WEST VILLAGE, Manhattan (PIX11) – Edward Field read excerpts from his poems in the poetry room at Westbeth Artists’ Housing, an affordable housing complex for artists in the West Village.
“It’s not often anymore that someone comes on to me,” he recited for PIX11 News.
The 98-year-old was rejected 25 times before his first book “Stand up, Friend, with Me” was finally published in 1963.
“All those rejections, suddenly I won a big prize, The Lamont Award, for a first book,” Field said. “I was in demand. I was traveling all over the country giving readings.”
He was born in Brooklyn and grew up in a musical family. He played the cello and his sisters played different instruments. They soon moved to Long Island to Lynbrook.
“It was a terrible mistake because they didn’t want Jews there,” Field said.
Field enlisted in the Army to get away from the anti-Semitism, and said he loved his time in the military. Based in England, his crew flew to Germany on bombing missions. One day, his plane was shot down and crashed into the North Sea.
“The thing about fear, you go into battle — combat — [and] fear can turn into excitement,” Field said.
Trying to stay alive on an inflatable raft, a British Air Sea Rescue boat found them and saved them, but not everyone survived.
Despite being a gay man in the military, Field said he never faced discrimination. While in the Army, gay clubs he attended in London were full of military personnel.
“I learned everything I knew about the gay life in the military,” Field added.
It was on the way to joining the Army that made him fall in love with poetry when Red Cross workers were giving out care packages. He said he read a book of poetry on a train ride “the whole way across the country.”
“When I got off that train, I knew what I wanted to be for the first time,” he said.
He now has 12 published books. His husband Neil Derrick, who passed away in 2018, was a big inspiration to keep going. They were together for 58 years. Ten years into the relationship, Derrick became blind.
“One of the great things was having to take care of someone, to be there all the time for everything,” Field recalled. “Everybody’s seen stories of seeing-eye dogs. When their master dies, they lie on the grave for the rest of their lives. Well, in a way, I’m doing that.”
Although Field doesn’t write as much anymore, he said he feels very lucky to live at Westbeth, a place that has fostered his artistry for decades.