Liam Rector’s efforts to revitalize poetry were two-fold: both writing and encouraging great verse. Not every artist wants to work on the apparatus of his art—the less glamorous side of sitting on committees, founding programs, judging contests—but Liam seemed comfortable in the role of officiator.
I knew Liam briefly when I took his Columbia seminar “Poets in their Youth,” a study of those mid-twentieth century titans Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes, and Delmore Schwartz. One afternoon after class, in the circle of students that inevitably formed outside of the writing division, he mentioned Frederick Seidel. When I said that Seidel was one of my favorite poets, he lit up. He spoke warmly, telling us why he admired Seidel and concluded by slapping me on the back so hard that I nearly fell off the concrete step. This unexpected gesture made me grin. More memorable, however, was Liam’s generous enthusiasm for his fellow poet. There was almost a boastful (fatherly?) quality to his praise of Seidel. It was as if Liam were proud of poetry in general, how well it’s doing. And this pride, this enthusiasm, will be missed.