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Joan E. Bauer: It Takes a Lifetime

for Eudora Welty & Ross Macdonald 

The mystery novelist, a deliberate & diffident man.
Orphaned at three, he survived a troubled youth.

‘Every violent act has its roots in the past.’

His forty-year marriage stormy, especially after
the early death of his vulnerable daughter. 

But by 1968, Macdonald was famous—on the cover
of Newsweek—with his dapper fedora & muted smile.

I first read his Lew Archer novels in Berkeley 
about the time I was sharing Welty’s hilarious

‘Why I Live at the P.O’ with my eighth graders
in a dubious Southern drawl. I didn’t know then

that Macdonald & Welty were the closest of friends. 
She’d been in her mid-sixties when he wrote her

a fan note. Over a decade, they’d exchange 345 letters
sharing their deep empathy & need for connection,

their love of grackles, pigeons, eagles, cranes,
condors & the novels of Ford Madox Ford.

They’d both mastered the ‘poetics of place,’  
small-town Mississippi and post-war California.

Welty believed & surely Macdonald agreed:
‘No art ever came from not risking your neck.’

Macdonald wrote in longhand two to three hours
every day, then swam. He claimed:

‘It takes a lifetime to understand your life.’  
Then his memory failed him & he was gone.	

Copyright 2023 Joan E. Bauer

Joan E. Bauer is the author of three full-length poetry collections, The Almost Sound of Drowning (Main Street Rag, 2008), The Camera Artist (Turning Point, 2021) and the forthcoming Fig Season (Turning Point, 2023). She divides her time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

10 comments on “Joan E. Bauer: It Takes a Lifetime

  1. Joan E. Bauer
    March 30, 2023

    For more on Ross Macdonald, go to: https://thelongestchapter.com/2017/12/22/getting-to-know-ross-macdonald/ Much has been written about Eudora Welty. And there’s a wonderful audio recording of her reading “Why I Live at the P.O.” Regrettably, I don’t believe there are audio recordings of Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar) reading his work. Thank you again Michael for your friendship and your support of my work. So glad to be able to share this poem.


  2. Lois Michaels
    March 29, 2023

    Thank you Joan, your poetry is lovely, your e-mails appreciated. Poetry has always enhanced my life and lifted my spirit since Imemorized my first poem, “Gunga Din”. Never more so than now as I deal with loss and grief.


  3. Arlene Weiner
    March 27, 2023

    Their friendship and correspondence was news to me. –Arlene


    • Vox Populi
      March 27, 2023

      Yes, me too. It’s odd that two such different writers grew to like and respect each other so much.



  4. John Zheng
    March 27, 2023

    A nice poem about my favorite writer Eudora Welty and a writer deserving to be known about.


  5. Rose Mary Boehm
    March 27, 2023

    ‘It takes a lifetime to understand your life.’
    Then his memory failed him & he was gone.



  6. Robbi Nester
    March 27, 2023

    Fascinating piece about unlikely bedfellows!


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