September 2, 1933 — Novemer 3, 2002
William Packard, esteemed poet, playwright, novelist, editor,
and founder of The New York Quarterly, an influential national
poetry magazine, died of natural causes in his Manhattan apartment
on Sunday, November 3. He was 69.
William Packard was born September 2, 1933 and was raised
in New York. A graduate of Stanford University, where he earned
a degree in Philosophy and studied under the renowned poet
and critic Yvor Winters, Mr. Packard was a presence in the
literary circles of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950’s
and 60’s — circles that included such notables as Allen
Ginsberg, Kenneth Patchen, and Kenneth Rexroth. Mr. Packard
was most active, however, in New York City, where he lived
and wrote for more than half his life.
While in New York, Mr. Packard hosted the 92nd Street Y’s
poetry reading series, was Vice President of the Poetry Society
of America, and was co-director of the Hofstra Writers Conference
for seven years. In 1957 he was awarded a Frost Fellowship
and, in 1980, was honored with a reception at the White House
for distinguished American poets.
Mr. Packard’s literary career spanned nearly 50 years and
resulted in the publication of six volumes of poetry, including
"To Peel an Apple," "First Selected Poems," "Voices/I hear/voices,"
and "Collected Poems." His novel, "Saturday Night at San Marcos,"
was heralded as "a bawdy, irreverent send-up of the literary
scene." His translation of Racine’s "Phedre," for which he
was awarded the Outer Critic’s Circle Award, is the only English
rendering to date to have maintained the original’s rhymed
Alexandrine couplets, and was produced Off-Broadway with Beatrice
Straight and Mildred Dunnock. His plays include "The Killer
Thing," directed by Otto Preminger, "Sandra and the Janitor,"
produced at the HB Playwrights Foundation, "The Funeral,"
"The Marriage," and "War Play," produced and directed by Gene
Frankel. Three collections of Mr. Packard’s one-act plays,
"Psychopathology of Everyday Life," "Threesome," and "Behind
the Eyes," were recently produced in New York. He was the
great-grandson of Evangelist Dwight L. Moody and wrote the
non-fiction book "Evangelism in America: From Tents to TV."
Beginning in 1965, when he inherited from Louise Bogan the
poetry writing classes at New York University’s Washington
Square Writing Center, Mr. Packard taught poetry and literature
at NYU, Wagner, The New School, Cooper Union, and Hofstra,
as well as acting, and playwriting at the HB Studio in Manhattan.
Mr. Packard’s demanding teaching style drew determined and
thick-skinned aspiring poets, playwrights, and actors to his
New York City classrooms for nearly 40 years. He is the author
of the textbooks "The Art of the Playwright," "The Art of
Screenwriting," "The Poet’s Dictionary," "The Art of Poetry
Writing," and "The Poet’s Craft: Interviews from the New York
Mr. Packard saw poetry as both an inspired high art form
and a practicable craft. "Art is hard," he wrote in an essay
on the teaching of poetry, "and the writing of poetry is a
crucial experience, consisting of crisis and sacrifice, and
it must be pursued with pride and seriousness. It should be
a risk of the will, a test of the intellect, and a heightening
of the heart." He often joked that teaching poetry was similar
to performing open-heart surgery, but, when teaching, he emphasized
technical competence and appreciation, and discouraged his
students from preoccupations with careerism and fame —
a stance that provoked publicly printed battles with more
ambitious literati on several occasions.
For his work with The New York Quarterly, which he founded
in 1969, Mr. Packard was called "one of the great editors
of our time" by poet and novelist James Dickey. Cited by Rolling
Stone as "the most important poetry magazine in America,"
The New York Quarterly earned a reputation for excellence
by publishing poems and interviews with the prominent poets
W. H. Auden, John Ashbery, Paul Blackburn, Richard Eberhart,
Stanley Kunitz, Anne Sexton, and W.S. Merwin, among many others.
In fact, NYQ has, in its thirty-year career, published virtually
every important poet in the nation. But the magazine is equally
acclaimed for supporting the work of lesser-known poets. The
poet Galway Kinnell once said of the magazine, "The New York
Quarterly serves an invaluable function — and that is
finding and publishing wonderful talents — such as Douskey,
Antler, Pennant, Lifshin, Inez, Moriarty — who may not
have the recognition that their work so richly deserves."
The New York Quarterly had temporarily suspended publication
when Mr. Packard suffered a stroke several years ago, but
he worked hard with his staff during the last year to bring
the magazine back. Two days before his death, Mr. Packard
saw the return of the New York Quarterly — a result of
his life-long passion, and a fulfilled deathbed promise made
to his friend and writer Charles Bukowski. Mr. Packard quotes
Bukowski in his latest editorial saying, "Packard, I’m going
but you’re staying. Promise me that you’ll keep the NYQ mag
going." He did.
Mr. Packard is survived by his first cousins Mrs. Raymond
Suchanek and Maggie LeBlanc, to whom the Art of Poetry Writing
is dedicated, and his family of countless friends and students.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial donations
be made to the New York Quarterly.
The New York Quarterly Issue 59 will be a memorial issue
in remembrance of Mr. Packard. In a letter to staff members,
received 2 days after his death, Mr. Packard writes, "I read
through NYQ #58 from cover to cover…the poems show a
diversity & finesse & mastery that is so rare (or
non-existent) in contemporary poetry today. Powerful, powerful
example of overall excellence!"
Pushcart Prize XXIX contains a tribute to William Packard by Bill Henderson.
Puchase books by William Packard in the NYQ Store.
Contact the Estate of William Packard.