Literature

LIAM RECTOR: 1949-2007 – Always Be Closing

liamrector-2.gif

Late Wednesday night I heard that the poet, Liam Rector,
killed himself earlier in the day. He used a shotgun. His wife Tree Swenson was asleep in the next room.

Liam was bearded, bear-like, quirky, with an extravagant, super-size-it personality. A person about whom everyone whispered, most times with overwhelming affection, other times…well, let’s just say he was an easy target for gossip because he said what he thought—good, bad, and occasionally truly strange. He wanted to provoke comment—and he did. Inevitably. Gleefully.

He was also brilliant, and had enough energy to light two medium-sized cities. Professionally, Liam was a prizewinning poet, who had taught at Columbia, The New School and Emerson College in Boston. He’d also been the executive director of the National Endowment for the Arts, and for the American Academy of Poets.

I met him only recently in the context of the Graduate Writing Seminars at Bennington College which Liam founded and directed. I’d heard about the program from my friend Aimee Liu, the novelist and nonfiction writer, who’d just finished getting her masters degree there. She said she loved the whole two years, that the faculty was stellar, and that she really believed it had kicked her writing up a notch or three. I should just do it, she said. Go. Figure a way.

So, I applied
…at my age….(after decades of professional writing and reporting—and, for the past few years, teaching)! Oh, what the hell? I thought. I wanted somebody else to kick my butt, creatively speaking, the way I was doing for my students. I needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone again. I was working on a book anyway, and I hoped to do what Amy had done—shove my writing up a notch or three.

Bennington was the only place I considered
. Although the Liam-created MFA program had the reputation for being rigorous, it was also what is called a “low-residency.”. This means you do most of your work through monthly packets exchanged via snail mail with a series of advisors—combined with a ridiculous amount of reading. And then, twice a year, the Bennington people make you show up on campus for ten days—once in the winter, once in the spring.

My first residency was this past June. I flew to Bennington, Vermont, to stay in a drafty, white clapboard dorm, featuring lumpy pillows, dinner napkin-sized bath towels, and showers down the hall. I shared dorm life with 29 or so other poets, novelists, and nonfiction writers—ages 21 to 62. Our newby group included additional So Cal types like novelist, Tod Goldberg, his fiction-writing wife, Wendy Duren, and actor/writer, Rider Strong. Plus there were the returning writers, there for their second, third and fourth residency. For ten days the lot of us did nothing but eat, drink, and breathe literature and writing —all as orchestrated by Liam Rector.


It was glorious.

I particularly remember how, at our introductory meeting with Liam, at one point he roared to us that it was essential for all writers to watch the “Always be closing” scene from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross —the movie version. And so, off went the lights and we dutifully watched the scene in which the Alec Baldwin character browbeats his already psychically battered salesmen in order to inculcate them with idea that they must “always be closing.

I took it to mean:
Never save your best for later. Give every shred of what you’ve got right now. Take no prisoners. Employ all three of the aforementioned as often as humanly possible, or don’t f*cking bother!

Liam told us that Mamet wrote the scene as a new element for the movie, that it wasn’t in the play. This literary factoid was precisely the kind of thing Liam made it a point to know.

And if he knew it—whatever it was—
he usually wanted us to know it too.


A-B-C. Always be closing.


It was a maxim that Liam seemed to practice as well as preach,
at least when I saw him. It is in the tenor of his poetry—which is beautifully crafted, to be sure, yet also swing-out-over-the-abyss risky when it comes to content.

And I think you can reasonably say there is a strong core of
ABC undergirding the kick-ass wonderful Bennington program that Liam founded, of which I am now a part.

The last memory I have was of asking Liam to dance at the party held the night before we were all scheduled to go home. My east coast writer friend, Nancy Doherty, asked him too. Mind you, in this instance, we were talking boogie-on-down dancing, not ballroom. (There was a great deal of Pinot Noir involved, as I remember—at least at our table.) He was gallant in his refusal to both of us. Evidently, even for Liam, A-B-C had its limits.

There will likely be those who read this
who knew Liam a zillion times better than I do. (Like I said, I was a new kid to the fold.) If so, please leave a comment , a memory, or a story.

In the meantime…..Rest in Peace, Liam.

And…yes….A-B-C. Got it. Will do. In your honor.

***********************************************************************************

Here are few of Liam’s poems.


Whether you’re a poetry aficionado or not,
they’re worth reading—particularly the first and the last.

The Remarkable Objectivity
of Your Old Friends

by Liam Rector

We did right by your death and went out,
Right away, to a public place to drink,
To be with each other, to face it.

We called other friends – the ones
Your mother hadn’t called – and told them
What you had decided, and some said

What you did was right; it was the thing
You wanted and we’d just have to live
With that, that your life had been one

Long misery and they could see why you
Had chosen that, no matter what any of us
Thought about it, and anyway, one said,

Most of us abandoned each other a long
Time ago and we’d have to face that
If we had any hope of getting it right.


Best Friend

by Liam Rector

You sailed down
From Provincetown
And I was to meet you

In Key West. I’d never
Sailed. I dressed
In my best and flew

Down from Manhattan,
Where I had been feeling
Punishing failure

And reading Hart Crane.
I brought a robe
I intended to wear

When I jumped off
Our boat mid-sea. I never
Told you that,

Old friend, and I
Apologize now.
What if I had left you mid-ocean

To sail alone?
In our twenty-foot wooden
Thing with no motor

And a radio that didn’t
Work we barely made it
Through the initial storm.

In the Bahamas we
Were often stood
Free beers for being

As insane as we were,
Coming over those waters
With no motor, pure

Sailing like that, a bar
Of soap floating in the cauldron
Of the Bermuda Triangle,

Where motorized cigarette
Boats sped by at money-making
Speeds, running drugs to fill

American needs.
And on our way back
When we lost our rudder

You, former Eagle
Scout, first conscientious
Objector ever to leave

West Point, captain
Of the ski team, jumped
Over the stern

And fashioned out of oar
And thick rope the thing
That would see us to shore

Before we, becalmed,
Drifted off course
100 miles, 100 miles

Of boredom and sun. I snapped
A black and white photo
Of the sea to remind me

Of my boredom, its boredom.
We made it back
To America, hitting

Shore at Boca Raton,
Pulling in midst the boats
Of the very, very rich.

I lived to write this
And never jumped ship.
It was your kinship

Kept me going those years,
Times of ridiculous
Sailing, riotous beers.

Wives sailed by,
So many boats, and you soon
Left for Bangkok and its

Very distant coast.
Being young: being rich
Among inherited ruins.

Always

by Liam Rector

She liked to get high and go away.

She liked to get very high and go

Very far away. She would say

She was going to meet us

But then she wouldn’t show up:

She’d gone very far away.

She knew it probably wasn’t

The best thing to live this way but

She said she felt so much better

Whenever she stationed herself somewhere

Very far away, indeed as far away

As she could get from the bitter.

We begged her to stay, to stay and to stay

And to stay, and she took to mumbling

Something by Beckett, “Better abort

Than be barren, ” and then she’d go

Even farther away. She said she’d

Finally reached the point, after

Her husband died early and their daughter

Lost her mind, she’d finally reached the point

Where she’d just as soon

Go really far away. This was the point

Where we were getting intolerably tired

Of her turmoil (it was beginning

To involve money) and we threatened,

Ourselves, to go away.

Then she said she could easily see how

We’d reached this point, why we were

Beginning to feel that way, and she

Leaned into us to say she’d learned

Somewhere along the way

That abandonment, one way

Or the other, that abandonment

Was the very mathematic of matter,

That abandonment, like it

Or not, really was the only way.

She said NO ONE GETS TO STAY.

And then she started rehearsing the story,

The story about being born,

Coming to fruition, and then having

To go away, and she said we’d really

Have to come to terms with this, that this

Was the way things went always, and as we

Started putting our coats on to leave she said

She wanted to thank us, that she’d been

Surprised and delighted, really surprised

And delighted, by just how long we had

Managed to stay. And when the call came

We decided the only way to put it,

The only way really to respond

To the “Why?” of it, was to say

She’d been walking along a precipice

For a very long time

And that she had slipped and managed

To go on over, and that was all,

About her going, that any of us

Could ever really say.

So We’ll Go No More

So it’s fare thee well, my own true love;
I’m leaving you behind. And not
For the early, for the young reasons, but

For these late, last, ill reasons. I’m almost
Kaput! Yea, you’ll get no more of me….
Cancer, heart attack, bypass—all

In the same year? My chances
Are one out of two! And I’m fucking well
Ready, ready to go. To go!—how often

I’ve operated that way. That way
Almost the entire caper, the way
For people, places, things:

Abandon, abandon, nay abandon before
Being abandoned. But we’ve, we’ve
Stayed. You the third wife for me, I

The second such boy for you, and I love
Looking directly into you, as we look
Directly into this last get-go. We all

Have the talent for leaving, like it
Or no. And oh, how rich it is, how fine
To finally inherit!: the final thing

I was looking for, as it turns out,
The great power of leaving
All the breathtakingly brief all along.

Liam Rector

39 Comments

  • Woody, I’m sorry. I thought of that. Good point. If I had it to do over again, I’d have left off with the Theresa Duncan fixation and only posted this. All his students are a little knocked off balance, myself among them.

  • Celeste, my comment was not directed at you in any way, but at the awful reality of these people taking their lives–whether it’s people that you know or famous authors from Ernest Hemingway to Hunter Thompson. I don’t know if it just seems as if creative people tend to this more or if those deaths are just pulicized more, but I think, just think, that the suicide rate for such people would be higher.

    It’s ironic, in a sad way, that people who have this great creative talent could not find a creative way past whatever bothered them at the time. Despair overtook them. They chose a permanent solution for a temporary problem. It’s a waste and sad, and that’s what bothers me. Yet, it seems to keep going on.

  • I am terribly sorry for the loss of your teacher.

    Always Be Closing is a good maxim for anyone who puts pen to paper – whatever the purpose for writing might be.

  • It does seem to appear those in creative professions have a tendency toward suicide. Perhaps so much inward reflection is not healthy. The list of writers seems to be the longest list.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Suicides

    This is one reason that I do not keep a gun in my home, for I fear an errant thought of me or mine to be more dangerous than the stranger.

  • rlc, I don’t know how everyone but me has time to read novels, with all the ball games and television that has to be watched. I have never even heard of “The Bell Jar,” but I looked at the SparkNotes summary, to bring back college days, and just the summary alone is depressing enough. I want to escape things like that-not bring on more.

    G.M. Roper had a good post on suicide once. At the time he published it, I was a little flippant about it with my comments, but I realized the seriousness of it as I’ve tracked sources of referrals to the site and find so many came via google by typing something like “god I don’t want to live anymore.” The number of references from that are more than I like to think about. I hope that G.M.’s post has given hope to those people and kept all from an awful solution.

    I think that churches can help people with such problems, and I wonder if the creative are less likely to believe in God and hope, thus accounting for their staggering number of suicides.

  • The act of writing, or painting, or composing music….that sort of thing, requires that you leave certain emotional pathways wide open—or as open as possible. This can be a wonderful thing—and is, I believe necessary if you’re to write/paint/compose something that matters. But it also has its obvious liabilities.

    I don’t know what is true in Liam’s case. I suspect he was subject to depression. Plus he’d battled cancer in the past…and maybe it came back. It has been very shocking.

    I agree with Pokey about guns in the house, for precisely the reason he said. I know personally of two many people who would likely be alive if a gun hadn’t been so readily available. (This has nothing to do with gun control. It has to do with having the &%$#*&% things around.)

    In my own case, I figure I gave up the suicide option when I had my kid. Period. No exceptions. Ever. For any reason.

  • Manic-depression has always been linked to creativity; if you list the great composers, you can barely find one that wasn’t. Ditto with painters (infamously, Van Gogh), writers…It’s not known what the exact link is to this day, but it’s assumed that this condition spurs the initial choice of career, as a form of self-therapy. Many artists fear getting “help” because it could curb their artistic expression, too — and I believe they have a valid point, espescially where meds would be concerned. But some creative people clearly suffer alone, not knowing where to go, where they won’t just be treated as “patients” with a condition to solve/ dull.

  • What a nice tribute to Liam. Thank you. I remember his Always Be Closing talk from my days at Bennington – you describe it so well. He was such an inspiration to me as a young Writing Seminars student, such a bright light. It’s hard to believe that the light has gone out.

  • I taught with Liam last summer in the Paris Writers Workshop. Tree was along for the week in Paris, as was his daughter. His death is horrifying, the experience he created for Tree especially, and the news that he had a shotgun in his house is just so surprising. It is hard to accept suicide as the valid choice of a person who is not thought-impaired to some degree when it punishes other people in this way. Does it come out of the blue? Was it very much an eventuality for him? I didn’t know him at all well and can only speculate. He seemed like a life embracer. And yet respect for suicide is heralded all over the place in his work.

  • “I took it to mean: Never save your best for later.”

    hm. makes sense. I always wondered why he kept repeating that.
    graduated from Bennington program ten years ago, had Liam in my poetry term. I enjoyed reading what you had to say. – William Males

  • Bipolar disorder is a mental illness rampant among creative people and I believe contributes to creativity, while also having a suicide rate of 10-20% according to the NIMH. The charismatic, intense energy moods of profuse writing and conversational brilliance (Leonard Woolf described Virginia in these manic states) can very rapidly devolve into an intense desire to just die. As someone with bipolar who dropped out of Liam’s program half-way and found there was zero comprehension or compassion for this illness by my teacher or the administration, including Liam, I’ll bet he had the disorder but was too proud to admit it. There is a shame and stigma to having it. It’s much more noble to just die for your art than for a mental illness. Woody, I saw you graduate. That was my second and last semester at B.

  • Bipolar disorder is a mental illness rampant among creative people and I believe contributes to creativity, while also having a suicide rate of 10-20% according to the NIMH. The charismatic, intense energy moods of profuse writing and conversational brilliance (Leonard Woolf described Virginia in these manic states) can very rapidly devolve into an intense desire to just die. As someone with bipolar who dropped out of Liam’s program half-way and found there was zero comprehension or compassion for this illness by my teacher or the administration, including Liam, I’ll bet he had the disorder but was too proud to admit it. There is a shame and stigma to having it. It’s much more noble to just die for your art than for a mental illness. Woody, I saw you graduate. That was my second and last semester at B.

  • Do you remember what the weather was like, TIV? I appreciate the note, but I’m suspecting that you might have me confused with another brilliant person with the same name. (There are two “Woody’s” out there? Save the world!)

    Name the state and I’ll let you know if you’re right. If you are, it’s nice to hear from you. Whatever happened to Jim?

  • Just a couple of years late, TIV. Bennington is a beautiful school with a good program in its specialty, but I would have felt somewhat empty every fall Saturday without a football game on campus. But, whomever you thought I might be must be a wonderful, caring, handsome genius–just the opposite of what a lot of people call me. I hope that you continued your studies, even if at a different school. Come back and comment often here. Your input is helpful and welcomed. Celeste runs a class site, even though I have to constantly correct her. Best wishes.

  • Thanks, William and Tod, of course. Katherine, a lot of us have been talking about exactly what you said—about how strange and awful it was that Liam did what he did to Tree. And, yes, in looking at his poetry it was clear that a trail of emotional breadcrumbs was likely there all the time.

    BTW, we have heard ZERO from Bennington, which is just a tad unnerving.

    IV…I had a wonderful, talented young journalism student in one of my classes not too long ago who was struggling with a bipolar condition. I worried a lot for her. I still do. But, it’s really awful to hear that the Bennington folks weren’t more empathetic. Geeze. Don’t they read Kay Jamison? Or William Styron? (I don’t know if Styron struggles with depression only or with bipolar disorder, but nonetheless…..)

    Thanks for your enlightening comments.

  • I/V, I can see that manic-depression/bipolar disorder is rampant in the creative community just from observation, but didn’t know that sufferers commit suicide at the rate of 10-20% — wow. Especially since most creative people aren’t diagnosed, partly out of shame, partly out of rational concern that shrinks won’t understand that there is a part of the self that the creative doesn’t want destroyed with treatment. I’ve seen this too many times.

    Sorry about your experience, but indeed, too many writers are in denial. They’ll say things like, “I write when I’m down,” and that’s as far as it goes. Frankly, I stay away from writers’ conferences myself, and rarely even attend the local meetings of writers, because there’s something heavy in the room when they get together. Either despair at the longer conferences, or the manic side of trying too hard to impress each other at meetings: even and especially the most distinguished writers, who you’d think wouldn’t have to be the ones to “prove” themselves. The condition comes with a lot of deep-insecurity that can manifest in being kind of snotty to other people.

    And, this is just a personal observation in addition: if you don’t “look” like a writer, but are attractive and together, they are especially skeptical of you sight-unseen.

    After law school I did attend a one-year MFA program at a major university, and was glad it was only a small part of my life and any given day, not the insular experience that a live-in program would be. NOT to diss the Bennington experience that I don’t know, but for some people, less of a total immersion experience works better.

  • When you consider that country music artists sing about getting drunk, losing their girls, going to jail, and pappa dying, it’s amazing that half of them don’t kill themselves. And, some great blues music comes from actual experiences.

    I’m still amazed at the ignorance or disinterest of the Bennington faculty and administration over this matter, considering that these are some of the people whom they teach. Students with that problem would get more sincere concern at Ole Miss.

  • The first mistake would be to think we knew anything about anything.

    Perhaps attention to stereotype–the mental illness, the tragic demise of the creative spirit–is misplaced. Perhaps not all suicides are created equal. Perhaps Tree doesn’t need the pity justly accorded a victim. Perhaps in some cases–and specifically in this one–death can hold a tremendous amount of life.

    Perhaps energy directed to dissing an entire faculty and administration out of hand could be better spent.

    Perhaps the final poem, above, merits another read.

  • Perfectly said, Carol. We never know exactly what goes on inside someone’s mind and heart. Writing just gives us a glimpse.

    We will never know. We will never understand “why.”

    And thank you, Celeste, for writing about “Always Be Closing.” Your description of Liam stirred memories of him and Bennington from 13 yrs ago for me. The numbers of people he touched. Inspired. Stirred up. May we all get off our duffs and make him proud.

    Love to Liam and Tree and all of us —
    Renee

  • Thanks, Renee. And thank you, Carol. Obviously, I can only guess at why this happened. But, as you suggest. That last poem could hardly be more direct. I know it was written during his earlier bout with cancer and heart disease. (The poem was, I believe, first published in the Cortland Review, in 2001, before being published as part of his 2006 collection, “The Executive Director of the Fallen World.”)

    But a lot of us have been wondering in emails to each other, if the disease came back. Maybe you know this for certain.

    By the way, it turns out Bennington DID send out an official email notice. But somehow our entire class got left off the email list, so none of us got it, which has made us feel a bit…..adrift.

  • P.S. I just this minute reread the NY Times announcement of Liam’s death and it states that his wife, Tree, said that, in the note he left, Liam expressed distress over his health. So, it seems that must have been a big element.

  • Greetings all, and thanks for the ABC narrative Celeste, well turned, through line and all. And the picture with photoshopped touches, sweet. And Rector poems.

    I must admit that over the years I’ve been surprised that Liam’s schtick stayed much the same over years of seminar students, although not unusual for teachers to repeat things to new groups (I think he had an entire 2 year repetoire). Now I think it’s amazing that what 12? 13? years worth of students have shared a similar and vibrant schtick. 🙂 Lucky us.

    And yes, Carol, what can we puny mortals really know about another’s mind/heart/life?

    I got an email letter from Writing Seminars, from Victoria…in the official category.

    Peace. God save us all.

    Kathy

  • Liam was my teacher and mentor at Bennington over a decade ago, when the Writing Program was just beginning, and later my friend. I owe him more than I could ever express, not the least of which is my career. My heart is hurting so much, I can hardly stand it. I wish I had known he was ill again. I wish someone from the program had gotten word out to the alumni. I wish we both had been better about staying in touch. Grief is running neck-and-neck with anger at this point — I am wrestling and probably will always wrestle with how he could do something so terrible to Tree, whom he loved and who loved him. Certainly, Liam took life on his own terms, and hearing of his suicide was shocking, but not surprising. It is the manner of his death that haunts me — perhaps the awfulness of it reflects the depth of his pain, or maybe he was drinking — who can tell? . As Carol says, we can’t know what goes on in another person’s heart. But I know mine is breaking with sadness and fury.

  • As far as hearing from B’ton goes, I think it’s worth noting that, in my experience, news of this kind (like Lucy Grealey and Reetika Vazirani) came from Liam himself. Everyone is reeling and trying to get their bearings and there’s no director to coordinate things for the time being. For better or worse, the Writing Seminars always seemed to me to be a bit encapsulated from the undergraduate operations of the campus, which is probably dealing with arriving students about now. It’s unfortunate and frustrating but, at this point, I’d like to look at the way the word got out on its own to be a tribute to the community Liam built.

    But I really wanted to say thanks for the thoughtful post. It’s especially lovely and encouraging to me that it came from someone who just finished their first residency. All this makes me want to visit B’ton again sooner.

  • Beautifully said Celeste (and alumni). We’ll have to raise a glass and do a dance or two in his honor come January. He will be missed on campus for sure. I’m so grateful for what he started and proud to carry it forward.

  • I studied with Liam for a weekend last summer in Provincetown. I took 15 pages of notes in his two half-days of lecture. He was an encyclopedia, and obviously a complex soul. I agree with so many comments above. Thank you for the chance to connect with others who are mourning Liam’s passing. I will honor his teaching by reading as many of his recommendations as possible (I am in an MFA program myself). And I am grateful to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown for the chance to study with Liam.

  • I graduated from the program in 1998 with Liam as my final teacher. He was a very tender, generous teacher. His poetry is filled with bravado coupled with sorrow–as is life. I don’t presume to know his mental state or feel it is mine to analyze. Liam struck me as a man unafraid to take risks and make the hard choices. During my term with him he suffered a heart attack, then cancer and a series of health issues. It pissed me off to see him smoking afterwards, yet it was typical Liam. It was, after all, his life, his death. It’s none of my damn business, other than to note that he mattered to me. I’ll miss knowing that Liam, my teacher, is out there, inspiring and annoying the literary world.

  • I was in the second class admitted to the writing seminars, graduating in June of 1994. Knowing Liam and being a part of the Bennington program he created changed the possibilities for my life. His friendship and faith made me stronger and braver than I ever expected to be. As long as I breathe, Liam will be in me. I take him with me into every class I teach. I hear him as I challenge my students, occasionally provoking them into growth or change or uncomfortable learning. My heart breaks for Tree, for the faculty he led, for the students still in the midst of the program, for those of us who’ve graduated, for all of us who loved him. But mostly I am grateful. I was so lucky to get that phone call from him–the invitation to step into the fierce swirl of Liam’s vision. For me, he was such a gift.

  • Thanks Celeste. Great tribute to Liam. We when first hear of a suicide, I think we experience shock, sadness and then some anger for what some consider a selfish act. What we don’t know is whether or not Liam was dying anyway. Whether cancer or heart illness came back in an advanced state. Those of you who do know Liam know he loved life: the good, bad and the ugly of it. He was not above giving us all a shock on the way out. As shocked as I am, I see this as Liam taking control and not going out in a hospital after weeks or months of crap. Why not an overdose? Because that’s passive. Dying in the hospital or taking pills is not closing. It is not Alec Baldwin or Robert DeNiro. How many movies have you seen De Niro or Clint Eastwood take some pills in a sucide. I have to think that Liam had little choice. At 57, he took matters into his own hands. That’s the Liam I know. I think discussion of bipolar personalities, manic depression, or the Bell Jar misses the point. Liam may have experienced at times what could be called manic depression. But, that implies a lack of control with his emotions and mood that I don’t think he had. I saw him recently and he wasn’t depressed at all. He took me for a ride around NYC on his moped. Two guys over 200lbs darting around the Big Apple. It was a great way to see the city, but I was a little embarrassed. Liam didn’t care what people thought. In fact, at one point back in the village, an attractive young woman pulled up next to us on his bicycle. She gave us a that smile that said, “you guys are cute”. As the light turned green and we took off, Liam turned his head a bit and said simply, “see?”. He was in tune with his life and that of others and would not have left if he had a choice. Here’s to his fierce and feared mind and his sentimental heart. Buck up, and have drink to Liam.

  • Long ago I charmed Liam at a party while attending Indiana State University. He knew little to nothing about motorcyle gangs and by a fluke, I did. This info mesmerized him. Liam was around 26 back then & his green eyes were lethal. Prof. Robert McDowell brought him to our school and fortunately, I enoyed great readings, studies & parties with many amazing & talented poets during this time. Rita Dove was divine but Liam was always my favorite. (And he was champ when I politely refused to give him a tit shot.) So light a candle for him if you would be so kind, from a secondary source, of course and tell him out loud what you want him to know. Then bless him upward. If he helped you or inspired you at all, please do this. Wait- don’t blow the candle out! Let it burn out on it’s own or if you must snuff it or extinguish it somehow, do so in a unique but safe way. Just speak how you feel as he did. Then get back to your own fire burning. With Appreciation, ~Special K.

  • Liam called my partner last year to give her the good news that she’d been admitted to the Bennington MFA program. She told him she was honored to be admitted but had decided on another program. He was gracious, saying he thought she’d be very happy there, which she has been.

    When she found out about his suicide, however, she had profoundly mixed emotions. She was shaken, angry, and though she tried not to show it, I knew she was somewhat intrigued. You see, she has battled depression and suicidal thoughts for years. Though she remarked bitterly on how narcissistic and romanticized his writing about suicide is, it seemed as if his suicide legitimized the act more for her. She read everything she could about him. She learned that he left very specific instructions for his funeral, as if he enjoyed the fantasy of all his friends gathering and lionizing him in just the way he wanted: “Raise a glass to me..” It is as if he counted on his suicide to elevate his memory to mysterious, godlike proportions, as it has for other poets.

    It may have comforted Liam to think of the group adulation at his funeral, and perhaps focusing on this rather than the grisly aftermath made it possible for him to kill himself; but I wonder whether it comforted Tree and their daughter. He didn’t have to be there to see her find him so violently torn apart. What an aggressive act toward her. He didn’t write a poem about that trauma. And it is not just his family who have suffered; think about the students he mentored just last semester. I’m glad my partner wasn’t one of them.

    My partner has been getting more depressed in the last several weeks and has been constantly reading the poetry of poets who killed themselves, including Liam’s. Two days ago, her therapist had her hospitalized because she could not agree she would be safe. To the people who have romanticized Liam’s act as something out of a macho DeNiro movie, I wonder what they would say to me if someday, God forbid, she succumbs to this fantasy.

  • I am saddened to hear of the loss of Liam, or Ronnie as he was born and known to his family. I happen to be a cousin of his and i am even more saddened to know that NOBODY notified his Step Brothers, Alvin and Steve…

  • It is still hard 2 years after Rons death to believe he is gone. No more phone conversations about life, death, and our time together as friends as teenagers.
    I went to high school with Ron, played guitar (poorly) with him when he was singer in Zeitgeist. We went on long bicycle rides together, grew our hair long together, and I even mimicked him by carrying around a poetry book, not because I appreciated or understood the poetry, but because Ron did, and it was cool. We like the same girls, and discussed them, Ron could be so over the top and crude, yet so tender and beautiful at the same time. He hated his teachers because they tolerated his rudeness and insensitiity, but he also loved them for caring. I remember a classic Ron story: him standing in class and telling the poor teacher who was overwhelmed and underequipped in dealing with Ron “it’s people like you that people like me hate people like you” and then walking out of class.
    Who could not but remember a person like that at the tender age of 16?

  • I studied with Liam Rector at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown MA. He was good to my poems and offered to write a reccomendation for grad school.

    What I remember is hanging out with him one day as he smoked. I unloaded a major problem on him and he didn’t shut down or move me away–he gave me some advice. Good advice, though I couldn’t take it since I’d already done something else.

    Astonishingly, generously, he offered to testify for me. People rarely want to do that for close friends, but he offered to me, someone he didn’t have to do anything for.

    May the good man rest in peace.

    I see in the thread folks were wondering if he had struggled with mental illness. I never met a nicer or saner man. A man who knew suffering and sympathized. I think he killed himself because he knew he was going to die of the cancer and didn’t want himself or those close to him to suffer.

Leave a Comment