Read our interview with Red Balloon editor Scott Fields below. Before you do that, and to sort of set the stage, you might like to read our deceased classmate Bill Smith’s generous and sensitive review of a poetry night at the babbel featuring some Red Balloon poets. Bill’s review appeared in the May 2, 1967 edition of The Williams Record. Here’s the link.
Who was the Red Balloon editor before you?
Jon Cannon was Editor for both 1965 and 1966, and some of his poems are in 1967 when he must have graduated, and I took over. In those years there wasn’t a lot of competition — the same half dozen auteurs seemed to re-appear year after year. Editors had no qualms about publishing themselves.
Why did you take the job?
Budding writers weren’t exactly beating down the doors of the little oak-panelled seminar room down in the library stacks. I believe I volunteered for poetry, & William Jay Smith (the Faculty Advisor that year) appointed me. Chris Robinson was Fiction Editor for the first issue & Editorial Assistant for the second issue. And Martin Lafferty took over as editor in Spring of 1968. There must have been open submissions, but, unlike today, there was no anonymous screening. Everybody had their own signature style.
What was your proudest moment?
Seeing hard copy of the little mag made me happy, but how it actually got printed or distributed is lost in the fog. Was there a pile on the counter at Dewey’s Bookstore?
Any editions give you special problems?
I think we basically printed everything we got. The challenge was arranging it so the poems fit on the page & the artwork had some connection.
Help us catch up on your career since you graduated from Williams.
I edited the HS literary magazine, then Williams, then Columbia MFA in Creative Writing (working with Adrienne Rich & Stanley Kunitz), then NYU PhD in American Literature (working with M. L. Rosenthal on Wallace Stevens), then 35 years teaching English & Creative Writing at Norwich University in VT & serving as Faculty Advisor of Chameleon, the school literary magazine. Through it all I have continued to write poetry. Since 2012 I have been immersed in medieval Japanese culture, & after 2 trips to Japan walking in the footsteps of Basho I decided to write a waka (basically a haiku with 2 extra lines) every morning, so I have a couple thousand in manuscript. At some point Birds & Flowers of the 4 Seasons will coalesce. There’s also a book-length travel narrative on pilgrimage in process.
In addition to being the editor of the Red Balloon, you were also the accompanist for the Williams Glee Club. How do you balance your time between playing piano, writing, and reading?
I continue to take piano lessons & got myself a Steinway grand before retiring. Current repertoire includes Bach, Partita in C minor; Mozart, Adagio in B minor; Beethoven, Sonata Opus 109; Schumann, Waldszenen Opus 82; Chopin, a couple Mazurkas; Brahms, Drei Intermezzi Opus 117; Ravel, Sonatine. For years I have been an early riser (3:00-4:00 am), so I do my writing & piano practice in the morning. After lunch is walking in the mountains, teatime, & reading in the recliner. After supper is Netflix.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
My mother (who recently passed away at the age of 104) tells me that, instead of shredding Life magazine in the playpen, I used to turn the pages & look at the pictures. They started me in kindergarten at age 4 & always regretted it, since I could never hit the baseball or catch the football (being extremely near-sighted with minimal depth perception). I have been a voracious reader ever since & typically immerse myself in the history & culture of wherever I’m going next. This October it’s Italy,
What books are on your nightstand?
Michaelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer; Boccacio, The Decameron; Petrarch, The Canzoniere; Hawthorne, The Marble Faun; Virgil, The Aeneid; Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian; Edel, Henry James; Dogen, Shobogenzo; Hinton, No Gate Gateway; Jemisin, The Stone Sky; Jasper Johns: Pictures Within Pictures 1980-2015.