blackbirdonline journalSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
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Founded in 2001 as a joint venture of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of English and New Virginia Review, Inc.

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ISSN 1540-3068


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Remembering R.H.W. Dillard (1937–2023)
Mary Flinn

  R.H.W. Dillard

I first encountered Richard Dillard in the fall of 1965 when I was a freshman at Hollins (then) College, though he did not become my teacher until the following year. In that long-ago fall, he was a recently arrived faculty member directly from graduate school with a distinctively mod bent, wearing a Beatles-style hat, and manifesting a Beatles-style of cool.

Over the years since, he became my friend, and his generosity along the way has been one of the constants of my life.

He initially appeared in Blackbird in 2003 with the essay “Going Out Into the Crazy: Some Thoughts About Real Writing and Real Reading,” accompanied by the text and audio of an interview conducted by Julia Johnson. Subsequent issues featured work from at least three of his books, including a group of ten poems from What Is Owed the Dead (Factory Hollow Press, 2011), a collection that performs a remarkable collage of remembrance and tribute.

Richard was also unfailing in his support of generations of Hollins students and other emerging writers, many of whom he kindly sent Blackbird’s way. Now, one needs only to glance at his Facebook timeline to be aware of his profound effect on those who, over almost sixty years, crossed the particular trajectory of his classes.

He published eight collections of poems, two novels, a collection of short stories, essays, criticism on literature and film, and translations of verse plays from the ancient Greek and Latin. He also edited The Hollins Critic and coauthored the screenplay for one of the last century’s notoriously worst films, now a cult classic. Most recently, he founded the Groundhog Poetry Press, where he championed books of poetry that he believed should be in the world—so he put them there.

His work and service were recognized by the O.B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize, the Hanes Award for Poetry, and the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

I return with regularity to several of Richard’s poems to see me through a day or a week or a decade, and I am profoundly grateful that they remain and are with us. One, too long to provide here, is “Spring Letter to Paradise,” a poem directed at things loved and remembered, and which tells us: “But spring has been in the steep play / Of light across varied weather, / In the way the birds flit and glide / By the window, the way the cat / Crouches, switches her tail . . . ”

His poems all live in the details of this world: the changing seasons, the weather, the critters by the door, the friendships, and the many, many links and bobolinks there for us to discern if we only really pay attention.

My favorite of his poems is reproduced here in full. It appeared in his third book, After Borges, published by Louisiana State University Press in 1972.

We cannot stay among the ruins.
—R.W. Emerson

The sudden edge of a bell
Or a knock. You answer,
If at all, touching wood.

You touch wood, and you answer.
It is like turning a page.
It is the mailman or a boy.
It is the undertaker.
It is Cyndy whom you haven’t seen for months
Or Cronan who was just by yesterday.
It is a pirate with someone on his shoulder,
Someone you know.
Or it is Annie who has overlooked her key.

The day dazzles, dances,
The light splashing in like rain.
There are twelve policemen at your door.
There are two men with a cow
Or one man with an eye like a radish.

There is no one at the door at all.

No point in going back to bed.
The day is torn open like an envelope.
It is as open as the door.
You are opening like a door,
Steadying like a zeppelin in the air.
You take on edges. You expand.

Something has come to call
And found you in. And now
You must go calling on the day.

Thank you, Richard. Always.  end

R.H.W. Dillard was the author of eight collections of poems, most recently Not Ideas (Factory Hollow Press, 2014). He was also the author of two novels, a collection of short stories, essays, criticism on literature and film, and translations of verse plays from the ancient Greek and Latin. He was editor of The Hollins Critic and founder of Groundhog Poetry Press.

Mary Flinn is the editor, and a cofounder, of Blackbird.

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