Amherst Magazine

Amherst College In Memory Notice

Neill Buckley


Amherst Magazine, Winter 2009
Prepublished on Class of 1963 Web Pages

Neill K. Buckley, '63

Neill Buckley died May 27, 2006, of a heart attack, leaving no known surviving family.  His legacy, in addition to the fond memories of classmates and friends, consists of his prolific poetry, some of which he published in 1993 in "The Asp and the Angel Have Given Me Their Tongues,"  now at the college library, along with an archive of unpublished works and letters.

Neill got his B.A. in English at Amherst in 1963 and an M.A.in English  at the University of Connecticut.  He worked as a surveyor and English teacher.  Most of his adult life, Neill lived in Woodside, NY with his mother, Dorothy, surviving on welfare in severely impoverished circumstances.  Eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic, he suffered from panic attacks, asocial behavior, and tormenting voices, and was under medication most of his later years, with heart trouble and diabetes adding to his plight.  When Dorothy died at age 92, Neill was placed in a series of assisted living facilities.  Despite these very difficult conditions, he continued to produce poetry until his death.

Amherst meant a great deal to Neill, and he kept in occasional contact with John Emigh, Dave Lesser, Jerry Cohen, Tom Morton and Steve Woolf, whose remembrances may be found on the Class of 1963 website.

From John Emigh:

Neill was in my English 1 class. He usually sat a few rows in front of me, had a giant head, and in the very first few classes his responses to writing were eerily like my own, but were expressed with an infectious and generous enthusiasm that made me seek him out. Like me, he was from a public high school in one of the gritty, dying industrial towns of Connecticut. We had experiences and even a few friends in common. What I admired most, though, and wanted to share in and benefit from, was Neill’s love of language, of poetry, that had somehow survived and flourished in an environment that gave very little encouragement to such enthusiasms. He memorized huge swatches of Yeats, which he would recite with the beaming grin of some ancient, word-smitten Celtic bard. He later even named his dog after W. S. Merwin! Neill was in the first play I ever directed (a richly poetic but troubled play by Federico García Lorca). It featured two “Duendes” – mythical, mischievous and sometimes malevolent Spanish equivalents to leprechauns; and though Neill gave no evidence of having a malevolent bone in his body, he did have a foot that bent uniquely at the arch, and I can still see his gleeful, gap-toothed smile as he blessed the audience with his prehensile appendage. Once, we started to write a poem together, and while that poem no longer exists (and perhaps was never finished), I remember the title as “Partly Cloudy Today and Clearing in the Late Afternoon.”  Neill’s life after Amherst was to have more than its share of clouds, and for Neill, that late afternoon clearing never came. Yet through it all, Neill remained kind and generous. He kept his love of language, his eye for the telling image or metaphor, his appreciation of beauty and of moments of grace, and he continued to write, finding, I hope, some solace in his wonderful ability to catch and preserve fleeting moments in lovingly crafted words. It is good to imagine him as smiling again.   

Untitled

My whole life
I was swimming
listening beside
the daylight world
like a dolphin
beside a boat.
no -- swallowed up
young, like Jonah
in the red room
behind that curving
smile for the
other side.
but kept, not spat
out, kept for love
-- not for anything
I did or had -- I
had nothing but our
inside outside,
smile skin
my paper & pen . . .
but I was made for
this listening --
lightness would not
last if it was not used
up on the lyre

 .....

 Neill Buckley

-Steve Woolf