Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Two Features from

“Lesser Lights: More Adventures From a Hamptons Apprenticeship” 
by Sandy McIntosh

Meeting Capote at Keene’s in Southampton

One afternoon, when I was in the bookstore, a tiny man with a squeaky voice pushed his way through the door, yipping: "Mr. Keene! Who the hell’s book is blocking my book in your window?"

The Southampton College had recently published my first poetry collection, Earth Works, and Keene had given it pride of place, almost entirely blocking another book.

Keene pointed at me. "It's his book."

I knew who the screaming man was; I didn't need an introduction, but Keene introduced us, anyway.

Truman Capote stared at me. "Suppose you tell me, young man, what kind of book you've written that's so damn important it gets to block mine?"

"Poetry," I said.

"Oh," he said, his anger deflating, as if poetry meant nothing. "Hah! Poetry!" he snorted and turned to Keene, beginning a rant about something else.

“Don’t take Capote seriously,” Keene consoled me later. “He has no respect for poetry, or history, for that matter,” he concluded, pointing to a copy of Capote’s In Cold Blood. “Just you read it. Made the whole thing up. You’ll see.”

When I returned to Keene’s a few days later, the copy of my book that had been in the window was gone. I suspected the worst.

Keene protested, “No, I didn’t hide it. It was Capote. After you left, he bought it.”


Keene also published a newsletter called the Steamboat Press which he typeset by hand in a shop around the corner. I recall that he published articles about local history, of which he was an expert, and the Town’s volunteer historian.

One day, he invited me to visit the printshop. Cabinets of type were set against the walls, and a long bedded printing press occupied the center of the room. He showed me how he first inked the form of cold type set into words, by turning a crank. The crank caused a roller to impress ink on the type. He then arranged paper on top of the type, and, turning another crank, lowered a platen, which pressed the paper against the letters.

I was curious about a stack of type forms standing against a corner wall that extended from floor to ceiling.

“That’s my full setting of the original Bible that Johannes Gutenberg published in Mainz,” he told me. “Every Latin character as it was originally set. Each page exactly forty-nine lines long. All 973 pages of it.”

“How long have you been working on this?” I asked.

“Since I opened the shop twenty years ago. By my calculations, I have twenty more years to go before completing it.”

I never heard anything more about this great project. In fact, no one I spoke to who had known him could tell me anything about it. Reluctantly, I’ve come to believe that he had been having fun at my expense, displaying what Sherlock Holmes described as Dr. Watson’s “pawkish” sense of humor. It was his joke. He had never set Guttenberg’s Bible.


Coffee With Jean Stafford in The Springs

Walking along Springs Fireplace Road to the bay, I came upon a woman sweeping leaves into a little pile in her driveway. As I passed, I said "Good morning."

She lifted her hand to stop me. "You're the poet staying with the Ignatows?"

Surprised that anyone would know me, I told her, yes, that was true.

"Would you like some coffee?" But before I could answer she said. "Oh. I don't have any coffee."

Each time I met her she was standing at the end of the driveway, wearing her bathrobe. One day she'd smile; another she'd be distracted and wouldn't look at me.

The last time I took that path she was there, dressed formally. "I'm waiting for a car to take me into town," she said. "Very nice to see you."

"Yes," I said. "And to see you, too."

I found out later that she had won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for her Collected Short Stories. She must have been traveling to Manhattan for the award.


Sandy McIntosh is the author of A Hole In the Ocean: A Hamptons Apprenticeship, as well fourteen other books. Lesser Lights: Further Adventures from a Hamptons Apprenticeship, from which these pieces are excerpted, will be published in spring 2019 by Marsh Hawk Press.