It's difficult for me to accept that 10 years have passed since my old friend Liam Rector took his own life. We had known each other since my early days in Washington, DC, where we were both part of the Mass Transit open poetry reading group started by Michael Lally in the early 1970s. We became better friends in the '80s and after, and I still miss his often outrageous, but always smart and funny perspective on life and poetry. I wrote about him here a year after his death. And Wikipedia offers this short bio. [photo at left by Parrish Dobson]
I learned of his death very quickly after it occurred from his longitme friend and protege David Fenza. I was shocked, but in some ways not surprised. Liam had hinted very clearly that suicide was something he regarded as a real option for him. It was over-the-top, dramatic, arresting, absolute---an act, in other words, that fit his personality perfectly. I respect his right to take his own life. I don't know what he was contending with that pushed him to this extreme, but I suspect it was a combination of medical problems and spiritual despair. He left behind his wife, Tree Swenson, herself a significant figure in the New York literary world back then; his daughter Virginia from his second marriage; and a multitude of friends, colleagues, and students.
He is a hard person to forget, and I miss him still. Here is a message he left on my answering machine sometime not too long before his death. I offer it not because of its flattering praise of my work, but to give a sense of the kind of friend he could be---full of appreciation and support for the people he cared about:
Here are two of my favorite poems of Liam's:
Dressed in an old coat I lumber
Down a street in the East Village, time itself
Whistling up my ass and looking to punish me
For all the undone business I have walked away from,
And I think I might have stayed
In that last tower by the ocean,
The one I built with my hands and furnished
Using funds which came to me at nightfall, in a windfall....
Just ahead of me, under the telephone wires
On this long lane of troubles, I notice a gathering
Of viciously insane criminals I'll have to pass
Getting to the end of this long block in eternity.
There's nothing between us. Good
I look so dangerous in this coat.
Home from school at six years old, first grade,
And uncle there to tell me Mommy
Gone, Mommy not be coming back any
Time soon, Liam, Mommy had to go to
Mental hospital. Nervous breakdown.
Years later Mommy, when she gets out
Of mental, often says, "If you're
A bad boy for me Liam you're
Going to send me back, back
Into mental hospital, like you did
First time." At 13
I find out Mom had been doing years
In a federal prison all that time,
For stealing, so no mental hospital for
Mommy. Breakdown ours alone.
I was on my own.
Finally, here is the New York Times obituary (I have no doubt Liam would have been thrilled to know he merited a Times obit):