Why I'm Almost Grown
More than ten years ago, I started writing poems about growing up in Stamford, Connecticut in the 1950’s. I have always felt that there was something special about growing up in that city in those particular years. It was after the war, and things were changing dramatically. A new generation was carving its identity out of the post-war affluence after almost two decades of privation. So much was new: rock'n'roll, teen gangs, a nascent sexual revolution, and especially for me, the cars—the hot rods and custom cars.
And Stamford had it all. It was an industrial city with many factories, large and small, supporting a fairly large working-class population (including my family), but there were also enclaves of the rich and super-rich in Shippan, the Ridges, and in all the surrounding communities: Greenwich, New Canaan, and Darien. There were new housing developments and old mansions. And Stamford had its share of slums. There were even farms up in the Ridges. There were small rivers, ponds, and lakes to swim and fish in, but it was also a city by the sea (Long Island Sound) with its beaches and marinas. Even at the time I felt it was a microcosm of the country, even if I didn’t know that word.
I wanted to tell the story of my years in that city. I wanted it to be as true as I could make it, but I realized from Jung that we remember according to the myth we are both living and creating as we live.
When I came to organize the poems for Almost Grown, I decided to use Robert Lowell’s Life Studies as a model. I had bought a copy of the first paperback printing in 1960. That book was the first of his that had a real impact on me. His earlier works had just baffled me. But Life Studies has had a continuing power that came from his new, simpler, more direct style. It has stayed with me for years. So I shaped the book with an eye to Lowell. He had a long prose section, so I added " Blood and Tar.” Lowell had a number of portraits in his book, so I included my own set. And of course there are his cars, the “Tudor Ford” and the “giant finned cars nose forward like fish,” and so there are my many cars, especially the shark-like “Ferranti’s Ford.” But I also wanted it to be clear that Lowell’s 1950’s were nothing like mine.
In that respect, Almost Grown is a kind of anti-Life Studies.