William Packard

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 Quarterly."

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.