Sunset: Remembering Palmer Hall
Yesterday morning, when I received an e-mail reporting that Palmer Hall had died a few hours earlier, I was saddened by the loss of a good and generous man. Palmer had been a wonderful friend to many, especially writers whose works he nourished and cherished during his decades as the editor of Pecan Grove Press. Though he had been in poor health for a while and he had kept everyone informed of various stages in his serious condition, displaying grace and dignity in his messages up until the end, the news of his passing was difficult to accept.
The fact that information about his death arrived by message on my computer seemed appropriate since I had first encountered Palmer in an online writers’ list more than twenty-one years ago during the early adventurous dial-up days of the Internet. We would correspond with others in the group and in personal notes, gaining admiration for one another’s works. Sometimes, in the middle of the night when online access was more available, we’d also meet with other authors at virtual cafés for continuing conversations. Indeed, Palmer and I eventually established a friendship that would grow further when we met in person at a writers’ conference in Atlanta and then at other gatherings on a number of occasions over the years.
Each time we’d gather at a conference in a different city, we arranged to visit interesting sites and we’d talk for hours—often discussing our homes, schools, students, friends, and family as much as our passion for literature or writing. In fact, our outings to different locations frequently stood among the highlights of the conferences.
When we were at a meeting in Washington DC, Palmer graciously took me for a tour of a few historic landmarks, especially the Vietnam War Memorial, which he knew I’d wanted to visit with him because I’d read his prose and poems about a tour spent in the military working as a translator in Vietnam. I’m aware Palmer did the same for other writers as well, introducing them to this world he’d experienced, had meant so much to him, and had greatly shaped his character. Years later, I was honored when Palmer requested a comment from me for the back cover of one of his books detailing some of those war stories.
In New Orleans, Palmer and I would have lunch at real local cafés, where he could introduce me to the spicy regional dishes, and we’d spend evenings at jazz clubs in the French Quarter, comparing opinions on the musicians we both appreciated, as well as the current players in different sports we followed. When we were in Portland the year my university’s basketball team had made the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament and my alma mater’s team had made the finals, we sat in a bar and watched hours of hoops together.
Over the years, Palmer published two of my collections of poetry, and he also published an anthology of poems from the first ten years of Valparaiso Poetry Review. When I initially explained my intention to compile the VPR poems, he immediately asked me to publish the anthology with Pecan Grove Press. I wanted him to co-edit it with me, but Palmer declined because he thought I should receive all the credit for the journal’s accomplishments.
Palmer had offered his encouragement and his confidence in all my books, a couple of times even before they were halfway developed. His faith in the writers whose volumes he produced for Pecan Grove Press never wavered, and I found the process delightful when collaborating with him as an editor.
Palmer solicited my suggestions for cover art, and he seemed genuinely pleased by the selections I had made. However, during our discussions surrounding the publication of East of Omaha, I confessed to him I had no idea for the book’s cover. After weeks of back and forth, we decided to just brainstorm by mentioning our favorite images. Oddly, the first scene we both chose concerned winter trees with bare branches backed by a bright or dramatic sky. I was especially surprised since Palmer was from Texas, and I didn’t think a cold weather setting would be appealing to him.
Consequently, Palmer found a photographer he knew, one who had taken nature pictures for magazines like National Geographic, and he obtained just such a photo for the cover of my book. When the volume was released, we jokingly agreed it would be our secret that the image was actually photographed in Alaska rather than anywhere near Nebraska.
Since Palmer had expressed a preference among his favorite scenery for a wintry image with a brilliant sky as backdrop for leafless trees, I thought of him when I photographed the sunset above, which I captured recently after learning from Palmer that doctors had told him his time left was limited. For me, looking at this picture immediately brings back fond memories of Palmer, as well as my gratitude for the more than two decades I was privileged to know him and to call him a friend.