People Met Almost in Passing

Barbara Howes and Anne McCaffrey had very little in common, except both were writers, one a quiet but excellent poet and the other a commanding, dominating force in the development and history of science fiction. The other commonality is that I met each of them once, the first briefly… and the second, not quite so briefly.

In 1964, I studied poetry under William Jay Smith, who three years later went on to become the nineteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Upon one occasion he had several students to his house in North Pownal, Vermont. There he briefly introduced us to his wife Barbara Howes, by saying she was also a poet.

At that time, I had no idea that I stood before two of the more talented poets of the time, both of whom later had books of poetry that were finalists for the National Book Award. To me, one was my professor, and the other was his wife. While I’d like to think that I made the most of the time I studied with William Jay Smith, the truth is that, while I certainly didn’t blow off the opportunities, I also didn’t take full advantage of them, like all too many students. And I certainly didn’t realize that Barbara Howes was far more than just another poet until years later.

My only personal meeting with Anne McCaffrey was, thankfully, more than a brief encounter, that took place at the World Fantasy Convention in London in 1997. That convention was one of the few where my wife accompanied me, and her presence made all the difference. We had barely arrived at the convention when we were summoned (and Anne did summon) to join Anne. She was seated on a raised long hotel settee and insisted that I sit on one side and that Carol Ann sit on the other. Then she asked me to sign a copy of The Soprano Sorceress, which she had blurbed most favorably. After that, we talked for perhaps ten minutes at most, before she turned to Carol Ann, and the two of them – both sopranos – talked singing for a good half-hour, to the chagrin of my publisher, who waited all that time to get a few minutes to talk to Anne.

Although Anne did offer public fulsome praise for the next Spellsong Cycle book, that time in London was the only time we actually met… and I was very glad for the opportunity.

In retrospect, I only wish I’d had enough sense to spend at least a few minutes talking to Barbara Howes.

2 thoughts on “People Met Almost in Passing”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    Life is filled with such chances – and missed chances. In medical school, I had the chance to go to a lecture by one of the local legends named Abraham Verghese, MD, who wrote “My Own Country.” It is a book about the AIDS crisis in rural America in the late 1980s. It discussed how his ethnicity (Indian subcontinent) and the politics of Lesbian/Gay issues, the CDC & FDA, and the Appalachian Bible Belt affected those with HIV. This was when treatment was mostly unknown – dangerous and difficult – and the diagnosis was still mainly a death sentence.

    I skipped the free lecture and the after-talk open to students and residents to study for an immunology test. Fast forward 7 years to when I am a Family Medicine resident in San Diego and I went to see him for a $65 fee and the chance for him to sign my book by standing in line for an hour. We chatted briefly about east Tennessee and then he moved on to the next person in line. Turns out that he knew a friend of a friend and we had both been invited to a dinner party after the lecture and I had a chance to talk to him a bit more later. But only a little bit more.

    I still regret not going to see him the first time.

  2. JakeB says:

    I had not read Barbara Howes before. Thank you, that’s some good stuff. I like, for instance, the echo of Robert Louis Stevenson in the Homecoming. It’s allusive, but remains specific and acute, unlike the undifferentiated chaotic mess that so much poetry reads like today.

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