- David Lynn
Tall and sinewy, he's standing at the front of the ornate All Saints' Chapel, looking up from his text with a kind of up-from-under glance to the crowded rows before him. I'd come in the years ahead to recognize that particular look, a wry mix of mischief and seriousness—how is that possible, I'd often wonder. And the lilt and music in his voice might be the wonderfully resonant Tennessee drawl of the man he's eulogizing, my friend and mentor Peter Taylor.
I'd never met Wyatt Prunty before that moment, some twenty-five years ago, though his reputation as a superb poet was already well-known to me. Indeed, I'd never laid eyes on Sewanee before—an almost-eerie twin of my own Kenyon College and just about as remote. Peter, who'd come to Kenyon in the 1930s to study with John Crowe Ransom, had spoken to me often of his love for Sewanee—and especially for owning one house after another in that charming village—and it figures under various pseudonyms in many of his stories. But here I came, on pilgrimage as it were, representing Kenyon at Peter's funeral, a sad and yet joyful occasion.
Wyatt was eloquent in his tribute, revealing his deep affection for Peter as well as a natural wit that seemed entirely appropriate to what was also a serious setting. I was both moved and impressed, and though I hadn't planned on it, I found my way on the Mountain to a reception later that afternoon at Barbara and Wyatt's lovely home with its magnificent views of Tennessee. And there, even with all the to-ing and fro-ing of other guests and friends of Peter, we found the chance to chat. From my point of view, we've paused now and then to catch our breath, but the talk has never really ended.
Often the next sentence would be launched over bourbon, or the excellent coffee that Wyatt brews with fine finickiness, during one session or another of the Sewanee Writers' Conference. For [End Page 728] he was generous enough—has been generous enough—to invite me most every summer since. Oh, and what a family it's become. Sitting long ago in Rabbi's Roost, as John Hollander dubbed the historic Rebel's Rest, listening to Anthony Hecht or Donald Justice or Rosanna Warren discuss prosody and poker. Standing off to the side, bemused smile on his face, Wyatt would be observing with pleasure—shades of Peter Taylor himself—except that Peter would have held a tumbler of scotch while he gathered material for a new story.
One evening over dinner at Pearl's, a joint down the road, John Hollander and Rosanna Warren and I were swapping tales, of course, only for John to lean forward with fresh urgency. "You say your grandmother's maiden name was Oshinsky?" he asked. There in Sewanee, Tennessee, I discovered my own cousin, six or seven times removed.
The family is not limited to me and my friends, for Wyatt has created a larger set of kin, one that stretches across the country and beyond. This has been his great gift to us all—knitting this wide community of writers and readers, people who, despite age and background, share a passion for language. We are all the richer for it—and for him.
David Lynn has been the editor of the Kenyon Review since 1994. His new collection, Children of God: New and Selected Stories, was published in 2019.