We must have met in 1980, when I was twenty-four. I was a graduate student in New York City. Sandy was teaching in New Haven. This was before email, Facebook, and Twitter. Poets wrote letters and talked on the telephone (landlines!). Sandy had just published his first collection of poems, Scenes from Another Life, and he and his partner had invited me to dinner in New Haven. They were being kind to a young fan who’d published only one poem. I was not really a poet yet or out of the closet. There was also a young Mexican poet at the table, who would later drown while swimming in the Pacific. After a delicious dinner cooked by Sandy, a joint was passed around. There was not any talk of AIDS yet, as there would soon be, like a hatchet falling through the room. But a profound sense of freedom. Openness. New friendship. “I cannot remember a moment of my life when I didn’t know I was gay,” Sandy said. For him, being gay was simply a fact, like being a poet.
This was the era of new formalism, and Sandy was “a painstaking and brilliantly adventurous craftsman,” to quote Stephen Yenser, “the epitome of the writer with savoir faire” and “outrageously candid.” His poems were eloquent yet rueful, a combination I loved. He was not afraid of being difficult. “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully,” Wallace Stevens wrote in “Man Carrying Thing.” In my own poems, it was the “raw power” he praised. Sandy wasn’t prim. I think he was the first real man of letters I knew. A gay man of letters—what a fine thing to be, I thought. Could I be that? He was always up to his ears in teaching and projects, running between this task and another: “I still feel like the baby Achilles, being dipped by my heel into the waters of busywork,” he wrote.