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Will has a way

Guest Writer
Guest Opinion

Tucson poet Will Inman, 86, keeps trying to discover what’s known in him that he didn’t know he knew.

During a recent visit to his assisted-living facility, a copy of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” rested atop a nightstand in his small room as the midmorning sun shined down on his pale and bearded face.

He has changed since an interview a decade ago. Back then he liked to write sitting in his special chair, his “chaotic center of cosmos.”

He used an old board he’d had since 1945, a discarded piece of lumber. He used a lined pad of paper and then typed the new work as it emerged.

These days, his once elegant poet voice is faint, and his body frail. But his humor and mental acuity are fully intact, and he still labors at his poetry most days.

Inman doesn’t believe in influences. Rather, he believes in recognitions and responses.

To him, influences are linear, rational, logical, analytical – and the academic world is saturated with that crap.

People inspire this man of letters, people such as Whitman and Hart Crane, Dostoyevsky, William Faulkner and others.

In his early 20s, Inman would read whole essays by Emerson aloud to himself and long poems of Whitman, such as “Song of Myself.” Dreaming also helps him write to express a desire to obtain seemingly impossible things.

He still dictates poems to friends, and he has had three books published since arriving at Devon Gables Health Care Center: “Surfings” in 2005, “Ranges” in 2006 and “I Read You Green, Mother” in 2008.

Large collections of Inman’s manuscripts, letters, publications and literary memorabilia are housed at Duke University and at University of North Carolina-Wilmington, with links to holdings at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

They say the age of man resembles a book. Infancy and old age are the blank leaves; youth, the preface; and man, the body or most important portions of life’s volume.

In many ways, Inman’s life is a huge book. He wrote his first poem at age 6 or 7 and has been writing ever since.

He’s worn many hats: poet, essayist, educator, editor, publisher and social activist.

Along with poets Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov, Inman was active in protesting the Vietnam War and the arms race as well as war in general.

He was called before the Un-American Activities Committee in 1956.

Inman was born William Archibald McGirt Jr. in Wilmington, N.C., in 1923 and graduated from Duke University in 1943.

He married in 1969 and divorced in 1973, the year he changed his name to Will Inman and moved to Tucson.

He once lived in a little house in Drexel Heights, which some call “the poor folks’ foothills.” He was very involved in Tucson poetry circles.

Inman believes Tucson is a place to be heard and a place to hear, a source of inspiration, a source of hope.

And back in the 1980s, he ran unacademic community poetry workshops here, at the Primavera Foundation homeless men’s shelter and elsewhere.

Inman thinks everybody has something unique to say, and he has helped bring out the best in other writers. His fan club isn’t official, but it has many members.

Now the Will Inman Award for Poetry is sponsored by The Tucson Poetry Festival each year.

Writing can heal you, he’d say. It can keep you alive, bring you through the most difficult times.

His advice to a new writer is: Don’t stop once you start, and don’t wait for success to build your hopes and your dreams on what you have to say as a human being.

And don’t do it in competition with others. Do it in relation with others, so that you inspire each other, because we all need each other.

Inman lives in a vast desert; the whisper of stirring sand deepens the silence left with what he has discovered he knows.

Bobby Burns is an author, poet and educator.

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