As I set out to learn the mysterious art of poetry twenty-five years ago, I got along in Baltimore on a weekly salary of forty dollars from part-time work in a jewelry store. I lived in a third-floor walkup apartment on Cathedral Street just off Mount Vernon Square. Once H. L. Mencken occupied a lavish suite of rooms just up the street, overlooking the statuary and fountains of that city park he called the most beautiful in America. There the statue-topped pillar of the nation’s first Washington monument passes its shadow over a brick mansion designed by Stanford White, the Greek-revival pediment of the Walters Art Gallery, the columns of the cacophonous Music Conservatory and its venerable, silent neighbor, the George Peabody Library.

I say that I lived in the apartment, but the tiny efficiency in which I slept and wrote in the mornings was hardly a space for living. I...


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