A belated RIP to William Packard
I was ransacking the house recently, trying to find a short story I wrote in grade school to post here for its humor value, and found several postcards – some carrying a few one-sentence witticisms, and the last imprinted with a book cover, and the title: Saturday Night at San Marcos.
I read the book years ago – I never finished it, as it wasn’t my cup of tea – but I thought at least I should do the author a good turn by thumbing through its pages. It was given to me by the author, William Packard, with whom I became friendly while taking his playwriting class at HB Studios in the Village around 1986 or so.
When Bill found out I was a journalist he asked me to meet him at the West Village’s famous White Horse Tavern (famous for the many artists who imbibed there, including Dylan Thomas) so that I might write an article on the history of the poetry magazine he founded: New York Quarterly.
To me, Bill was a Jack Kerouac type; albeit, years removed from the Beats when I met him, but still intense. He was a good teacher and encouraged me and when we met at the White Horse he was very enthusiastic about the article. That would be the highlight of our relationship – the article would never get written because I soon lost the luster for playwriting and HB Studios, having a hard time with people who wanted to be overnight sensations (classmates) who had no idea of the hard work involved.
And I think, in a way, I had a juvenile (I was 26) low-self-esteem nervousness about working with Packard.
But anyway, we had our interview session and when we came out found that my car had been towed. Bill was kind enough to ride in the taxi with me to the tow depot – and honestly, I don’t think I could have navigated any of it without him. I recall it cost me around $100 to get my little red Nissan out of hock – and when I drove Bill back to his apartment he told me to wait.
He disappeared inside the building and came out with an armload of NYQ issues, some of his books, including Saturday Night at San Marcos, and a half a dozen or so marketing postcards.
Remembering all this at the sight of the SNASM postcard I did a search and found he died in 2002; here’s a piece of his bio: “A graduate of Stanford University, where he earned a degree in Philosophy and studied under the poet and critic Yvor Winters, Packard was a presence in the literary circles of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950’s and 60’s — circles that included Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Patchen, and Kenneth Rexroth. Packard was most active, however, in New York City, where he lived and wrote for more than half his life.” And: “For his work with the New York Quarterly (NYQ), which he founded in 1969, Packard was called ‘one of the great editors of our time’ by poet and novelist James Dickey.”
All this praise was lost on me at the time, of course. To me, Packard was the teacher at HB who edited a poetry magazine. As was to be true to form for most of my life, I would brush up against greatness and then - naively? stupidly? - shoulder it aside. But in my memory I’ll always carry the image of Bill coming down those steps, with his armful of books and magazines, tossing them in my car and telling me: “I can’t give you back your hundred dollars, so I’ll give you these instead.”
I am forever honored.