in a hailstorm that thundered down on my truck. A long trip in an oldpickup truck all the way from Taos to Philadelphia.
WALPOLE: What keeps you busy these days?
BALABAN: Doing readings from Empires. And getting all my papersarchived. The latter gets in the way of doing anything new, and it’s sotedious. The papers are going to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. I’m happy that they’re going there, but I’ve lived a longlife and I’ve saved everything and not in any particularly orderly way,so I have lots of prose and poetry and a ton of letters from writers I’veadmired like John Updike, John Barth, Carolyn Kizer, and Maxine Ku-min, and it goes on.
A lot of those letters with Updike are about a book I had to take overwhen its editor, William Meredith, had a stroke. I ended up coordinating with an amazing list of poets, and John Updike was one of them.That became an instruction as well. He was very funny and charming, asyou’d expect him to be. He took the task seriously, partly out of friendship and worry about his friend Meredith.
And then there’s all these photographs I don’t know how to part with.I knew an interesting collection of people in Vietnam: John Steinbeck IVand his wife, Crystal, who was earlier the wife of my best friend, SteveErhart, all of us in Vietnam at the same time. Those photos may havesome importance. I also have letters from Gloria Emerson, the Timesjournalist who won the Pulitzer Prize. Among her correspondence isa handwritten letter from Jacqueline Onassis. I don’t know what youdo with letters like that. I guess you just throw them in a box and let alibrarian figure it out.
The most difficult thing to preserve from Vietnam are tape recordings I made in 1971–1972, when I went out into the countryside with thewar still going on and recorded the Vietnamese singing in an oral tradition that goes back a thousand years, at least. I transcribed these sungpoems, oral poems. We were writing them down in Vietnamese for thefirst time—“we” being a Buddhist monk who traveled with me. I haveall those recordings, and they’re connected to my notebooks, where thetranscriptions in the Vietnamese are tied to cassettes so they can betraced back to the original. As it turned out, I was doing fairly sophisticated research. I never trained in it, although in graduate school at Harvard I had encountered Alfred Lord’s Singer of Tales, which described