Introduction – to Bryan Parys and “Wake, Sleeper”

Welcome to this wonderful, quite singular event,
a concert of sight and sound and taste – conspiring and consorting in this grand old magical Ware Theatre, now the Cabot—

All remarking and rising from the main attraction, which is the release and the reading from Wake, Sleeper by, yes, the author of all this artful synesthesia – Bryan Parys.

A man somehow loved by friend and foe alike…

I’m one of the friends, and former professor, and now current student of all of our readers tonight.

First, join me in appreciating tonight’s conspirators:

We’ve been loving the music of Cal Joss,
and of Aisha Burns,
and, soon, of Natalie Parys—

while savoring the art installations by Marika Whitaker,
and Maia Mattson,
and K. Lee Mock—

and while admiring the prints & posters of Jon Misarski,
and Grant Hanna—
that have beautifully inclined us toward this evening.

Shortly, we’ll relish the poetry of Pete Murdoch, and Jonathan Bennett Bonilla—and whoever else Jon might evoke or evince.

There are more people to be mentioned and thanked, but I’ll let Bryan get on with that.


Bryan Parys first showed up in my world a-couple-maybe-a-dozen-years back.

He seemed not to know quite what to do at first, and for a while he cast about, like a noiseless, patient spider.

Maybe not, exactly—but at length his intellect fastened on to writing, and there he began to spin, to see what might come of it.

Poems came of it, plays came of it—each and all with his evidencing style and appreciable appreciation of what is true,
the worth to be found in the serviceable phenomena of our everyday world.

Shortly thereafter in an office full of Norm Jones and me, he read aloud an essay he’d spun up about his childhood game of hyssop tag.
Didn’t Jones and I laugh and murmur?—suspended by his blend of humor and candor and discovery.

From that office, thence to UNH, on a scholarship, to study (and then to teach, winningly) nonfiction, the lyrical essay, and then, happily, back to Gordon classrooms again, this time to buffet and abrade and improve students who (like him not so long ago) don’t know what’s at stake, what’s worthy the reaching for, or how to reach for it.

In classrooms, I say, and in casual conversations, in the pages of Stillpoint he shows us just that—takes what is offered, what is available, and illumines it. His column, sporks, is the first illuminated manuscript turned to by 9 out of 10 Stillpoint readers, and for good reason.

For the last eight years he’s been essaying to discover something, and something worth saying, about his own available life—its beginnings in loss, its assemblings in gymnasiums, its arrival at a tentative equilibrium & a definite wakefulness.

Tonight we’ll hear some of his essaying-in-prose.

We’re enriched to know him, we’re enlarged to read him, we’re pleased to welcome him—and to recommend his terrific, new book

The man of this and every hour: Bryan Parys.

No one slept at this March 31, 2016 event—part-reading, part concert, part-gallery exhibition, part-art bazaar. Part magic trick: do that again.

bp front of cabot smaller

Wake, Sleeper is a brave, irreverent, funny and stunningly generous exploration of faith and resistance to it, of identity, of grief, of the joy of intellectual and spiritual inquiry.”
-MEREDITH HALL, author of the best-selling memoir Without a Map

Tribute – The Grammarer (for Jerry Logan)

*sung to “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers

1. ‘Twas a worn, sullen Steve
On a page count for tenure,
Who mangled up some grammar
That was broke too bad to keep;

So, he took words to Jerry,
A physician for the artless—
Adored amanuensis—
Who then began to tweak.

He said, “Steve I have no right
To be reading people’s phrases,
Fudging where their hearts are
By the way that I revise;

But your rún-ons might be saying
That you’ll soon be out of raises:
Cut the waste-wording is key…
You kinda say things thrice.

So, make Hemingway your model
With a shrank-down style to follow,
One that comes off literate,
And smacks of Strunk & White;

Then the mighty get compliant
At the force of your expression;
If you’re one for staking claims, Steve,
We’ll edit yours to make it tight.

You gotta know when to scold ‘em,
Or stranglehold ‘em,
Know when to understate,
And when tó poke fun;

You never counsel any
  body fickle and unstable,
Or you’ll be finding me for counseling
When the Dean is done.”

2. “For every grammar coach,
There’s a sequence to revising,
It’s throwing what’s to throw away,
Then honing what’s to keep;

If every draft is thinner,
Then every draft’s improved-er—
A text yoú first wróte so
You could weed it and reap.”

And when he finished teaching.
He capped and let his pen go:
No doubt rejiggering
Had saved those profs a heap.

Then sometime in Mad Marchness,
The Grammarer wrote I’m leaving,
Who minded more than words
With a finesse we’ll try to keep.

You gotta know when you’ve sold ‘em,
Know when you’ve bowled ‘em,
Know when your resume’s
The sine qua non;

But you’d never count on money
Till you’ve written at a table
Twice as long and more devoutly
Than you’ve really done.

You gotta know when you’ve told ‘em,           
                  when you’ve told ‘em                            
Or mind controlled ‘em,
                  mind controlled ‘em
Know when you’ve caused a fray,
And know when you’ve won;

You won’t encounter any
Indecision ‘bout your label
Due to tidy, buff recounting
Of good deeds you’ve done.

You’ll never know what you’ve owed him,
How you’d freeload him,
You’d make him call Roget
Or quote Marv Wilson;      

You’ve never found somebody
Who kept sitting at the table
For the time and as devoutly
As Jerry Logan’s done.

Tribute – Deciding (for Ann Seavey)

“Deciding” vid is here

1. Your bright alumnus didn’t always have a plan.
I was a sad undergrad once.
And in my aimlessness I happened up to Ann—
Who shared the beauty of “Maybe”…

When my parents said, “To wander isn’t smart,
Your fastest lane is the inside;
Choose a major quick and get you a head start,”
Ann Seavey sighed—

‘Cause I was Deciding

Like a traveler whose road is indirect,
M. Scott Peck will join you
To proceed by heeding every call-and-beck,
To respect “I don’t know.”

I said “Um – um – um”
All those seniors gave me jitters.
(Those committers…)

So , Ann offers some – some – some
To the neophyte that skitters.

Don’t want to be rude,
But didn’t want to preclude…

2. Well, well, well—
They’ll say, “How we study must be by the book.”
There’s major cramming on the mini quad.
What of all the sweet electives they forsook?
There’s no dabbling—they could use some…

Says, “You feed your head by following your heart.
You build your barn on the broad side.
Isn’t adventuring the highest liberal art?”—
Waits for reply.
I can’t, I’m Deciding

Watch ‘em dry out like a raisin in the sun—
Killed their fun; the fun’s in
Yeah, you pigeonhole a pigeon if you’re one;
Is that a pun,
Seavey, Ann?

You can buy, buy, buy
But it’s gonna take an act of God
To grow a milkweed pod.
Want to fly, fly, fly?—
Then you gotta make your tiger shark
Into a monarch.

Where are the “uns” you’d remind to stop
Chasing approval?—they’re human and
able and wanted.

Their hearts still aren’t tough,
And their boundaries can’t be wide enough.

“Try me!”—
Cry the rivers that flow by me
Free and easy – meenie – miney

So this Ann instilled a lasting joie de vivre,
Look at me, Ann Seavey, I’m
Who deserves an honorary PhD…

will never be quite as
You know we’ll still be

Ann Seavey bolstered thousands of students and gave them permission to be Deciding. Thank you, Ann.

Roast/Toast – At Gordon C

*sung to “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid

Your degree is always cheaper
If somebody else will pay;
You dream of an aunt-millionaire:
Ha ha, dat’ll be de day…
Now look at de toys around you,
You here on de fat North Shore;
De ponderous profs dat hound you,
Dat’s what you’ll be paying for.
(Oh no!)

At Gordon C, at Gordon C:
We think it’s better
When you’re a debtor–financially.
Dat’s why we keep you on de hook
For every bed and every book;
While Jones and we sing,
Your loan’s increasing
At Gordon C.

Our grads are all hip & happy
As into de sun they stroll;
Dey talking all smart & snappy—
Dey ready to take control.
But some of de grads turn chicken
Dey scared to perambulate;
And when Gordon job comes open,
Guess who goin’ to applicate?
(You know.)

Mark: That would be me,
That would be me:
I’d rather stay here
(‘spite what they pay here)
Than to be free.

All: Everyone else, do your own thing,
Fasten your seat, spread a wing:
Overachieve us,
Won’t you please leave us—
At Gordon C (at Gordon C),
At Gordon C (at Gordon C),
When you first get here,
Your ears are wet here figuratively

Even de profs seem wicked smart;
After a year dey seem old fart:
Everything new here
Soon be like Drew here
At Gordon C!

De dorm is too warm
De pool is too cool
De quad is too broad
De bell is too swell
And Frost is too mossed
And Lane is too plain—
De benches are drenched with snow.

Val Gin is too thin,
Dick Stout is too stout,
Mike Veatch is a Sneetch,
Steve Smith is a Sith,
Dave Rox never knocks,
Rog Green is so mean—
So go, you alumni, go.

[repeat, with variations]
De dorm is too warm
De pool is too cool
De quad is too broad
De bell is too swell
And Frost is too bossed
And Lane is too hein—
Can Borgman be more gun-ho?

Graeme Bird is absurd,
Steve Hunt’s an affront,
Norm Jones has unknowns,
Mark Stevick’s a gen-
ius, Irv has some nerve,
Kaye Cook needs the hook—
So go, you alumni, go!

From Gordon C, then you will see
How to exploit—
To get employed—
Your fine degree.
(Don’t put off your P.E.)
You’re like a mermaid in a pool
Who, after lessons at our school,
Gets a promotion
Up to the ocean
From Gordon’s sea.

Aaaaaat Gordon C, (I wanna see)
At Gordon C, (You’re gonna see)
Though you complain here
You grew a brain here – magically.
(How’d it come to be?)

Don’t bury talent in de sand;
You got de hot diploma in hand:

Each little frosh here
Think it is posh here
At Gordon C.

Each little soph here
Learn how to scoff here
At Gordon C.

Each little junior
Shoot for de moon here
Den got to wean here
When dey a senior—

Good you got stuck here,
Worth every buck here
At Gordon C.

Command performance at Alumni Awards event, homecoming 2014–by Norm, Steve, self, and Graeme.

Tribute – Carlbergian Nights (for Jud & Jan)

*Musical intro

NARRATION: …Tonight we bring you Menken, Ashman & Rice’s rags-to-riches story Aladdin—only our version is set not in Agrabah but in exotic Wenham. It’s not the courtship of street urchin Aladdin and Princess Jasmine that spurs our tale, but that of a couple of young, unknown Scandinavians…

Carlbergian Nights

We come from a land full of books and robes
Where the magical scholars pace,
And the guests stay here
Only four or five years
And then vanish without a trace—

—but for nights like this
When the sages you miss
Set aside their professional rites,
And with much less hair
Come back to remember their
Carlbergian Nights.

Carlbergian Nights – like Carlbergian Days,
So goofy, yet good,
Like Jan and like Jud—
Whose names start with J’s;

Carlber-gian delights – Carlber-gian romance:
Some shmoe and his bride
Combine to preside—
They both wear the pants.

NARRATION: It could hardly be “Arabian Nights” with surnames like Carlberg and Jensen.
Now, our saga begins to heat up in 1976, when that “shmoe” arrives here in Wenhamabad as the young Academic Dean—anxious to prove he’s a diamond in the rough. But dark forces begin to conspire against him—strange entities like “Mobile Unit #3” and “the Players’ Shack” and “the Black & Blue Review”—and he must reckon with Jafarvin Wilson, the Grand Vizier of O.T., who may have sinister plans of his own.

One Step Ahead 

JUDLADDIN: Gotta keep—
One jump ahead of the riffraff,
One step in front of the line,
Uh-oh, I gotta talk to Peter Stine.  [Public speaking!]

Gotta keep—
One hop ahead of Marv Wilson,
As if I possibly could:
Our Father Abraham is pretty good.  [Hine ma tov…]

CROWD: New kid! Light weight!
Can’t keep – stuff straight!
CROWD: Make a schedule with Ann Seavey!
JUD: I’m about to snap,
Can I take a nap?
Gonna make my hair go white.  [Right!]

CROWD: Oh it’s sad that Jud’s so heavy laden;
It’s so sad we can’t think up a rhyme.
No, his wife is not an iron maiden—

JUD: I’m the new man;
Wife’s name’s Jan,
Tell you all about her when I got the time—

Gotta keep
One hand in faculty welfare,
One foot compelling the board,
They buy only when they can afford.  [And I’m begging them…]

Gotta stay—
One click left of Bob Jones,
One click right of BC—  [One click?]
JUD: OK, better make it two or three.

CROWD: [spoken, fast] Hey, we need buildings!
JUD: Nope.

CROWD: Tightwad! Pinchfist!
JUD: I can’t – buy it.  [Why?]
Let’s not be too hasty…
JANSMINE: Still I think he’s rather pasty!
JUDLADDIN: That’s my wife Jan,
Helps me all she can,
Otherwise I’d get it wrong.  [Awww…]

One prayer ahead of Houghton—  [Houghton?]
One soul ahead of Calvin—  [Calvin?]
One dance ahead of Wheaton—  [Wheaton?]
One jump ahead of Marv Wilson—
It’s true:
Got the fatal flaw, no
Brick without straw, so
Why’d I ever take this job?

NARRATION: Well, Judladdin did seem kind of pasty… And, left to his own devices, his fortunes might never have improved—and some poor Carlbergians might still be living in Byington.
But there came a day when, trapped in the Cave of Wonders some call Frost Hall, our hero scrubbed an old coffeepot, and with a great burst of noise and hot air, out popped—a DONOR.

DONOR: That’s right! What would you wish of me?—the wisely invested, tanned and well-rested… Donor of the CAMPus!

Friend Like Me

DONOR: Well, Cinderella had her Fairy G,
And Harry Potter had his Dumbledore,
But for real power, summon me,
I got a hundred million charms or more.

Let’s put some bank behind your rank, my man,
And put some dollars to your policies,
Need a building?—poof! I’ll raise the roof,
All you gotta say is “pretty please”—

And stop tryin’ science in those
Failed facilities:
I’m your port of call and your wrecking ball,
You ain’t never had a friend like me. Ho ho ho—

I can’t stand MacDonald, no
I would never go in Emory!
Let me renovate – your resume,
You ain’t never had a friend like me. Yes sir—

I’m the wish you can keep on wishing,
And the infinite check you cash,
But like the gifts of pearls from boys to girls
I come with strings attached…

Like Grimm’s old Rumpelstiltskin
Or Faust’s Mephistopheles,
When I be your friend, you owe me, then
You gotta name your children after me!
Names like— [Waa-waa-waa!]
…Fowler…     [Waa-waa-waa!]
…Bennett…   [Waa-waa-waa!]

Can your friends lays bricks?     […Tavilla Hall…]
Can your friends make tracks?  […the Brigham Fields…]
Can your friends name pubs—  […pubs…pubs…]
After their little CAAAAAT?

So don’t mess with the magic
That can make you a VIP,
It’s in my blood to keep you, Jud,
Have you ever had a friend like me?

You might never – want a – friend – like – me!

NARRATION: Well, now we know where Jud and Jan got their kids’ names.
But the Faustian deal proved to be good for Carlbergia: lavish new dorms and
arts centers sprang up on the sites of hovels. And it wasn’t long before Judladdin moved into the big Frost office with a private bathroom—and started wearing that Big-Cheese medallion around his neck. He was The PREZ.

Prez Juddie

Shout yay—for Prez Juddie
No way!—it’s Prez Juddie

Break out the kazoos and the big bagpipes,
Send texts, spread the news, tell your friends on Skype,
And savor the smell of success as he floats by…
When you see his car
Try to steal his car:
What’s it like to be this guy?

Prez Juddie! President, he! Juddie Carlbubwa:
Mount his bust – high upon Frost — permanently;
He’ll blow up every HUD dorm,
Drew Hall he’ll wicked transform
To something sturdy and warm — finally!

Prez Juddie! Excellency, Juddie Carlbubwa:
Taller than – any challenged – vert-i-cal-ly;
At every college affair,
Adjust available hair,
Then step up on a chair —
To meet Juddie!

He shares one name with our A. J. Gordon,
Which marked him for the presidency.
Like a stone you discover a sword in—
That name was a sign
Clearly divine
He was destined for royalty!

JUDLADDIN: Prez Juddie! Fabulous, me! Juddie Carlbubwa:
I say “caw-eege” not “college”— so what?
I wear a super-sized shirt—
I’ve just had another growth spurt!
I sing like Ernie’s friend Bert — I’m Prez Juddie!

I’ve got 95 faculty monkeys  [He’s got the monkeys, let’s see the monkeys]
But smart ones, I’ve got less than three.  [Mark Stevick and — who?]
There are 90 Jud Carl-bub-wa junkies—

ALL: Or so we hear,
It’s still unclear
Who those remaining five might be…
Actually… change the key…

Prez Juddie, soon retiree, Juddie Carlbubwa
Made this campus a locale lovely to be;
And that, good people, is why
We’re loath to bid him goodbye:

Umpteen alumni, students galore,
Scads of deans, staffers and more,
His vast professors, his one successor
All honor his legacy!
Hooray—for Prez Juddie!

NARRATION: The Prez and the Prez-ess ruled many years, and accomplished much, and lived happily in the place they called home. And the time came to pass that they said one to another, “Let us go, while we are yet young-ish, to a whole new place—and conceive more children there, to name as we wish.”
And so our tale draws to its close. Exchanging words of hope and love, Jud and Jan now climb aboard their magic retirement, and turn their faces toward Somewhere we all hope won’t be too far, far away…

A Whole New World

I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me, Janice, now when did
You last let yourself unwind?

Time goes slow and it flies,
Passing years make you wonder
What this spell is we’re under—
Can we take the time to find

A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
One with a wild address
That tells us, “Yes,
It’s good to go on dreaming”

A whole new world
A dazzling place I kind of knew
Now after all these years
It’s crystal clear
That I can make a whole new world with you
Let me make a whole new world with you

Unaccountable time
Free for fishing and boating
Writing, reading, freeloading
On your children’s dwindling dime

A whole new world
—Don’t you dare close your eyes
A hundred thousand things to see
—Hold your breath, it gets better

I’m like a kid again
Or Aladdin
With all my crazy wishes come to be
—A whole new world
Every turn a surprise
—With new horizons to pursue
Goofing off to the letter

And though we’re bound for there
We want to share
How we’ve loved just being home with you

A whole new world
—A whole new world
That’s where we’ll be
—That’s where we’ll be

A thrilling change
So wondrous strange
For you and me.

Performed at a celebration marking Jud-and-Jan’s 35 years at the college, on May 25, 2011.

Toast – Lindsay and the East

(riffing on Beauty and the Beast—new lyrics by CB and MWS)

NARRATION: … In our case, we’ve swapped the beautiful heroine, Belle, for a scholar-ful hero named D. Michael—or “D,” as he is known at the tiny Texas college where he teaches, yet yearns for more…

“D”  (after “Belle”new lyrics by C. Berry)

TN-as-D: Little school,
It’s a quiet campus,
Here at Rice
Little school
In the heart of Texas!
Where the people say:
TJ: Howdy!
RJ: Howdy!
OK: Howdy!
CB: Howdy!
KD: Howdy!

TN: There goes a student with his pistol holster’d,
Down here it’s part of his degree…
But the thing I just don’t get:
Why he needs it for French Lit?
In the lone-star state of mind—

CB: Well, howdy, D!
TN-as-D: Oh, hello, Professor Longhorn.
CB: Where are y’all off to today?
TN-as-D: To the mailroom! I’m expecting a letter any day now from CarterBaldwin! Gordon College wants to make me the new president—
CB: Well, that’s nice. Clint!—y’all better keep those dogies in line!

RICE FOLK: Look, thar he goes, that feller’s strange, no question!
He’s really an anomaly…
KD: There are times it makes ya thank,
That he’s kinda like a Yank!
ALL: He’s a mystery around these parts, that D!

TN-as-D: Hello!
RC: Howdy!
OK: How are yer cattle?
KD: Howdy
CB: Rawhide!
RC: I brand ‘em twice!
DH: That truck — is big!
RJ: My truck is bigger!
TN-as-D: There must be more than this provincial Rice!

DH: Howdy there, Mr. Lindsay.
TN-as-D: Hello, mailroom lady. Any mail for me today?
DH: Yer darn tootin’! I think it might be the big one.
TN-as-D: Really? You think?
DH: Look here: “Gor-dón College.” Here you go! It’s all yers!
TN-as-D: Wow! Thanks, “pardner”!

RC: Look there he goes, that guy is awful differ’nt,
Our prof. of socio-molology…
RJ: Doesn’t wear a hat or boots.
OK: Doesn’t ride—
RC: And never shoots!
ALL: Ain’t a good old Texas boy like us, that D…

TN-as-D: Oh, isn’t it exciting!
It’s Gordón inviting me to see
If all of my credentials
Mean the president’ll
Be named “President Lindsay!”

CB: Now he’s a cowpoke with some brains, no question;
He looks just like a Kennedy!
OK: With a fancy three-part name
And a stylish looking dame,
ALL: What a wonder to the rest of us
He may just be the best of us
So different from the rest of us that D!

RJ: Gee, Gordón, you didn’t miss a single prospective student! You’re the best school in the world!
GORDÓN: I know.
RC: No high schooler stands a chance against you!
RJ: No applicant of any kind, for that matter!
GORDÓN: True. And I’ve got my sights set on that one!
RJ: Who, you mean the Socio-molologist?
GORDÓN: He’s the one! The lucky man I’m going to make my prez!
RC: But he’s—
GORDÓN: The smartest, coolest, most stylish guy in the CCCU. That makes him the best, and don’t I deserve the best?
RJ: Well of course, I mean, you do, I mean—

GORDÓN: Right from the moment that I interviewed him,
I knew for sure that he’s the one!
In the world, there’s only D
Who is scholarly as me!
He’s the lucky future prez of Me, Gordón!

WOMEN: Oh look! Gordón! Isn’t it stately!
My gosh! Gordón!
My first-choice school!
MEN: I think, I heard, a rumor lately:
ALL: They’re looking for a prez, I hope he’s cool!

-market scene-
OK: The stars
TN-as-D: Hello!
OK: At night
KD: Bonjour!
OK: Are big in Tex(as)!
CB: Did you talk French?
DH: Do you
CB: That’s gross.
DH: Recall
RJ: Yes, ma’am!
RC: The Alamo?
RY: A barbeque!
KD: It’s big!
CB: D Mike?
OK: It’s hot!
TN-as-D: That’s me!
ALL: The heaven’s blessed us!
TN-as-D: There must be something better fit for me!
GORDÓN: Come be our president, Michaél Lindsáy!

ALL: Look there he goes, off to the great wide yonder!
I wonder where he’s going to be?
TN-as-D: Now it’s time to head up North!
ALL: Saddle up and sally forth!
He really is a president,
A varmint, but a president,
A future Grapevine resident—
That D!

NARRATION: A presidential proposal! But who is this sudden suitor, this “Gordón”—so anxious to bring the capable D out of the deep South and up to the deep East? 

Gordón  (after “Gaston”new lyrics by MWS)

It must be tough to be facing, Gordón
Life without President Jud
Hé left you wíthout replacing, Gordón
All of your dorms that are HUD
But though they’re not swanky as Dexter or Chase
Still they fill up every year
There’s a real je ne sais quoi to this place
And that sais quoi is why we’re all here

Nowhere’s green as Gordón
Nowhere’s clean as Gordón
Nowhere’s half as concerned with cuisine as Gordón
There is nowhere as choice or as choosey
The food here is finer than fine
Queue just after daybreak for sushi
Or grow old as you stand in the om-e-let line

Nowhere’s fond as Gordón
Of a pond at Gordón
And the biologists that it’s spawned at Gordón
We use Dorothy in all of our publicating
Dorothy Boorse at Gordón

Give five “Oh, yeahs!”
Give ten “All rights!”
Gordón is the best
And the rest is not quite

YELLS like Gordón
Or rappels like Gordón
On La Vida trips nothing quite smells like Gordón
You can ask any dean—
Russ or Barry
Each evening the students have gone
To the newly face-lifted library
To read Hebrews in Greek with the fireplace on

You’ll be awed at Gordón
No one’s flawed at Gordón
Well—except for goose poop on the quad at Gordón
We support any species that’s still migrating
[clap] Eco-points for Gordón

When we were still young we left Fenway for Wenham
To help our enrollment to grow
Now our next move is to occupy Salzburg
And take over Or-vi-e-to

No one’s rude at Gordón
Or tattooed at Gordón
Every freshman is freshly shampooed at Gordón
All our students grow wise from Great Conversating
My, what a place

NARRATION: Well, D forsook his provincial life, journeyed with his family to the deep East, and got to work publicating Gordón’s praises. And everyone agreed he was the Belle of the inaugural ball.
Our tale draws now to its close just as D’s and Gordón’s begins. It’s a tale abounding in beauty, but lacking a beast: rather, it’s Lindsay and the East, and it all began with three little words…

Be Our Prez (after “Be Our Guest”new lyrics by MWS)

Be  –  our  –  prez, be our prez.–
It’s what every genius says,
Wear that honkin’ huge medallion
And your academic fez:
Oh, your face gives us thrills—
Hand it out on dollar bills:
Though the letters down in print say
Your last name is spoken “Lind – SAY”…
Still, your staff and your veep
Say it “Lind-Z”—so we’ll keep
Pronouncing “S’s” and “es’s” “ezz”—
And folks from Ezzex – to Quinzy
Cheer for Michael Lindzee:
Be our prez, be our prez, be our prez!

He’s our prez –
Please, our Prez –
Teach us language to profezz
How the pride of Mezzachuzetts
Now resides at our addrezz;
Brilliant kids take out loans
When you call them on their phones—
All those boys-and-girls go mimsy
For a TEXT from Dr. Lindsay—
And we’ll all be in debt
To the zillionaires you’ve met—
You’ve probably interviewed Nebuchadnezz:
Let’s hope that helps you seek fer
A commencement speaker – who’s a prez—
With your rez you can get a U.S. prez—
Get a prez – a U.S. prez – get a prez!

Life is so discouraging
When you’re presidential searching,
You’re a chicken who’s about to lose its head:
Running ’round the academic barnyard
Wishing you could lose some weight instead

Eight months we were seeking
In committees fairly freaking
With expressions like a jack-o-lantern makes:
Just as we became a Headless Horseman—
Guess who was appointed
You kneeled down and got anointed!

TN-as-D: I’m your prez! I, your prez,
Lead our campus Simon-Sez,
Help you conquer Academe with
More compassion than Cortez:
ALL: He’s so wise
He’s so young—
He’s a Gentile Solomon:
Give a Gordon rebel YIPPEE
For this Yank from Mississippi!
He’ll be nice – he’ll be neat,
And he’ll make our joy complete—
So sing in Español and en Ingles:
From here to Machu Picchu
Mucho gus-to greet you – Presidente—
TN-as-D: El Lindsay—
ALL: Our prez!—
TN-as-D: I’m your prez!

ALL: [staccato] We confess – we’re all blessed –
And impressed by the success
And the precedents our president
Perfected in Texas:
He wrote books –
He got grants—
And he learned to ballroom dance!
[slowing] But it’s time to stop our crowing
And to help him to get going…

Course by course, class by class,
Till the trustees shout, “You’ll pass”—
And grant each employee a whopping raize:
Then when we stand to thank you,
Still we can’t outrank you
As our prez – yes, our prez – be our prez—
Lindsay our PREZ.

Celebrating the Inauguration of D. Michael Lindsay, September 16, 2011.

d-day copy

3 gordon presidents

Tribute – A Scribbler on the ‘Teuch (for Marvin Wilson)

Pre-show: John Williams Fiddler on the Roof medley

Marv Wilson! – to be sung to the tune of “Tradition” (by MWS)

Intro: A Scribbler on the Teuch. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little college, every one of us needs a Scribbler on the ‘Teuch—someone to cobble together some knowledge on the Pentateuch, and share it with the world.

But knowledge doesn’t grow on trees—not anymore: remember how that turned out… We can’t just give it away for free (unless you’re Ted Hildebrandt).

No, we have to balance – making budget, and making young Christian men and women distinguished by you-know-the-rest.

Make budget—make character: on the one hand—on the other hand.
How do we do both?
I’ll tell you—SO LISTEN.

[all sing]
Tuition? – Tuition!—Marv Wilson!
Admission? – Admissions!—Marv Wilsons!

Give him mighty hair, a mantle of Harris tweed, and a chair from—Harold Ockenga.
His golden caffeine mug, mighty staff of one—aren’t the half of why his students pay.

He, all these years, while showing up on TV,
Sneaking off on field trips, claiming half the core, still
Broke records for the highest course attendance
And evaluations—how?

Magician? – Tactician?—Marv Wilson!
Politician? – Hypnotisian?—Omniscient!

Who can help the students turn a cushy life,
A gauche-er to a kosh-er life?
Shake ‘em up so they can make the most of life?
What are the steps he takes them through – to life!

Contrition! – Cognition!—(Who?) Marv Wilson!
Erudition! – Homiletician!—Lechaim!

We know to keep us solvent there are things we should avoid,
Like drops in our enrollment—even itty-bitty:

Attrition! – Eviction!—sans Wilson!
Demolition! – Debtors’ prison! – Need Wilson!

Who gushes knowledge
like the rock that Moses
struck instead of speak-ing
to (which was wrong)—and
what are the subjects
flowing from his mouth
that draw the masses forth like frogs?

Kábbalistic tradition! – Talmudic prohibition!—(Ah!) Smart Wilson!
Messianic Jewish mission! – Chalcedonian Definition!—(Oy!) Mensch Wilson!

Both! Both!
Lai lai lai lai…

Marv Wilson! Marv Wilson!—(Our) MARV WILSON!

Narrator: You know, with our Marv Wilson, our little school’s been kept in balance by… by a Scribbler on the ‘Teuch!


Testmaker – sung by a failing student to “Matchmaker” (by Jasmine Myers)

Testmaker, Testmaker
Make me a test
Throw me a bone
I’m doing my best
Testmaker, would it be so much to ask?
For once, make one I can pass!

Test failer, test failer,
Get in the game!
What’s the first blank?
Oh right! My name!
If I quote Heschel, I might swing a C,
What a miracle that would be!

Don’t worry, I’ve got all the answers
He’s taught this for many a year
In fact, I’m cheating from notes that
My mom took in this class when she was here!

Class skip-er, class skip-er,
That would be swell,
But I’m afraid I’d burn in – well,
How could I lie to those twinkly eyes?
I wish I had just …. memorized.

Cheater: What’s the big deal? You’ll never get caught.
Student: I heard he has his own Tent of Meeting in Frost Hall. I’m pretty sure he knows Moses personally. He knows everything!

Testmaker, Testmaker you know that I’d
Run out of loans
Please let it slide
When two commands clash, go with saving a life!
(Or so says the Talmud … right?)

I’m just glad that answ’ring these questions
Is not how the good Lord decides
Who to let into heaven
‘Cause only Marv Wilson would get inside!

Harsh Grader, Harsh Grader, I’m on my knees!
Have chesed on
a knucklehead, please!
This is why Jesus gave Peter the keys…

Cheater: It’s Y’shua
Student: Will I lose points for that, too-ah?

So say there’s a way
I’ll study lots
Ev-e-ry day –
– except on Shabbat!
So maybe one day I’ll pass!


If I Weren’t Marv Wilson – sung by “Marv” to “If I Were a Rich Man” (by Carl Schultz)

Dear God, you made many, many professors
I realize, of course, everyone needs professors
But it’s a whole lot of work
So would it have been so terrible if I had a different vocation?

If I weren’t Marv Wilson,
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb

If I did not dedicate my life
To the Testament that no one likes (What?!)
Could’ve been a lifeguard
Or a farmer, or a shepherd,
A trombonist might be fun
If I were an archeologist,
Or a dentist or a fireman

I would not have to be grading all through the night
And lecturing all throughout the day
Printing essays and syllabi by the ream.
There’d be no teaching students how to pronounce
Names that are very hard to say
Haggai and Chushanrishathaim             (*kew-shan-rish-u-thayeem)

I wouldn’t have to explain Mosaic law
Or list all my favorite Hebrew kings,
Dissecting topics of academic heft,
And every pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack! pa-pa-geeee! pa-pa-gaack!
As students are packing up their things,
Even though there’s still five minutes left.

If I weren’t Marv Wilson
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb

All day long I’d biddy-biddy-bum
With a different career plan
Could work in a shipyard,
Or in movies, or in fashion
Or in chocolate, or in gum
If I were a slightly diff-e-rent,
Daidle deedle daidle daidle man.

I could be running like Jonah,
Off to a seaside spot
With an Adriatic view,
Or living like Elijah in a cave
I could be eating huge grapes
Like Joshua in Canaan,
Oh there’s so many things to do
Possibly I’d even start to shave [strokes beard] Nah…

There’d be no students at my door were I not faculty
They would not ask me for extensions,
Nor would they ask me to advise
“If you please, Marv Wilson?”
“Pardon me, Marv Wilson?”
Giving all the excuses they can devise

Ya va voy, ya va voy voy vum

And because I am their professor
And Old Testament is Core
To graduate they have to go through me

But if I weren’t, I’d never have had the chance
To take students to the Holy Land
Never would have kept a whole room engrossed,
And I’d have missed so many delightful discussions
With my colleagues and my friends
That is what I think I’d miss the most

If I weren’t Marv Wilson,
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb
All day long I’d biddy-biddy-bum
If I were not at Gordon. Hey!

Wouldn’t have to work hard,
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb

Lord who made Brandeis and Barrington,
Looking back on all that I have done
I’ll admit it’s been a lot of fun
Just — to be a Marv Wilson.


Some Guy’s Subjects – sung by Marv’s envious colleagues to “Sunrise, Sunset” (by MWS)

1. [show Our Father, Abraham]
This is the weighty tome I’ve envied,
Written with scholarly aplomb.
Few authors rise to fame & fortune;
Marv Will—some.

How’d he turn Judges into wages?
How’d he turn Job into a job?
Eerdmans has made him an OT

Some guy’s – subjects:
Sinai. Shabbats,
Sweeping up the praise:
Parlaying Middle Eastern conflicts
Into a Marvin Wilson craze…

One guy’s – projects:
Rabbis. Prophets,
Fifty-something years:
One chapter bettering another,
Leading to Globetrotters and cheers.

2. What are the lessons he embodies
like a Marv Wilson-y Talmud?
He says that ‘work’ is wed to ‘worship’—
when Hebrewed…

How many students has he goaded
Into a happy avodah?
Must he retire his divine

One wise – pundit.
Winding down, yet—
His influence stays:
Bright’ning the multitudes like sunrise
Coaxes the darkness into day.

One guy’s projects:
Young intellects
Tended through the years—
Taking his mantle up at sunset,
Laden with happiness — and tears.


Blessing/Benediction – sung to “Sabbath Prayer”

May our Father bless and commend you
May to you He lift up His face
May your labors be
The instruments of godly grace

May He be your roof and your shelter
May He be your watchword and stay
Fasten them, O Lord
And seal them to your heart always


Tribute – RogerGreenable (for Roger Green)

ROGERGREENABLE  (after Nat King Cole)

Roger Up and Buy Right  (“Straighten Up and Fly Right”)

Roger took alumni for a ride in the air,
To see the holy land and taste the holy fare,
Alumni planned to sleep in a hostel bunk,
But Roger said “You’re gonna have to spend a chunk”—

Upgrade up and fly right,
Five star up and stay right,
Humus up and dine right—
Cheap alumni, time to charge it up!

Ain’t no use in slummin’
Ain’t you got it comin?
Smarten up and shine right—
Gold is glistening on the Dome of Rock!

Alumni said to Roger, “You’re bankrupting me!
At least my evenings will be free.”
Roger said, “You’ll need a private wailing wall:
I lecture every evening on John and Paul”—

Romans up, gentile right,
Galatians up and faith right,
(Rev)-e-lation up and scry right—
No alumni shall be goofing off!

Alumni said to Roger, “You’re a prize and a peach,
But here is some advice as you return to teach;
Your colleagues have approaches that you haven’t tried;
To be as good a prof as you’re a tourist guide

Ketchum up and pray right,
Whittet up, Lord’s Day right,
Wilson up, oy vey right,
Hang in, Roger—don’t you hang it up.

Ain’t no use retiring,
(Gordon isn’t hiring…)
Please don’t make us cry, right?
Keep on, Roger – don’t you e – ver stop.”

G-R-EE-N  (“L-O-V-E”)

G is for the grade you gave to me,
R is for the reams you made me read,
EE’s are each and every – exegetic query,
N is never knowing – where the heck your lecture’s going…

GREEN were all the lights that led to you,
GREEN is how I looked when I withdrew;
Drew has one less tenant—
Took my check, I’m sure you spent it—
GREEN is coloring me blue.

G is for the games I played till 3,
R is for road trips to Biscayne Key,
EE’s are each and every – extra on my movie,
N is never knowing – what Netflix will next be showing…

GREEN’s the jealousy I felt for you,
GREEN—for each red letter word you knew;
New is my perspective—
Wish I’d chose a Hunt elective—
GREEN is yellow mixed with blue.

G’s for graduation-minus-me,
R’s for my revised reality,
EE’s are every, every – existential worry,
N is still not knowing – when my tears will cease from flowing…

GREEN is all the cash I’ve given to you,
GREEN is how I was, an ingénue;
You wrecked my vocation
With your special revelation—
GREEN’s the color of adieu.
GREEN’s a murderer in Clue®.
GREEN is Roger mixed with blue!

RogerGreenable  (“Unforgettable”)

Un-heretical – that’s what you are
Un-red-neck-able – you hate NASCAR

Like a fountain of inerrancy
You’re so pure you’re almost scarin’ me
Never before – has human been more

Sacrament-able – in every way
“It’s what life is for!” – that’s what you’ll say

That’s why, Rog, it’s – bona-fide-able
That someone so – suit-and-tie-able
Still can be so – a-good-guy-able, too.

Un-unbiblical – and un-unfair
Aldersgate-able – but such good hair!

All those years of new syllábuses
All but you and Marv moved offices…
Creed-cred galore. We all know that you’re—

So dear-heart-able – as you would say
Learnéd, laudable – we hoped you’d stay

That’s why Roger – sweet-embraceable, you
have been so – run-good-race-able
And you are so – irreplaceable, too.


roger and karen for blog


Roger Green  (after “Billie Jean”)

He looked more like a squeaky clean academic dean
When he rolled up in a limousine from Barrington.
I’m afraid
that my grade’s
going down.
(He survived Barrington?)
I’m afraid
that my grade’s
going down.

He told me his name was Roger Green and he taught Philemon,
I said, “Don’t mind, but I’m here to flee your New Testament.”
I’m afraid
that my grade’s
going down.

Pupils always told me, be careful of a dude
Who goes around blessing young folks’ hearts. (Please.)

And roomies always told me, be careful choosing profs:
It wicked matters who – when the Testament is New, hey hey—

Roger Green is not that clever,
He’s just a guy who claims that Titus is fun,
But my scholarships are done.

He says Micah is fun—
Oh, oops, that’s Marv Wilson.

[verse 2]
Spent forty days and forty nights with a study guide,
But who could stand his postponing of make-up exams?
Reading Day?
Far away:
Going down.

So take my strong advice: you do not want to take his course twice.
Don’t take twice! Not Green twice!

He said commit to your memory the synoptic three,
To which add John, and then master those letters Pauline.
All thirteen;
that’ll mean
going down.

Pupils always told me, be careful reading Jude
With someone who says, “Bless your hearts.” (Weird.)

I really, really need a permanent five-second break;
Can I minister to youth when I don’t like William Booth? No—

Roger Green is not that clever,
He’s just some guy who claims proof texting is dumb:
Isn’t that a heresy?

Roger Green goes on forever,
He tries and tries to claim John Wesley is fun…
Dude: the holiness moved on.

Candle lighting is fun:
“Surely” that goes when he’s gone…

Roger Green just wrecked my major.
Roger Green should not make Major.
Roger Green is no Bonheoffer.
Roger Green you’re no moonwalker.


Tribute – All Those Boxes Are Dave Rox’s (for David Rox)

(sung to “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” by George Strait)

All those boxes are Dave Rox’s,
Chock with years of ‘vintage musicology’—
Like old boomboxes, cracked maracas,
And his turtlenecks of Chuck Mangione.

All Dave Rox’s paradoxes:
He rocks on his trombone – like Tommy Dorsey.
He’s got a vox like Frank Sinatra’s…
But he can’t keep track of our attendance sheet.

Our man-called-Dave joined the facultāy – when he was just ten years old,
His department in lower Prince – with mildew, mice and mold.
His musicians used a precursor to – the Rox Rehearsal Room;
A private place, they shared the space – with dustpan, brush and broom…

All Doc Rox’s orchestraxes—
Saxes, brass, and horns – (one lonely timpani)—
Are all just practice Coy Piranxhas:
He thinks our new-old Lane – is New Orleans.

Who’s obnoxious as Dave Rox is?—
Stocked with fishy tales – of catching sockeye;
And all that talk—pain in our coccyx…
When he thought he caught a whale, he caught a tree.

When Dave’s at work – rehearsing with his bélovèd jazz band,
His ears are on the players, but his eye’s on the music stand;
He urges them – to keep the beat and make that rhythm drive,
But avoid the misplaced cacophonous minor 7 flat five…

When Dave Rox commits faux paxes
That time that he misplayed – Nearer My Dog to Thee,
Or mangled Plump & Circumstanxes:
That’s when Michael swapped him out – for a CD.

In that office next to Kwok’s is
A prof whose work’s in tune – after age 63,
Just like Johann Sebastian Bach’s is:
Johann and Dave: conducting royalty.

You’ve made music of a workplace;
We’ve grown accustomed to your face;
Now get your waders on and go play that stream.


rox salmon

Tribute – Accustomed to Suitcase (for Paul & Jeannie)

Libretto Tostato e Arrosto

featuring bowdlerized numbers from
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Sound of Music
My Fair Lady

Rudely Reckless  [sung to “Truly Scrumptious” by Paul’s true friends]

1. Rudely reckless – your plan is rude and reckless—
Feckless if you’ll pardon me to say.
When you’re here our $upply’s prodigious;
At your going, we all dine on dime-store dishes…

On-your-own-ness – means newly-nearly homeless;
They will never ever let you stay:
If you commit this folly,
It won’t be long till ya’ll be
Finished. Pauly: you’re through.

2a. Dude grabbed more bucks – in deals than Daddy Warbucks,
Milked more moguls than Nick Caraway.
When he’s pitching, he’s so Jack Nicklaus;
On his calls he’s – witty as a sweet Don Rickles.

-complaining narration-

2b. Do repent this – fool en loco absentis.
Who’ll be left to star in Gordon plays?
Plus, your travels seem so suspicious;
Seriously: you meet magnates in Las Vegas?

-accusatory narration-

2c. Of his methods, last will-and-testament is
How he makes degrees from IRAs…
His appeal plays like Judi Dench’s;
He puts names on – buildings, bleachers, boats and benches.

Go—exeunt us: your banner years among us
Mean your next job might involve a sleigh…
You’ve strewn all kinds of riches;
Now get this message, which is
All we, Paul E., thank you.

Someone’s Loot  [sung to “Something Good” by faux Jeannie]

Perhaps he might have clicked in Hollywood,
His act is Obi-Wan-meets-Babe-Ruth;
But face it, like in Wicked, Les Misérables, Cats
The smile is growing long-in-the-tooth.
Now there he is, stand-high-aboving me,
Which often rots my mood…
So Oscars and, forsooth, his knighthood,
Are lost to bum someone’s loot.
Ka-¢hing comes from mooching,
Poaching wealthy dudes—
So somewhere in Duluth or Wildwood,
He’s just begun playing
Robin Hood.

Ching-a-Ching-a Bank Bank  [sung by every single person at the college]

Go – get – ¢hing-a-ling-a-bank-bank,
Ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank, we need you.
Then – get – ching-a-ling-a-bank-bank,
Ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank, get more, ooo.

Near – far – in a rental car,
Get ching-a-ling-a-bank again;
Bank-bank ching-a-ling-a-bank-bank,
Our legal-tendered friend;

Bank-bank ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank,
our fine – for – spend – ing – friend.

[Bank-bank ching-a-ching-a-bank-bank,
Sometimes offending ching-a-ching-a friend.]

Dough, Oh Dear  [sung to “Do-Re-Mi” by faux Paul himself]

(Do!) Dough – oh dear, we need it here,
(Re!) Ray – it’s ‘pray’ but minus one;
(Mi!) Me – the way I call on wealth,
(Fa!) Far – I’ll go to beg for funds.
(So!) Sow – a seed’ll fall, then ‘bread’—
(La!) Law – school (I chose not to go…)
(Ti!) T – a note that rides the Fed—
…that will bring us back some dough.

When you know the hearts to wring,
You can wring both clan or king.

When you know the quotes to bring,
You can wring your nan of bling.

-everyone sing-

Dough – oh dear, we need it here,
Ray – it’s ‘pray’ but minus one;
Me – the way I call on wealth,
Far – I’ll go to beg for funds.
Sow – a seed’ll fall, then ‘bread’—
La – I sing when they say No;
Tea – we drink it black not red;
…that will bring us back the dough.

Don’t raid me for some latte, don’t. Sow dough!

[descending: Don’t eat lots of famine raid dough.]

His Famous Sayings  [sung to “My Favorite Things” by Development]

1. Name-dropping Moses, and “Which Preferred Outcomes?”
Might stop to wrestle with those who dole out sums.
Now rake the passage for dried wells and springs—
These are a few of Paul’s fundraising things.

2. Quotes from the prophets and dead desert fathers;
Cap funds and hedge funds and nest eggs for scholars;
Hustling while pausing to act and to sing—
These are the parlance of Paul’s fundraisíng…

3. Trust God to bless us with raiment and rubles.
Have faith and show faith like Gideon with bugles.
Them that give greatly get given good things—
These are the gist of Paul’s famous sayíngs.

In the dark—light! After freeze—spring.
When you’re least, be glad…
I can’t comprehend all these weighty sayings;
I may just, for real – go mad.

4. Guys in from Texas with silver mustaches,
Widows with tans and bifocal sunglasses,
Billionaires striving to buy angels’ wings—
These are Paul’s targets for fundraising stings.

5. Clean ordered desktops and calendared call logs;
LYBUNT* and SYBUNT and Stingy-As-Ball-Hogs;
Green paper package$ signed (without strings)—
These are important in Paul’s fundraisíng.

6. Scrambled with cheese and some hot Depot sausage;
Right here’s my office, it’s not at the college;
Fundraising letters require coffee rings—
These are his frequentest famous sayíngs…

When the quad’s ripe, when Dan T sings,
When our Thiele gets mad,
We savor his favorite famous sayíngs:
He’ll make an ideal – granddad!

*Last Year But Not This / Second Year…

Accustomed to Suitcase  [sung to Jeannie by her student ambassadors]

I’d gone through Customs with suitcase;
She sized me up when I came in.
I was a snowball’s chance in June,
Some day-old crab Rangoon—
A sloth, a schwa,
A lost coleslaw;
And so remarkable is how
She drew me out by diving in.
I was supremely inconsistent as a student (not too bright);
Truly my career was dim without her help—I might
Have grown lackluster in my work,
Disgusted with my choice,
And busted by this place.

I know to just come to your space;
We circle up and settle in.
You make our heavy afternoons
As light as Lorna Doones:
You charm; you tend;
Beguile; befriend.
Our disesteem, you won’t allow.
You make for real what-might-have-been:
You were the genie who appeared when I so hesitantly said,
You go on; I’ll stay and sweep the fireplace—instead
I’ve been adjusting through your warmth,
And trusting in your voice—
Accustomed to your grace.

I’ve grown adjusted in your warmth,
Entrusted with a voice—
Accustomed to suitcase.


audience for accustomed to suitcase

Letter – to Bill Littlefield

Dear Bill,

As happens now and then, I stayed in the car in my driveway this morning to hear all of your essay on Never Playing a Friendly Game. Which is to say: great writing, yet again.

What do I remember my coaches saying?

Because there was no proper place for such a thing around the wide, Pennsylvania farmlands where I played little league, my coach replied: “What do you want to do–go in my pocket?”

In Lubbock, Texas, my basketball coach, when my dad inquired if I’d get any playing time, leaned down and offered, “DO YOU WANT TO COACH THE TEAM?”

Same city, a soccer coach introduced me to the word “dadgummit.” And then demonstrated its many forms and uses.

Another soccer coach reminded me often that we who were riding the bench were pretty much responsible for our teammates’ on-field gaffes.

Same city, my something-league baseball coach advised me to stop running under trees, even though I couldn’t see the Top Flites he was fungo-ing toward us with his seven iron.

Same again, a new hoop coach, when I flubbed another easy layup, would become a human calliope, piping a circus theme.

Finally, in high school, a wrestling coach, who liked to pit “heads against jocks” on the mat, picked me to ref a gym class soccer game. Afterward, he eased over and said, “Good work, Stevick. You should think about reffing.”

I took what I could get. It was a legit compliment, finally.

Thanks for your dadgum good essays at WBUR, Littlefield.

Mark Stevick

Bill Littlefield’s essay, “On fathers, sons And Tennis: I’m Glad I Wasn’t That Good,” is here.

Letter – to poet Mark Halliday

Here’s a poem by Mark Halliday. It’s one of many of his that compelled me to send him an email.

Mark Halliday

David Porter has said that for Dickinson
death is the summoner of style.
And I think of you placing your gray checked scarf
around your neck on a day in December.
Your hair, like hair that Yeats might have ached to touch,
falls across the scarf and upon the shoulders of
your black coat; we move toward the door;

the street opens upon my gaze like a new feature film
with sober intentions and I stand for a second
awed by the task of appreciation—
your hands—your eyes. There is the banquet
of what we do have while knowing it can vanish
and there is the cold banquet of what we once had
or conceivably could have had—
at both tables we gaze into the lamplit wine
and want to say something true but
not only true, something also lovely
in a respectful and charismatic sadness.
Here is the car, my dear, your gray Mazda,
and here we are in the middle of something,

unreligious, distracted, but lightly touching
each other’s knees from time to time during the ride
for the sake of what has been luminous and is not gone.

-from Tasker Street, The University of Massachusetts Press, © 1992. Winner of the Juniper Prize.


I wish I could write like that. Here’s the email I sent him.

Dear Mr. Halliday,

This morning I’m wading through closing documents for a house sale we’ll (Lord help) accomplish at noon, after three years of prep and pain.

I paused just now to read Writer’s Almanac. Which has forced me to look up your email and send you this sort of plaudit and thanks.

I’m almost done. Left to say is that in 1989, late summer, I arrived at a reading sponsored by the Boston University graduate creative writing program that I had, somehow, been accepted into. Only one seat remained in the room; it was in the front row, beside, I later learned, Lloyd Schwartz.

Then you read things that never depart, like “Gimme those worms, Jody.” And “back to his or her perfect desk.” (Forgive any misquoting.)

Your poems have been with me all these years—new poems, too. I never don’t read “Ketchup and Heaven” to my students. Never don’t I read aloud to them “just like this loaded world.”

We all repaired, after that singular reading (at which Mr. Schwartz and I kept looking at each other with amazement), to some restaurant nearby, and sat outside. Robert Pinsky was with us. Every three years or so I drive by that restaurant with my wife and say something feeble and charismatic about that dinner with Halliday. But, I repeat, I read your poems aloud.

Now I’ll click send and return to HUD statements and be glad, in an hour, to be free of a debt and burden. And glad to have said thanks to you meanwhile—and that you and George Saunders are the only writers I’d commit crimes to host at the college north of Boston where I teach. If you’re ever nearby for this or that, and have an inclination to pop in for an evening, we’d gather a keen group to hear, and find some meager funds to fork over.

I’m saying that I love your poems.

Here is the car, my dear,

Mark Wacome Stevick

Astonishingly (to me), and sweetly, Mark Halliday emailed me back within the hour, to say thanks—and to request my address, to which he posted his two newest books of poetry. Character will out.
Let us be heartened by this story.

Poem – The Amish Boy Cruises through Bird-in-Hand

And I become the unleaded god,
rebuking the wind with my foot,
giving and taking life according to
the flex of my whim.

Let me be speed, I say;
I am:
air calms into my face,
unblows my mane back.

In my chariot I hear
in the pulse of pavement
the one heartbeat of the multitudes—
expectant tribes of corn—

When suddenly they part before,
like my thinnest siblings,
bangs in their eyes,
waving palms

And kneel, pious
as I ride by,
what seem to be tongues
of fire upon their heads.

And for myself I’ll have
the bloody reflection of the sun
caught on the lake so like
the side of an 18-wheeler.

-Published in Sharkpack Poetry Review Annual, and finalist for the Prospero Poetry Prize.

Notes – on the Holy Theatre

Your favorite spot on earth is the lobby of the National Theatre in London. Partly because you have to work so hard to get there. Partly, also, because of the lives you’ve lived there, which you still carry in your body. And partly because of the most assured overthrow that awaits you each time you finish your white coffee and head toward the ripple seats.

* * *

One winter, for four months, a play of yours ran at a dingy dinner theatre up in Georgetown, Mass. You’d directed it, too, and built the set, all of it. On 45 weekend evenings you climbed into the loft behind the tables and ran lights and sound, while patrons ate thawed chicken parmesan. Sitting up there watching the crowd, you rode their laughter to a kind of pinnacle. Have you been happier? Give me my sin again.

* * *

For years you’ve been herding students toward theatres, the National, and the Traverse and the Pleasance—for plays and musicals, but also for pantos and foolery, for marathons and acts without words. The lights, the urgency onstage reflect off their eyes and their teeth. They grab your arm. Afterward, you all stagger out to a table of spring rolls, to lick wounds.

You take them to these things so they can be flabbergasted, and confused, and confirmed. So they can see what it is we humans care about, and how to care about it not wisely and too well. You take them to be offended. Give us our sin again.

* * *

You attend an Episcopal church. You go there, sometimes, because Andre Dubus, after being hit by a motorist, could manage that, only that. He wheeled to the mass. Sometimes you think of Dubus in your pew, and of theatres. How being at the living theatre can feel like being at a living church. How our faith before the stage is as real and necessary as anyone’s who’d get out of a boat and walk. How we face each other, and agree to believe together.

And when we do, when the show is right, everyone, every single one, is healed of their sniffles and coughs, and we float bodiless and rapt until the script lets us go. Almost a holy edifice, you say. Who are these priests, these prophets? Sarah Kane, I have ears to hear.

-Why not read some pages in Peter Brook’s The Empty Space?

Letter – to the Literary Department at London’s National Theatre

Dear Ms Peters,

I type this with a latte to hand here on one of the National’s high outside balconies. Moments ago the courteous Dominic at the stage door sent me to you through this portal.

I’m a teacher and writer, and since 1995 I’ve brought 350 college students from a hamlet north of Boston (USA) here to London to see shows at the NT. Our tally of seen shows exceeds 100. Yesterday we added Angels in America to the list.

—a production we will never quite get over. Neither will forget the opening of The Bacchae, or the final moment of Iphigenia at Aulis. A hundred-hundred moments that lived first for us in the ripple seats live in us yet, and have livened how we do theatre, how we teach writing, in our small liberal arts school.

When we lay over in London on our way to other Europes, we queue early and stay late under your roof. Conversations with Simon Russell Beale, Patrick Marber, Caryl Churhill, Jeremy Irons, Wallace Shawn, Desmond Barrit, Rita Moreno, Michael Frayn, Christopher Hampton, Judi Dench, William Houston, Emily Watson, Anna Chancellor, even John Gielgud (who came with Dame Judi to see Ian Holm in Lear)—these never leave us, and inspire gratitude still.

We cherish the sweet, savvy tour guides who’ve shown us backstage and front, mentioning the reason for the seat color in the Olivier. We remember jazz on the concert pitch, and the green AstroTurf (as we call it) of Watch This Space, and the bracing shows (with Chiwetel Ejiofor & Andrew Lincoln) in the Lyttelton foyers.

—and the hours we spent kindling with other lovers like us in and around your concrete crucible of lifetimes.

All of this to say: your address is our favorite on earth, and your commitments have improved our days.

In another year or so I expect to be granted a sabbatical from teaching playwriting and poetry. I have no greater wish than to find my way back to your address, for some shorter or longer period. There is no place I’d rather be.

Could I volunteer whatever I have for any need or purpose of yours? Requiring no pay, only a backstage pass to satisfy Dominic, I could write toward a “Making Of” account, like those on Humble Boy and Bacchae that I give my students. Or perhaps I can assist in useful ways with your growing online archive, a resource I access often. Or sign me up as a tour guide, and pay me nothing to enrich as I’ve been. Do you need a diarist? An assistant to a dramaturg? Someone to make copies or phone calls for the New Work Department, or set out chairs and water for Al Senter-and-guest? Or even a fellow to field oddball offers like this one?

If so, I’m your man.

And it needn’t ding a single budget line, because I’ll still be in the pay of my usual employer, a college that’s seen fit to invest in our annual pilgrimage here to the South Bank.

That’s my hopeful pitch. Now this:

Once, jogging to one of your shows, my billfold leapt unawares from my pocket somewhere between the Cottesloe and the base of the stairs from Waterloo Bridge. I realized the loss at the box office, and retraced my steps in a proper panic and haste. And there it was on the stones, fat with 900 quid, somehow invisible to all but me and bronze Sir Laurence.

Like so much that happens where you are—where I sit as I type—this little story is imbued with a grace, and is beautiful because it’s inscrutable and undeserved.

Will you keep me and my lucky wallet in mind?

Sincerely, with gratitude,

Mark Wacome Stevick

-A version of this was sent summer 2016, and this version last summer. No reply yet.

Remarks – on the poems of John Updike

I discovered John Updike’s poetry before his prose, as a college student, reading The Carpentered Hen and Facing Nature on the rocks of West Beach a few miles north of here.

I wrote him a letter praising his work, quoting lines like

“Hosannas of cotton and hallelujahs of wool,” and
“The elms seemed swaying vases full of sky,” and
                                             “They smile because
They know we know, they know we know.”

And he wrote back saying, “Thanks for your kind words about my poetry, which I’ve been neglecting lately, probably due to a dearth of kind words.”

He wouldn’t neglect it for long, of course.  Poetry comforted him, he said, “with its hope of permanence, its packaging of flux,” its “triumphant sense of capture.”  He called his poems “my oeuvre’s beloved waifs.”

I love the humor and the metaphors in his poems—his eye for resemblances, for connecting dissimilar things to help me see them better, which is a mark of genius, according to Aristotle.

You get his genius (and his humor) in this short poem, one he wrote when he was 21.

Why the Telephone Wires Dip and the Poles are Cracked and Crooked

The old men say
young men in gray
hung this thread across our plains
acres and acres ago.

But we, the enlightened, know
in point of fact it’s what remains
of the flight of a marvelous crow
no one saw:
Each pole, a caw.

collected in The Carpentered Hen, 1958, Harper & Brothers. “I still remember the shudder, the triumphant sense of capture, with which I got these lines down, not long after my twenty-first birthday.” J.U.


And again, his metaphor-making, in this poem, the last I’ll read.

Before I read it I’ll say:
I loved living near him, bumping into my absolute my favorite writer in the world, at the post office or Harry’s or KC’s or The Book Store—a shop, I expect, he single-handedly put on firm footing.  That he was living and writing and driving his gray Taurus around here ennobled this shore, and me, in some way—

     “as in some mythologies [to quote him]
     beautiful gods stroll unconcerned
     among our mortal apprehensions.”

Alas, this is not the same place without him.


The Melancholy of Storm Windows

We touch them at the raw turns
of the year—November
with its whipped trees and cellar sky,
and April, whose air
promises more than the earth
seems willing to yield.
They are unwieldy, of wood, and their panes
monotonously ask the same question—Am I clean?

No, the answer is.
They fit less well, we feel, each year.
But the weather lowers,
watery and wider than a tide,
and if a seam or leak of light shows, well,
nothing’s perfect under Heaven.
Our mortal shell,
they used to call the body.

In need of paint, they heave
up from the cellar and back down again
like a species of cloud,
shedding a snow of flakes and grime.
They rotate heavy in our hands; the screwdriver
stiffly twirls; the Windex swipes evaporate
in air ominous of coming worse
or, at winter’s end, of Easter entombment,
of cobwebbed storage among belittling ants
while the grasshopper world above basks.

Stacked, they savor of the crypt,
of the unvisitable nook
and the stinking pipe, irreparable.
In place, they merely mitigate
death’s whisper at the margins,
the knifing chill that hisses how
the Great Outer cares not a pin for our skins
and the airtight hearts that tremble therein.

We, too, are warped each fall.
They resemble us, storm windows,
in being gaunt, in losing putty,
in height, transparency, fragility—
weak slabs, poor shields, dull clouds.
Ambiguous, we have no place
where we, once screwed, can say, That’s it.

collected in Tossing and Turning, 1977, Knopf
-remarks delivered at Lynch Park in Beverly, Mass. Some of John’s children were present, including Michael Updike, who is a sculptor. He had not known the “Telephone Wires” poem, he said, and later carved it onto the back of Updike’s gravestone in Plowville.

Poem – Elvis in Intercourse

Elvis in Intercourse

for the Rumspringe

Grossdaadi utters Ach,
winnowing his lot
of all mediated chaff;
he cuts the laughter off.

In consecrated barns
a verbal vermin runs
without restraint or heed
for what the bishop said—

innervating dust,
the pious custom tossed,
2 batteries for the show:
go cat go.

-published in Baltimore Review, winner of a Baltimore Review Award. The picture above is from the cover of my dad’s book, Growing Up Amish, also published in Baltimore, by Johns Hopkins University Press. Mom’s book is Beyond the Plain and Simple, published by Kent State University Press.

More Updike Remarks, More Updike Poems

Like John Updike, I grew up in Pennsylvania (in my case Lancaster County instead of Berks) and then came to New England for college; and until 2009 we lived here in Essex County together in view of Great Misery Island and Bowditch’s Ledge.

Of course, there the similarities between us end.

Or do they? No winner of Pulitzers or other laurels, I nevertheless find in John Updike’s poetry moments that I recognize as certifiably me. Here’s an instance:


Thoughts While Driving Home

Was I clever enough? Was I charming?
Did I make ay least one good pun?
Was I disconcerting? Disarming?
Was I wise? Was I wan? Was I fun?

Did I answer that girl with white shoulders
Correctly, or should I have said
(Engagingly), “Kierkegaard smolders,
But Eliot’s ashes are dead?”

And did I, while being a smarty,
Yet some wry reserve slyly keep,
So they murmured, when I’d left the party,
“He’s deep. He’s deep. He’s deep”?

-Collected in Telephone Poles and Other Poems, Knopf, 1963.

This piece of light verse from the ‘50s is obviously me, just better turned out, more winningly and memorably voiced. (You’ll know already that John Updike considered the publication in The New Yorker of such light verse, first in 1954, as launching his professional writing life.)

Thirty years later, reading these poems on the beaches of Manchester and Beverly Farms, I repeatedly, reliably felt a “triumphant sense of capture”—which is how he described the shudder he felt after writing a good poem. A splendid man!, I thought, to feel these things, as he himself wrote about James Joyce, in “Wife-Wooing”: “A splendid man, to feel that. Splendid also to feel the curious and potent, inexplicable and irrefutably magical life language leads within itself.”


Here is another light poem, gamely led by language’s life.


I Missed His Book but Read His Name

“The Silver Pilgrimage,” by M. Anantanarayanan . . .
160 pages. Criterion. $3.95.
– The New York Times

Though authors are a dreadful clan,
To be avoided if you can,
I’d like to meet the Indian,
M. Anantanarayanan.

I picture him as short and tan,
We’d meet, perhaps, in Hindustan,
I’d say, with admirable élan,
“Ah, Anantanarayanan,

I’ve heard of you. The Times once ran
A notice on your novel, an
Unusual tale of God and Man.”
And Anantanarayanan

Would seat me on a lush divan
And read his name—that sumptuous span
Of “a”s and “n”s more lovely than
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan”—

Aloud to me all day. I plan
Henceforth to be an ardent fan
Of Anantanarayanan,
M. Anantanarayanan.

-Also found in Telephone Poles and Other Poems. He later learned he’d been mispronouncing the name and therefore stopped reading the poem aloud.

In the first poem, it’s the word “smarty” (“and did I, while being a smarty”) that’s spot-on, while not merely rhyming with “party.”

In the second, I enjoy (and I think he did) the flat, deliberate inexactness of the word “tan” (“I think of him as short and tan.”)

As a college student tossing and turning through the pages of Midpoint and Facing Nature and Telephone Poles, it was hard not to want to be John Updike. Still, “I had the timid sense to see that you do not will to be John Updike; you fall into it at birth, ripe from the beginning” (to appropriate The Centaur).

I’ll finish now with a poem set in a place many of you know well, Cape Ann Golf Course. I expect John Updike and I played Cape Ann at the same time on occasion, though I never bumped into him. There I never fail to say “the ball wobbles up and with a glottal rattle bobbles in”—or, on that peerless fourth hole, to recite the paragraph that contains the equally peerless “A divot the size of an undershirt was taken…”

Here’s the poem: “The Great Scarf of Birds,” written in 1962.


The Great Scarf of Birds

Playing golf on Cape Ann in October,
I saw something to remember.

Ripe apples were caught like red fish in the nets
of their branches. The maples
were colored like apples,
part orange and red, part green.
The elms, already transparent trees,
seemed swaying vases full of sky. The sky
was dramatic with great straggling V’s
of geese streaming south, mare’s-tails above them.
Their trumpeting made us look up and around.
The course sloped into salt marshes,
and this seemed to cause the abundance of birds.

As if out of the Bible
or science fiction,
a cloud appeared, a cloud of dots
like iron fillings which a magnet
underneath the paper undulates.
It dartingly darkened in spots,
paled, pulsed, compressed, distended, yet
held an identity firm: a flock
of starlings, as much one thing as a rock.
One will moved above the tress
the liquid and hesitant drift.

Come nearer, it became less marvellous,
more legible, and merely huge.
“I never saw so many birds!” my friend exclaimed.
We returned our eyes to the game.
Later, as Lot’s wife must have done,
in a pause of walking, not thinking
of calling down a consequence,
I lazily looked around.

The rise of the fairway above was tinted,
so evenly tinted I might not have noticed
but that at the rim of the delicate shadow
the starlings were thicker and outlined the flock
as an inkstain in drying pronounces its edges.
The gradual rise of green was vastly covered;
I had thought nothing in nature could be so broad but grass.

And as
I watched, one bird,
prompted by accident or will to lead,
ceased resting; and, lifting in a casual billow,
the flock ascended as a lady’s scarf,
transparent, of gray, might be twitched
by one corner, drawn upward and then,
decided against, negligently tossed toward a chair:
the southward cloud withdrew into the air.

Long had it been since my heart
Had been lifted as it was by the lifting of that great scarf.

-Collected in Telephone Poles(The title poem also lodged itself in me permanently.) In his Collected PoemsUpdike cut the first and last stanzas from this poem, which I chastised him for at a church fair in Beverly Farms.
These remarks were delivered at the Congregational Church in Ipswich, with Updike family members also speaking.
Today is the anniversary of his passing, on January 27, 2009.

Remembering – Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

[from an interview conducted by Bryan Parys]

bp: You studied with Derek Walcott in grad school; how much did his tutelage affect your own work?

Mark S: Let me admit here for the good of my soul that I didn’t really know Derek’s work when I applied to Boston University’s graduate creative writing program. Or Robert Pinksy’s either. Just their names, which had appeared over poems I’d seen in Norton’s. I knew a bit of lore about Lowell and Sexton and Plath, and even Starbuck, but I also appreciated that their ghosts weren’t going to help me with my poems (James Merrill notwithstanding). What mattered most to me was that Boston University was only an hour’s train ride from my house. So my pedestrian (or commuter rail) motives were rewarded out of all proportion.

But what did Derek teach me? To rise at 5 and write for hours. To make the beginning of a line as vigorous as its end. To labor not merely for the line or word, but even for the letter. To write longhand. To read aloud both poetry and prose for their training rhythms—Edward Thomas, Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway… One time Seamus Heaney and Joseph Brodsky came in to argue with Derek about the poems of Thomas Hardy—whose work they all loved and which we all read aloud. These things Derek taught, although they’re not necessarily things I learned. I don’t rise, as he does, at 5 and write for any amount of time. But my work was affected by his tutelage. I became more accountable for each word or phrase in my poems, so they got shorter, denser, better. And Derek liked my poems, which allowed me to believe in them. When he told me to send them out to The New Yorker and The Atlantic, I went ahead and did it. Derek didn’t believe me when I said they hadn’t landed. “Show me the rejection letters.” I showed. “It doesn’t matter. I’d publish them.” So I put that in my pipe and smoked it for a good long time.

He was an extremely alert and agile reader of one’s stuff. Once I brought him a poem which I felt went awry somehow at the end, and when he got to that spot he started saying, “Oh no, no, no, no!”—while I was saying, “I know, I know.” And that’s all we said about it. I was pleased and gratified by our mutual un-enumerated horror. Then there was his most impressive reading moment.

bp: Which was?

MS: You’ve heard this before, and you’ve probably made fun of me for repeating it. But, OK, briefly: once in a sit-down in his office Derek was quietly reading a poem of mine, one that was composed entirely of eleven-syllable lines. On that first reading—the first time through it, mind you—he looked up from the line “and the black lacquer table is peeling,” and said, “Top, I think. Table top is peeling”—thus bringing my errant 10-syllable line into the poem’s overall pattern. I hasten unnecessarily to add that he did this without counting on his fingers, as anyone who hears this anecdote must do.

bp: I remember that story.

MS: I know you do—but it was kind of remarkable. A bit like “The Princess and the Pea” in its way. And now my poem includes a word “written” by a Nobel laureate. It appears unattributed, of course.

-The poem Derek amended is here. Bryan and I did this interview a decade ago. My friendship with Derek warrants an essay I hope to write.

Essaying – Theatre Anglonauts

2016 marks our 21st trip since we launched the UK Theatre course in 1995. We’ve had 345 Anglonauts.

In years of yore, we traveled right after commencement, and our sometimes chilly itinerary included places like Dublin and Galway, and, in England, Bath (with its Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge—twin to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), Stratford-Upon-Avon (home to three very different theatres and to the Bard’s crypt), Oxford (with a cooling pause at the Inklings’ Eagle & Child pub), and Cambridge (there to savor an evensong at King’s College Chapel)—and, always, London. Day trips have taken us to Salisbury (tallest cathedral spire in the UK—at 404 feet) and nearby Stonehenge (big gray stones; little red poppies), to Ely (named for its eels, and home for a decade to Oliver Cromwell), to Coventry (with its massive Graham Sutherland tapestry behind the altar of the 1962 cathedral, itself verging on the ruins of the Nazi-bombed 14th-century cathedral), and, in Ireland, to the Aran Islands, to James Joyce’s tower in Sandycove, to Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, chaste resting place for the 19th century’s greatest English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and to the village of Kinvara, where Dawn and John Sarrouf got engaged and began scheming up Elijah and Esme Sarrouf.

In 2004 we switched to an August trip that included a week in Edinburgh to take advantage of the thousands of theatre, dance, music, spoken word, and nearly unclassifiable performances in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. There we see as many events as we can in one week: Jeff Miller manages three shows a day on most days (when he’s not supine in Princes Street Gardens). In the lee of the Castle of Edinburgh another engagement occurred, Norm and Jean’s, and soon after that spot was memorialized in a painting.

We’ve honed our approach, so we can offer a lot of culture for a little green. Classes occur in the morning, usually with a white coffee, often in one of the several lobbies of London’s Royal National Theatre, or in an atrium at the foot of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Students live in flats-with-kitchens in the hearts of these two capitols, and the afternoons are free for museum-going, Beefeater-watching, punting, shopping, picnicking—all of which are endeavored. Evenings find us in the front rows of the UK’s best theatres, in the living presence of the English-speaking world’s great actors—Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, Mark Rylance and Maggie Smith, Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw, Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon—and some terrific young actors, too, whose performances mark them as tomorrow’s stars.

John Sarrouf adds: “We’ve written poems in the graveyard on the Avon-thru-Stratford; quaffed with casts at the Dirty Duck; sketched the courtyards of Kenilworth and Warwick Castles; interviewed WWII vets at Lewis’ house, The Kilns; candle dipped at Tintern Abbey; haunted open air markets in Portobello, Cornwall and Penzance; twirled late night pasta Bolognese at Denise’s Restaurant. We were in a West End theatre when John Gielgud died, and the lights were dimmed, and actors came on stage after the show to tell stories of his work and influence. We sat next to Tom Stoppard for the first preview of the revival of The Real Thing, which went on to win the Olivier and the Tony that year. We saw the Shape of Things, and History Boys, and Closer, and The Designated Mourner, and August: Osage County before they became movies.”

The two-week trip is a crucible of culture and conversation, one that inspires the leaders for another year of making art, and impresses some life memories into the still-soft sensibilities of the students.

-On this trip you can do an independent study in creative writing with me. It’s called “Writing the City,” and you’ll use London’s & Edinburgh’s cultural and artistic offerings as material for original compositions of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.
See Molly Elias’s work at

sarroufs at national.2

Tribute – to Matt Doll, John Skillen, and 20 Years in Orvieto

A couple weeks ago, actually it was January, 2002, my buddy Skillen sidled up to me and said, “Three things, OK? One: ekphrasis.”

I said, “Gesundheit.”

He said, “Not a sneeze.”

I said, “A skin disease?”

He said, “No, poetry.”

I said, “Ekphrasis—poetry?”

He said, “About art.”

I said, “Ah”—(sounding like him, suddenly)—“ ‘About suffering they were never wrong’”—

He said, “’The old masters,’ esatto.”

I said, “Gesundheit.”

He said, “Not a sneeze. Item two, OK? You teach it.”

I said, “Ekphrasis? I don’t…”

He said, “You will.”

I said, “When?”

He said, “November.”

I said, “Where?”

He said, “Orvieto.”

I said, “Gesundh… Orv…?”

He said, “Il mio posto favoriàte.

I said, “But… Ma… Non parle… parlo…

He said, “Non ti preoccupare. Insègnerai bene la poesìa. … In Inglese … OK?”

I said, “OK.”

So I got busy studying… ekphrasis.

(BTW, did you notice in my chat with Skillen there were actually only two things? With Skillen, there are always three things, even when there’s only two things.)

The next November I did disembark from a plane, a train, a funicular, and a bus—on a rainy night, luggaged and tiny and daunted beneath the duomo’s almost audible façade—

a façade—and an edifice—and a town—that would furnish 17 years, 34 seminars worth of looking, and of loading into language what light reveals of artists’ handiworks.

Skillen’s ekphrastic impulse was prescient. Since we launched that course in 2002, scores upon scores of books on the subject—on the encounter between word and image—have found their way into print and onto Amazon. (A recent title is Ekphrastia Gone Wild: Poems Inspired by Art. Is that subtitle a letdown, somehow?) Only did luminaries like John Hollander and WJT Mitchell beat us to the museum gallery punch.

A veritable charm of poets, an exaltation of marvelous poet-teachers, and a few prose-ists, have brought rigor, vigor and love to our writing workshop-on-the-tufa: among them Christine Perrin, Paul Mariani, Julia Kasdorf, Scott Cairns, Hannah Badia, Robert Clark, and twice last year Jeanne Walker—all writers of durable works AND of ekphrastic poetry, some of which can be seen on our anniversary website.

By my reckoning, 175 students have written 1400 poems that engage artworks both notable and humble, and respond to locales and vistas they know by heart and by passeggiata.

I’m almost done. The ekphrastic pairings on the stairs here and above us come from my poetry seminars over the years, in San Lodovico, San Paolo, and the Servi. The writers engage both very old and very new artworks, with varying formal techniques and ekphrastic strategies. When you look & read, you might remark those strategies—the difference, for instance, between a poem that thinks about the artist or her studio or her materials or her model—and perhaps one that attempts to construct a verbal equivalent to the image, through formatting, say, or syntax.

This summer I sifted through files and assemble a portfolio featuring one poem from each student in all of my ekphrasis classes; you can download this if you wish as a PDF. (I’ve printed up a copy; it’s somewhere nearby.)

And now, at last, a word about Matt and Sharona Doll.

My thus-far purple pen pales, peters out when I turn to acknowledge and thank Matteo for his continued commitment to this program we love, and to the ekphrastic endeavors that have been a part of it for so long. Poetry, painting, and their tangling in history are clearly highly favored in our curriculum and in our daily lives.

And in his. Here’s a guy who launches the day with poetry, connecting our dots to words wise and beautiful (saying “you KNOW this”)—reading Seamus Heaney or Thomas Merton or (“but first”) Mary Oliver.

Matt, we love you back, immensely. Sharona, Alesandro, Emmanuella, Karen, Becky, Emily (great friends who allow us a glimpse across the limits of ourselves), thank you for your commitment and your welcome. Add to them John, Susie, Bruce, and Z(ingarelli)—thank you, multo grazie for your work which has allowed us this opportunity for a lifetime.

Delivered September, 2018 at the reunion in the Barrington Center for the Arts.