing in my schooling had ever encouraged. Oh! the places he took my mind. The things he shared. Jack helped me to understand the value of precision in writing, of intentfulness, of playfulness, and, most importantly, of the need for candor, and the value of writing itself. Jack showed me that writing didn't matter much--never mind be fun to read--if you did not drop your guard and show the weaknesses we conceal. He revealed the need for risk in what you lived and wrote.

What a man, Jack McCarthy.

 I imagine a part of him registering unhappy satisfaction that it wasn't the alcohol that caught up with him, or cholesterol, but the coffin nails in their Camel packaging he'd smoked for so long. I imagine that part saying, "Well, that's about right." After so many betrayals, another one was to be expected. His last words to me were to introduce me to another writer whose poetry reminded him of something I'd once written:

Wood Cut 

My father used to carve 
in his workshop 
in the cellar I would sit at the foot of the stairs 
and watch him 
peel off slivers 
crack back a chunk 
always a puddle of chips 
smeared across the floor 
I know what he would say 
if I could tell him that I missed him: 
"When you carve, 
you take things away." 

 Jack, you carved well. Enjoy the rest. Enjoy your victory.