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

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.

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 – 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.

Introducing Mark Sargent (and a pitch for the Liberal Arts)

When they said unto me, “Mark Sargent is coming,” I said unto myself, Nice.

Then they said unto me, “The entire Bible department is at a conference: you have to introduce him.”

But don’t we want one of them at this moment?
-Like Mark Cannister: “Humanities aaaaaaand Mark Sargent, reunited and it feels so good, aha ha ha ha ha…”
-or Sharon Ketcham: “Pastoral care IS imagination, right? So is relationship??? Right?”
-or Marv: ♫ “Hiney matov. Our Father Abraham traveled from Ur. Our speaker Mark Sargent traveled from… wherever…” (Canister: Aha ha ha ha ha…)
-or Ted Hildebrandt: “OK, ok, you guys!—you and Mark Sargent are so, really Imaginative—ok—I just know Jerusalem, ok?” (Canister: Ah! Aha ha ha ha ha…)

Well, they’re not here.
Here’s mine.

For 16 years as provost at Gordon, Mark—hang on, when I was a student here I had no idea what a provost was: let me tell you it’s the chief academic officer, the person responsible for stuff that isn’t fundraising, student life or budget—so, stuff like curriculum, extra curricular programs, faculty, accreditation—OK?

—And Mark Sarg—hang on, when I was a student I had no clue what accreditation was: it’s the establishment of an insti-blah-blah just kidding.

So: Mark Sargent was our academic leader from The Year You Were Born to The Year You Got Your License. (And in The Year You Were Two, he hired me, which was good for me, but maybe not… so good… for you…)

I wouldn’t think it’s the easiest thing in the world to be a provost: all those constituencies to please, intellectuals so passionate about their bailiwicks, lots of moving parts—plenty of surface for friction.

But Mark was good at negotiating all that.

—Probably because he was a literary guy. He himself had come into the academy in the humanities, as a literature prof, and like all lit profs he’d learned to value multiple perspectives, and to evaluate contending claims—and how to employ words “to their best advantage.”

And this served Gordon well: though always, at heart, a book lover, Mark here championed
-the sciences, backing green chemistry before it became the usual thing,
-and the social sciences, broadening the scope of The Center for Faith and Inquiry and JAF,
-and education, bolstering our graduate Education programs,
-and the fine arts, endorsing life drawing and medieval mystery plays and difficult films.

By all of which I mean: he was championing the Liberal Arts.

Speaking of film, early on, Mark launched the Provost’s Film Series here, and during his tenure he caused-to-be-shown more than 120 films, by my count, each preceded by some provocative prose of his (maybe provocative is the wrong word)—and then followed by some thought-provoking discussion. (For CL&W credit.)

When he left to be Westmont’s Provost in his home state, I realized that he’d also done a ton of writing here—not just scholarly articles, but personalized pieces, to introduce new faculty, or roast departing ones, to offer congratulations on new babies or birthdays or anniversaries or attained degrees, to celebrate excellent teaching, and to memorialize the passing of dear colleagues.

Often, a friend of mine was heard to say, “Mark Sargent always writes things we wish we could have written.” Too true. Come to think of it, I wish he had written this introduction.

And now I’m nearly done with mine, except to add this: that I came to rely on the integrity with which he did his job—and to admire his “seemingly effortless artfulness, and playfulness,” to quote another colleague.

Earlier, I was hyperbolizing about great literature being one secret to his success. Hey now: great literature (and film) does train the imagination, strengthen the moral imagination, and thereby help us work out, with God’s guidance, a life that is worth leading.

Today I can’t think of anyone I’d rather hear speak to us on “Lives of Imagination” than Dr. Mark Sargent. Please join me in welcoming him back to Gordon.

-Mark Sargent’s address was in November, 2016. Thanks, Jerry Logan, for the artwork.

Twelve Years On: a Toast to Kristina & Chad

Sometime Chad embarrasses me.
Strike that. Let me take ownership.
Sometimes I choose to get embarrassed, and Chad happens to be nearby.
Does that ever happen to you?

So, I’m talking with one of my young First-Year Seminar students, saying to her, Well, no, I don’t think Anne Lamott is a going to Hell even though she says swearwords—and suddenly here comes Chad, right up to me, slips his arm around my neck and grabs my nipple—yes, I said nipple, I have them, men have them—and right in front of her starts whispering, “Shhh, shhhhh, it’s okay, shhhhhh.”

My student, who has just re-read the Left Behind series, stands there feeling… conflicted. Me, too.

Like that true story of Chad? Here’s another.

Does Chad ever leave you *unusual* phone messages? “You have ‘14’ new messages. … ‘9th’ new message…”
“Yo yo, que pasa, what’s up where you been? Why I can’t find you? I’m ‘mon slap your side and so on.”
This as I’m hurrying to a candidate interview with Herma Williams and Mark Sargent—
“I’ll slap you all over your side etcetera you don’t call me. Why come you nevuh call me, Silly, I give you seven slappety-slaps about your face—”
“Oh—hi, Herma, be right in—”
“—already left you maybe 8 messages, you slappy-pappy-slapper—” *flute sound*
“Oh, hi, Provost Sargent; big interview, eh?—“ *loud flute* “Uh… can you give me a second?—”
*more flute* “You hear me play that flute and so on? I cuh play that all over your side, etcetera—”

I never know if he says anything important in these “MESSAGES” because I always delete them before I get there.

Once I got this email from Jud’s email address. Verbatim, it read:


The next day I got a real email from the real Jud: Verbatim:
Mark, I just turned on my e-mail and found this. Last time I saw Chad he was sitting at my computer at home. I’m afraid that this is the result! Sorry! Jud

This is what makes me ask: What must Chad have been like as a 10-year old? A 6-year-old? I picture his parents late at night:

JUD: Jan, what is this being we have brought into the world?
JAN: I don’t know, Jud, but love him—love him.
JUD: Yes, but—I want to be the president, and I’m worried—
JAN: Jud!
JUD: The big cheese, Jan!—head honcho, the smack daddy of Gordon College!—and if that little guy—
JAN: Then you practice, Jud; practice being president—of this troubled little college we call Chad.
JUD: You’re right. Help me, Jan?

OK. But for all this, (borrowing from Gerard Manley Hopkins)—but for all this, Chad’s good nature is never spent. There lives in him the dearest, freshness, deep down things. True.

And if, at times, I choose to be embarrassed in the vicinity of Chad, I also choose to feel—no, let me be accurate—Chad makes me feel good. This same Chad makes me feel good about myself. Makes me feel good about life.

He lives fearlessly. I’ve almost never seen him hang back or cop out, and he takes you along into discomfort zones that you can survive. —Like, for me, some spans of time in Latin America, a place I wasn’t interested in and now love. When this happens, you emerge a bit better and a bit braver.

He loves beauty, and poetry, and excellence. He’s got a great eye, in so many quarters and fields, and he helps us see beauty better, I think. And he makes beauty, too, in paint, in film, in theater, in words. In gatherings of people.

Chad’s an unfailing, shameless promoter of his friends: he’ll brag about you right in your presence. He can’t help himself; he’s drawn to the stuff about you that’s special, that’s extra, and by affirming it as he does, he makes you a little bit more of whatever it is. He improves you. What a gift that is. Because of Chad I think Will Whittlesey is the funniest guy on earth, but do I know him?

And, get this: for a year, Chad called his girlfriend “Doctor” Harter. Who does that?

I mean He’s proud of you.

And he’s a loyal fellow, which is also a way of saying he loves deeply. Why does he make fun of your quirks?—because he loves. As long as I’ve known him he’s been this way. Here’s sort of what I mean: one morning he and Jud and I went fishing, and because of a malfunctioning winch, as we backed down the boat ramp Jud’s brand new boat leapt off its trailer, slammed onto the asphalt, and went grinding horribly down toward the water. Jud shouted, “Oh no, not again!” And later, after repairing the boat, of course Chad had to make fun of Jud a little. “Oh no, not again!”—but he couldn’t really do it. He said, “It’s so funny, and it’s so sad I want to cry.”

Well. He has that in him, a sweetness that makes you put up with certain shenanigans.

And now I come to the reason for the season: Kristina. In a way, today these qualities that I admire—Chad’s joie de vivre, his celebration of his friends, his eye for beauty and excellence, his sweet loyalty—are matched and consummated by Kristina. I mean, get this: since he met Kristina, Chad has actually become a nicer person. The things I love about him are denser, and the things I detest about him are in need of professional care.

But I misspoke: not “since he met Kristina.” I should have said, since he fell in love with Kristina, because the latter happened when the former did. O how many pictures, how many bragging emails did he send me? How many nagging phone messages did he leave ordering me to instantly come meet her?

Kristina, I know that Chad does love nothing in the world so much as you.

And here this toast falters when it should be strongest and truest, because it doesn’t convey—I can’t convey—how ebullient, how giddy and grateful and peaceful I am about you two. I tried to say this when I said, “We will” during the service, and I’ll try to say it again by eating and drinking and dancing now, and I’ll try say it more by loving my wife. It’s the same thing Jud & Jan, and Susan & Russell, and Susan & Bob want to say today; it’s something we’ll all almost say, with our hearts lifted and our glasses charged with champagne. Something just like hip-hip hooray.

So, friends: here’s to Kristina & Chad—the most excellent couple.

-True enough, true enough twelve years ago; true enough this very month, too.

Toast – to Paul Borgman

I see him across the quad. His walk, like the silhouettes of certain birds, is distinct: alert, athletic, mit backpack, a posture and gait suited for distance, for lapping the miles, the texts. It is the walk of Thoreau, or maybe a tennis player, which, avidly, he was.

And he’s tending my way. What will this mean? I wonder because my friend Paul Borgman is liable to say anything, to speak truths I’d be too timid to utter.

—e.g: “Waiter, you’ve totally used the wrong vermouth in these martinis. Can I see the bottle? …No olive for me, thanks; I’ve brought my own sprig of basil.”

—and: “Just before we cast our final vote, this CORE curriculum is, to my way of thinking, totally wrongheaded. I’ve brought my own CORE…”

And, now, suddenly, this truth-teller is before me.

PB: Stevick! You young scoundrel.
ME: Hi, Dr. Borg—Paul. (old student habit)
PB: Stevick, when are you and that Kristi Wacome going to start having kids?
ME: Oh, ah ha ha ha…
PB: Don’t wait too long; Abraham waited too long, almost!
ME: Yeah, that’s—kind of true… What are you eating?
PB: Well, I was juicing for years, but these are locusts.
ME: Locusts?!—Oh, ah ha ha ha ha… Are they really?
PB: Absolutely, crunchy wings and all. Have one.
ME: Paul, are you a prophet?
PB: Nowwww, come on… Me, a prophet?
ME: But, Paul, the locusts, the sandals by Birkenstock, the fairly unusual camel-skin jacket, the hair shirt with hints of pastel—who are you preparing the way for?
PB: WHO, INDEED! Oh, Stevick, that’s good!
ME: It is?
PB: Yeah, Graeme, did you hear this?
GRAEME BIRD: Hi, Paul, Hi, Mark—you guys eating locusts?

At this point I slip away blissfully into the night, even though it’s noon.


Who is this locust eater, this sandal-wearer, this truth-telling, tennis-talker?

He is a fellow one meets in 1983 when one is 19 years old. He is teaching literature—of a pre-Renaissance, European flavor. He stands at the foot of MacDonald 109, looking like a certain engraving of Walt Whitman, loafing in cotton shirt and a hat—and he is roughly the same build, too, with the same manly beard, the same soulful eyes, the same famous hands. Famous, in this case, in how they shape themselves toward an argument—and around a text. Handily, sure-footedly, though the room takes on the pitch-&-yaw of Odysseus’s boat, this man bravely conveys us through passages of prose and poetry—

“Bravely” because (now hear me) in these sessions, with Homer or Moses or Faulkner, he does not turn away from what is difficult or distressing in the work—nor even from what is dangerous. He goes toward it. And asks that his charges do the same. Let us be accountable, he says, to the text, and one-to-another. Is there trouble somewhere? There we must attend. Except thou bless me, I will not let thee go, he says. It IS hard: How else can literature be adequate to our lives?

When we were young,
     the petal of the rose it was that stung.
Now we crave
     the sweet of bitter bark and burning clove.


So, what do we finally learn about this coy conveyor, this captain courageous?

A friend of mine, former student of Paul’s, recently said “Borgman was the ideal teacher; he made me want to try to teach like that.” So now he does try.

You know what else he said? “Paul was awesomely welcoming in his office. I loved going up there and talking books and ideas with him.” To which I replied, ditto. 

Further: who has not heard Paul say, “What a life! To get paid to teach what I love—to students who I love to teach! And that’s a chiasmus, Robert Alter!”

What is more infectious than this? Who is more effective, more astonishing, in landscaping a terrain so that students can walk themselves into a revelation? No one I know of.

Several times I have gone into a room full of people blandly interested in literature, mildly informed about this-or-that book—and felt that room absolutely arcing with expectancy because Paul Borgman was about to engage it.

Our man stepped to the front. With only his voice and his bearing, he began, warmed to his subject, pressed a few students into service, picked up steam; extolled, confessed, shouted, lobbed & volleyed—and then brooked a dissent from some brazen smarty.

SMARTY: BUT blah blah blah [*your view is endearingly wrong, here’s a revision*].
PB: Good, but where do you get that?
SMARTY: From blah blah, so that means blah [*total opposite of what you think*].
PB: You may be right, that’s [*from memory*] verse 37, so can you read that out to us?
SMARTY: Sure, ‘Blah blah came to pass, that blah-blah-blah blahbetty blah.’
PB: The end again?
SMARTY: ‘Blahbetty blah.’
PB: [waits]

[audience feels amazement and respect]


Friends, Borgmans, sidemen, I have not the skill nor the learning to do justice to that scene. I will say it was like watching a prestidigitation, or a minor miracle, maybe like Nathan getting King David to incriminate himself—without the gold throne and the finger pointing. And the result was a little detonation of insight and delight that spread out and is still rippling even to this very moment.

One of my colleagues says, “Paul is, hands down, the best teacher-in-the-classroom I’ve ever seen.” Today an alum said, “Of all my teachers, perhaps all the people I’ve ever met, Paul is the one who most genuinely believes that literature not only can but should alter your life. And that we read because our lives depend on it.”

“Words draw him,” says another colleague. “English draws him to uncover the overcharged empty space of the human soul. Words are what he has.”

Words are what he has.


Which brings me to words I don’t have. Words I have not been able to muster about Paul’s willingness to look into the darkness. I’ve wanted to reflect and speak truly on this vital aspect of my colleague—

     a man who has been acquainted with the night,
          and with a certain slant of light—
          with heavenly hurt
     that wakes the heart to the darkness and into the sadness of joy.

But I can’t manage it this time around.

Instead, I’ll finish with these words. Writer. Speaker. Thinker. Model. Mentor. Raconteur. Provocateur. Defender. Advocate. Confidante. Supplicant. Communicant. Colleague. Friend. Prophet and Professor—

Paul Borgman, who, for 34 years, has climbed into and out of his corner office, like Ahab, or Father Mapple, leaving the rope ladder down for us.

For English majors, the evening sight of his high lamp in Frost Hall has meant he’s been busy—leading youngen folk on this pilgrimage, helming our trim ship toward landfall, toward understanding (through humility and zeal and faithful attention)—toward truths that are dear because dearly-bought.

I stand here, unfit representative for hundreds, nay, thousands of his students whose voices speaking together their tributes would make, indeed, a noisy throng, rising from hither and yon, from hallways, headquarters, cooperative farms, council chambers—and from the many households where the Word is welcomed to lead and to interrogate us.

It is the Word that Paul has served,

     the Word written and read,

          eternal and begotten.

On this day we are emboldened by his service, we are keen to extend his legacy, we are grateful to celebrate all these things, and, yes, we are crushed to see him go.

-Delivered at Paul’s retirement party in Phillips Music Hall (with Bert Seager and The Why) in December of 2014. Paul and Marsha are living it up in Florida this winter while Paul keeps writing books like David, Saul, and Godwhich we all worked on…

Toast for Norm & Jean

I first met Norm Jones in 1985 when I was two years old.
Could I have the PowerPoint, please?—thanks.

As you can see, he was heavily bearded with a thick—oh, no PowerPoint? Well, here he is, use him as a visual aid—he was heavily bearded, with a thick black beard.

At that time he was directing a Gordon production of “Mornings at Seven Old People Played by Kids in Heavy Makeup”—for which he single-handedly built a set that was the home of Marvin Wilson during the entire run.
He used two hands—please…

“Marv” is an “OT” “prof” who thought the theatre was a “lecture hall”—and who enjoyed sweeping up Norm’s sawdust before class. “He Ne Ma Tov…”

Anyway, what really counts is that Norm had a full beard in 2nd grade, and a full moustache in 3rd —as saints of old and Norm himself have often told.
Not bragging exactly…

In the first play we worked on together, a three-hander, he played a drunk criminal but who hugged boys. What a stretch.
At the end of the play, Norm’s character staggered in and died onstage. [pause]
So, here’s to you, Norm+Jean!…

Kidding. It was a daunting death scene to rehearse. During one run-thru, when we got to that scene, it was just too much… So as he said his lines, Norm began taking masking tape—and putting it on his face.

Here’s how it went:
Norm: “What happened?” *puts tape on face* “I hear women crying.” *tape* “Everyone’s tiptoeing around.” *tape*

And so my buddy Philip and I grabbed rolls (the set was built completely of masking tape) —and we began:

One of Us: “Pop, Sonny’s dead.” *tape*

Norm: [exhale] “Wh*en?”

One of Us: “This morning.” *tape* “Tataglia got him at the toll booth.”*tape*

All through the heartrending scene we were *donning* masking tape masks.

Norm: *tape* “I want you to use all your power, and all your skill…”*tape*

And by the time Norm died he had a fantastically grotesque Death Mask, so complete that he could barely talk.

Norm (with real difficulty): “I know a dead-end kid*tape* …when I see one.” *ta…* [dead]

One of Us: “Now cracks a noble heart.” *tape* —ostensibly weeping, but only just, JUST managing not to shriek into laughter.

Which turned a run-of-the-mill-thru into a gem, to carry for as long as we have pockets, with a luminescence to navigate by.

And that’s a thing we love about Norm, his savoring of things and meals and moments—and not them only, but also the qualities of people, and their quirks, and their little excellences.

Here I speak for many of Norm’s students and friends who have found their love of songs or words or play bolstered by his own, and who found his relishing of their strengths winsome and irresistible. Many of us have taken courage from his example and his encouraging us, and have dared into careers in the poorly-paying arts.

“Savoring” is another word for “loving”—and today we all savor the fact that he’s met a love to answer and equal his own. Jean, we needn’t have traveled with you to London and Edinburgh to know that you, too, are one who pauses to appreciate a shawl on a shoulder, or a certain light on a spoon or castle spire: your paintings show us, for one.

Norm loves that about you; you are his heart’s delight, his pearl of infinite price, with a luminescence to navigate by.

-Here’s to Norm and Jean, nine years wed this month (January, 2016).

Tribute – Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Kinas (for Kina Mallard)

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Kinas

-to the Willie & Waylen / Ed Bruce tune

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em run meetings or searches too much,
Let ‘em be milkmaids and barmaids and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam,
Even from somewhere they love.

Kinas are easy to love but they’re harder to keep,
They’re sought for their skill at administering cattle and sheep.
They polish their titles and cinch up their Bibles
     and round their department herds in,
But when the weather turns chill and the dollars blow south,
Kinas are gone with the wind.

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em be leaders like Golda Meir,
Let ‘em be scholars like Brittany Spears.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam,
Even from somewhere they love.

Kinas like Tennessee waltzes and Kentucky moonshine,
Mint juleps and tulips and cowlicks and Deputy Dawg;
Them that work with her can’t figure if she’s a
     Saint Joan or an Eva Peron,
‘Cause on one hand she cut faculty workshop by a day,
On the other she still makes you go.

chorus 2
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em bark orders and talk back to Jud,
Let ‘em be shy and compliant as mud.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam,
Even from somewhere they love.

Kinas are almost as able as Ladybird Johnson,
Kinas are nearly as knowing as Atticus Finch;
But under that southern demeanor resides a
     tactician like Robert E. Lee,
And when she sidles up to you with a shucks and a smile,
You get committeed again.

key change—half step

Kinas are precious to find but they’re painful to lose,
There’s none better suited for telling the falses from trues;
And maybe you’ll say you won’t miss her and maybe
     you’ll practice forgetting her name;
But whenever someone gets their britches in a bunch about the
     busted budgets of Irv Levy—
Kina will be here that way.

final chorus
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em run meetings or searches too much,
Let ‘em be ranch hands and farm hands and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam—
Roam from a place where she’s loved.

-sung by The Vocal Band at the completion of Kina‘s five-year tenure as Gordon’s associate provost. Kina was recently appointed president of Reinhart University. Congratulations. No barmaid, she.
Vocal band members are self, Oliver, Norm, Steve and, on the electric ivories, Graeme.

Toast – to the Princemere Readers, 1986-1987

Bad Eggs in Time

Another year has run its course,
We played Divorce and Letter;
Our attitudes have gotten worse—
Our acting little better.

We have comprised a motley crew,
As tart a group as any;
Of actors we have had a few,
Of loud directors many.

Our true director Philip begged
Rehearsals often tedious.
We learned that God would break our legs,
Then Mrs. Stine would feed us.

When Vince’s amorous shalom
Might leave us with a man short,
Our flirt was called back to ‘the home’
From his asylum transport.

If Hawthorne we improved a bit,
The Essex show surprised.
If Dr. Howard had seen it
He’d have been galvanized.

We’ve lived it out and found it so,
It’s more than just a rhyme:
With Princemere and with Stine you’ll grow
To like bad eggs in time.

Our lizards, then, have turned to love,
And we have wished to show
That hope none but the Readers of
The Stine can ever… really… truly… know.

April 16, 1987

-Over spring break, Stine and the Readers took The Scarlet Letter and The Great Divorce to CT, NJ, DC, MD, and PA. The performers were Carol Smith, Gregory Kithcart, Virginia Perniciaro, Philip Austin, Becky Trimble, Vince Morris, Maria Sgourakis, and Peter Wilfred Stine.

Toast – the 1992 ECA Drama Class

In accordance with tradition
And the laws of elocution
I have metered here and rhymed some ruminations—
About the goals that you’ve achieved
And all the little ways you’ve peeved
Me, so get ready for some grim illuminations.

As I faced the class last autumn
It seemed I was at the bottom
Of an overgrown and steep and stony trail;
And though I hiked with gut and gumption,
When we made the spring produmption
Mr. Kirby wore a business ponytail.

This year I laid heavý emphásis
That to keep the pick-ups fast is
How to stop a play from crawling like a tortoise;
And you tried hard, though I should mention
That when our crowd seemed taut with tension
They were really stiff as boards from rigor mortis.

This was only the beginning
For a group whose daily sinning
Took forgiveness to an exponent of seven;
Could God have known, when He decreed,
“You must absolve the absenteed,”
about the 50-hour workweek of Jay McKinnin?

We built Our Town in just ten weeks
And if we peopled it with geeks—
Still, on opening night I felt it in my stomach:
Not ‘cause the wedding vows were magic
Or the graveyard lines were tragic
But because the curtain call was highly comic.

Now I’m left with wishing-well,
Though if by now you cannot tell
What I mean to say, you haven’t paid attention:
He who began His work in you,
In which I’ve helped, will see it through
And bear you on until the great day of completion.

Blessings and prayers,
And fond, fond regards,

Mr. Stevick

-pic: “You Can’t Take it With You,” with Becky Wooster, Tim Sidmore, Tim Larson, and Ben Adelman.