Have I Heard of You?

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02/28/2011

Neighborhood: Chelsea

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Have I Heard of You?
photo by Beyond My Ken

Have I Heard of You?

By Peter Wortsman

The following encounter between the late William Packard (1933-2002), poet, playwright, teacher, and publisher of the literary journal The New York Quarterly, myself, and a postal worker, took place at the Chelsea Station Post Office in the 1980s.

I immediately recognized the man in front of me on the package pickup line as Packard, his tousled hair, coat pockets stuffed with manuscripts, and an unlit cigarette dying to be smoked dangling from his lips, a dead give-away.

“I took your playwriting class some years back,” I said.

“Oh yeah? Are you still writing?”

“Yes.”

“What are you reading?”

“Kleist.”

“Too morbid for me,” the postal worker piped in, “I don’t like German writers.”

“Oh yeah?” Packard bristled.

“Don’t like Americans much either,” he added.

“You’re talking to two authors of the English language,” William Packard solemnly declared.

“English I like,” said the postal worker, “Anthony Powell, now there’s a novelist.”

Packard’s package picked up, he stormed off. The postal worker turned to me.

“A poet, huh?”

I nodded.

“Poets,” he opined, “they all think they’re Walt Whitmans nowadays. What about you?” he asked, studying my name on the official yellow post office pickup slip. “Have I heard of you?”

A writer in multiple modes, including fiction (A Modern Way to Die), drama (The Tattooed Man Tells All and Burning Words) and translation (most recently, Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist, http://www.archipelagobooks.org/bk.php?id=53 ), Peter Wortsman is the recipient of the Beard’s Fund Short Story Award and the Geertje Potash-Suhr Prize for Prose of the Society for Contemporary American Literature in German, and was a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010. Also a widely published travel writer, his texts have appeared four years in a row in The Best Travel Writing 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. “Notes of an Urban Nomad,” a series of his e-books, are forthcoming soon from New Word City (http://www.newwordcity.com/ ).

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