My Friend Bill

2000-08-04

My friend Bill Barlow has died. It's perhaps presumptuous of me to call him a friend. He was certainly a friend of my father's family, and the closest I ever had to a grandfather. My paternal grandfather died when my father was quite young, so I never met him (and my maternal grandfather I met only once as a young boy). Bill knew my grandfather, and he befriended and advised my father and his brothers as they were growing up in Sea Cliff, Long Island. The few times I went to visit Bill during college, he liked to observe what about me was like my father and what about me was like my grandfather - probably the only person in a position to do so. We had long talks about art and ideas and politics. Not so much about religion -- he converted to Roman Catholicism rather late in life and at that time I was a fire-breathing atheist (I'm still a non-believer, I just don't breathe fire any more). He tweaked me about studying ancient poetry and such, but it was only tweaking -- he studied creative writing after the war and certainly appreciated the importance of useless subjects.

Bill had more careers than most people have employers. As a boy he was a radio actor back before the days of television. Later he studied singing and got involved in opera, which he loved all his life. But that career was interrupted by the Second World War. He fought in North Africa and Italy, where he was injured rather seriously. His knowledge of French was put to good use when he became an interpreter for Generals de Gaulle, Giraud, Juin, Eisenhower, Patton, and Clark. After earning his MFA at Columbia, he went into the working world as a journalist, banker, hospital administrator, publicist, and probably a few other professions I've never heard about. After my college days in New York, he and I lost touch, but I often thought about him. He loved to ask you tough questions, to challenge you, to force you to think hard -- but he always did it with a twinkle in his eye. He also wrote poems, though his only book was self-published by a vanity press and certainly did not gain wide circulation (New Arrivals & Recent Acquisitions, Economy Press, 1988). Over the last few days I've been reading his poems, which I hadn't done since college, and I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I like them. I've tried to contact his next-of-kin regarding publication rights, but so far without success. So as an homage to Bill, I've decided to publish a selection of his poems in the Monadnock Review.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Update (2001-05-02): Sorry, I have pulled these poems from the web.


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