Anne Porter, Poet

Anne Porter

    When asked in 1996 what she would like to be remembered for, Anne Porter said she didn’t really know. “Because the thing I might like to be remembered for is something that I might not be. I would like to be really friendly and to be known as a person who didn’t judge other people. But I’m not sure that I’m entitled to that.”
    The poet and widow of the painter Fairfield Porter died on Oct. 10 at the age of 99 in Hampton Bays, a few miles west of the commodious house on South Main Street, Southampton, where she and her artist-husband raised five children.
    Although her poetry took a while to be noticed, she was always a poet. In a 1996 interview with Ellen Keiser for the Rogers Memorial Library oral history project, she said she had begun at age 7, writing “very, very trite” poems about “rosebuds and spring.” When she was 14, a poem of hers was included in an anthology.
    She told The Star in 1997, three years after a book of her poetry was a finalist for a National Book Award, “I was described as very antisocial. I’d started writing as a child, and it never occurred to me that I wasn’t a poet, any more than it occurred to me that I wasn’t a girl.”
    Anne Elizabeth Channing Porter,  the youngest of four children, was born on Nov. 6, 1911, to Henry and Katharine Channing. She grew up in Sherborn, a town west of Boston, but would often stay in Boston during the winter months to work for her father, who was an attorney with the family law firm. She graduated from the Winsor School in Boston and attended Bryn Mawr College before transferring to Radcliffe to be closer to home.
    Ms. Porter was 16 when she met the man who would come to influence most of her life. Although she immediately liked his honesty and unaffected manner, she did not see him again until three years later, but they were married by the time she was 20. He was 24 at the time.
    Early on, the couple and their children led something of a vagabond existence, living in New York, then Westchester, then Winnetka, Ill., where Mr. Porter had grown up, and then back in New York City before settling in Southampton in 1949. “It was sort of like shutting our eyes and putting our finger on the map,” she told her oral history interviewer. Mr. Porter found a Latin teacher for his children and a house with rooms large enough to paint interior scenes, as well as a barn for his studio. He alone chose it, as Ms. Porter was pregnant and not allowed to travel.
    While Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock and their artist friends were making East Hampton and Springs their own, the Porters were a bit of an island in Southampton. Aside from visits from city friends, her social life consisted of the Methodist Church women’s meetings and singing in the choir. That began to change as more artists discovered Southampton and Water Mill, usually because they had enjoyed the hospitality of the Porters, who were ever-welcoming hosts. During this time, Ms. Porter contributed to “The Bonacker,” a 1953 anthology that also included poems by her husband, and by Frank O’Hara and Larry Rivers, among others.
    She often modeled for her husband, who liked their scenes of domesticity. “One time I was cleaning out my desk and I had everything on the floor and he said, ‘Leave it like that,’ and he painted it.” It took him three days to finish. “I don’t think of them so much as images of myself. I mean, I was a model.” It was like being an apple, she said.
    Mr. Porter died in 1975. In 1979, she gave the Parrish some 250 of his works, making it the largest repository of Porter paintings in the world.
     Her late-in-life recognition came after David Shapiro, a poet and critic, asked her to collect her poems and put them together as a gift for his birthday. She found them, tucked away all over the house, tidied them up, and sent them to him. He promptly gave them to a publisher, as he had planned from the start. The anthology was nominated for a National Book Award when Ms. Porter was 83.
    She continued writing and holding readings after that, telling The New York Times a few years ago that writing is the only artistic thing one can continue to do as one grows old.
    She was most recently interviewed on film last spring by Alicia Longwell, chief curator for the Parrish Art Museum, at her house in Hampton Bays. In the film, she discusses her experiences and her engagement with poetry. The museum plans to screen the film next spring as a celebration of Ms. Porter’s life.
    She is survived by four children, Laurence Porter of Michigan, Richard Porter of Colorado, Katharine Porter of Illinois, and Elizabeth Porter Balzer of Hampton Bays. Her eldest son, Johnny Porter, predeceased her.
    Visiting hours were held at the O’Connell Funeral Home in Southampton on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12, with a service at St. Rosalie’s Catholic Church in Hampton Bays the following day. Ms. Porter converted to Catholicism when she was 43, and devoted much of her time to her faith and working with the poor. She was buried at Sacred Hearts Cemetery in Southampton. The family has suggested memorial contributions to St. Rosalie’s Food Pantry, 31 East Montauk Highway, Hampton Bays 11946.


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