Tribute – The Greatness of Sourber (in appreciation of our teachers)

My grade school classmate Sourber was the Evel Knievil of bicycles. I once saw Sourber ride a bike straight up a tree trunk—5 or 6 feet up before he fell back in a tangle of spokes and limbs. The bike had no brakes—which he probably knew. He just lay there on his back, laughing.

Sourber was the Franco Harris of sack-the-jack. I once saw Sourber shake my tackle, and three or four more, and juke and fake until finally someone caught onto his shirt, and we began to pile on, leaping onto him like salmon, one after another as Sourber staggered downfield with five defenders on his back. Finally Cheryl Groah dove and tripped him up. As the pile disentangled itself, Geoff Hauck shouted, “Jeepers creeps, it takes the whole doggone army to bring Sourber down!”—which was one of the most memorable things I ever heard anyone say. And Sourber lay on his back, laughing and laughing.

But Sourber’s greatest moment of those young years came as a result of Eichenlaub. Mr. Eichenlaub, reading teacher. Eichenlaub was really his name. And that spring he had it even tougher than his name—because he was student teaching under Mrs. Crotchety Frownface. Mrs. Frownface’s class was living death: book reports, SRA, and a general sense of mummification. But that spring, a small miracle happened: Mrs. Frownface took time off from teaching (maybe to get a mouth lift), and that meant Mr. Eichenlaub took over.

I didn’t know much about teaching, but it seemed to me that Mr. Eichenlaub had the right idea about how to do things. The deal was, we would work very hard and very attentively for a couple days and get a little ahead of schedule. Then the time we had saved up could be spent—on kickball.

Kickball! When we’d scrimped enough minutes, Mr. Eichenlaub would close his book and say, “All right, this is it. You know what to do. Let’s go.”

And we were so happy—but we were so quiet as we sneaked out of the school, the entire quiet sneaky class sneaking right out of school with the teacher who was sneaking out with us—

—out to the ball diamond. And then with model efficiency we divided into teams, and with model cooperation we assigned lineups and positions, and with model application we applied ourselves to our favorite project, the ancient game of kickball.

Which brings me back to Sourber, and the greatest moment of all.

The sun was out, big and bossy, I was standing near the dirt spot that meant second base, and Mr. Eichenlaub was on the mound—all-time pitcher. Then Sourber came up.

Sourber was the kind of kid that, whenever he was up, whatever team you were on, you felt something like hope or glee in your throat. There was something so pure and exultant about him as he prepared his body for the explosion—it made you hold your breath. Sourber called for a bouncer (as opposed to the roller), and Mr. Eichenlaub served up his trademark bouncing pitch.

The rubber KUNG! of the well-driven ball thrilled us as Sourber’s great boot blasted far over Netscher’s head in left—and it was pandemonium. Sourber was chugging around second before Netscher nabbed the ball, and flung it to Born, and Born zipped it to Szymanski, we were shrieking—and there!—there was Eichenlaub in shallow left field, waving his arms as Sourber ate up turf toward third—

Sourber rounded the base as Szymanksi relayed the ball to Eichenlaub who spun around quick—and then I knew that something momentous was about to happen—Sourber streaking toward home, kids leaping and hollering, and Eichenlaub with the ball steamed toward the infield, reared back and chunked an absolute rocket, the ball actually changed shape, changed into a red rubber missile that howled through the air, an adult throw no doubt about it, straight as a ruler and gunned at the intersection of Sourber and home—and Sourber, young as he was, his black hair flying, sensed it coming with that intuition of great ones, and at full tilt he flung himself into the air, arching his spine backward, the missile screaming at his body—he arched around into a perfect semicircle above the earth, and the red hot missile of Eichenlaub whanged neatly through that semicircle of Sourber and kept going and going, and Sourber cachunged to the ground at the plate, rolling, rolling, safe at home, safe!

It was a miracle. It was the sports miracle of my life. And Eichenlaub, bless him, waded into the hysterical mass of kids and grabbed Sourber up with a great shout, and hoisted him high up, shouting, “That was great! That was great, you’re great, Scott Sourber!” And Sourber was laughing, high in the air there, Sourber was laughing.

There was no doubt about it: Scott Sourber was the Willie Mays of kickball.

And there was also no doubt that Mr. Eichenlaub was the Scott Sourber of teaching.

I was nine years old; I was in fourth grade; I knew greatness when I saw it.

This first week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week. For me, every week is.
I loved (and hope to have learned from) Mr. E’s unguarded praise of Sourber, and of the rest of us. Being seen, being appreciated like that by a someone at the right moment—that can really stay with a fellow.
This piece was written as the closing monologue for a weekly variety show that the Austins and I produced on WEZE radio in 1994/5.

Crooked Rose My Youth – a Paean

I took a survey of British lit course in my first college term. We started at the front of our fat text, and over the weeks an exaltation of poems went winging past me and my fallow acre.

Two years—hear me, now—two real years later, while memorizing (because I needed to own it) “Lovers’ Infiniteness,” some insistent thumps began in my deep brain, my heart’s core. But they were not thumps of Donne.

Oh no, I thought. Those accents must be from a poem I read back in Survey. I’ll never trace them.

Still, I retrieved that old tome and, turning to Caedmon, put my ear to the page and started forward—from the strong stresses, forward through the wide centuries, into the accentual-syllabics (“and she me caught in her arms, long and small”)—with variations (here was “sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters”—that perfect double and)—into the strict countings (“to load and bless with fruit the vines”)—and the sprung rhythms (“that year of now done darkness I wretch”)—forward toward the new century—(“he, she, all of them, aye”)—its sonic mimeses (“Quick, boys!—an ecstasy of fumbling”)—beginning to despair now—

And then, there they were, sounding, sounding up from the print:

The fórce that thróugh the gréen fúse dríves the flówer

Blunt morphemes to me the first time, at 19—mad hammers, lacking all sense:

Dríves mý gréen áge

Beat-beat-beat-beat in me.
Break, break, break on my stone ears.
And then that thunderstruck finish:

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Years later, you see, and even more years, that Welsh silversmith is still
beating and beating at my intractable metal.
__

[The force that through the green fuse drives the flower]
Dylan Thomas

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

PWS was the professor of record.

o'keefe flower8

Introduction – to Jonathan Bennett Bonilla

Jonathan Bennett Bonilla knows from poetry.

And from prose.
And from criticism.
From Ricoeur and from Derrida.

And he knows from translation.

Him knows from philologists, and philosophers, and filmmakers, and philanderers. (Maybe not…)

And knows from publishers—venerable; specialty; art house. Letter press.

Need to reach an editor at Tupelo or Copper Canyon? Bennett is your man.
Need to find an early edition of Gwendolyn Brooks? Try him again.
Do you want to get a grant, or a residency—an inner track, or an outer ring—
Do you want any wordy thing, or literary personage—
There’s a good—a very good chance that Jonathan Bennett Bonilla can get it/him/her/they for you.

Do any of you lack for hubris? He lacks more.
Do any of you go down in darkness again and again to the bright page? He goeth more.

Have any of you graces to be shown,
Goods to be given,
Goings-on to be gotten to—

Have you wise friends and meek, and older, and younger, who need your conveyance to an order, to an ordering of words—
By tutelage, by example, by bracing applause and charitable retort?

I tell you in truth, our man hath more of these.

So many of us here are so very in his debt.

He and Pete M. and Bryan P. and I have been upholding and upbraiding each other in writerly concord for years. And are much, much the better for it.

What could be better for we happy three, for all of us here, than to welcome now to our ears – Jonathan Bennett Bonilla.

smaller bennett and me

JBB read his poetry from the Cabot stage in Beverly on March 31, 2016.

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 “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!
JUDLADDIN: Just some ADHD…
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.

JUDLADDIN: 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!]
…Phillips…
Rap-pap-pa-dip-a-pap!

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.

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!

[women]
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!

[men]
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!

Budget—character!
Budget—character!
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)

[Student]
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!

[Cheater]
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!

[Student]
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!

[Student]
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?

[Both]
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.
Oy!

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
Heartthrob.

[chorus]
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
chutzpah?

[chorus]
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
Amen.

-SUNG FOR MARV AND POLLY AT MARV’S RETIREMENT CELEBRATION MARKING 50+ YEARS AT GORDON & BARRINGTON—MAY 17, 2018.
VOCAL BAND: STEVE HUNT, PAUL EDWARDS, OLIVIA NEAL, NORM JONES. MUSICIANS: GRAEME BIRD ON PIANO, ERIC CONVEY ON PERCUSSION, DAVE ROX ON TROMBONE.

Tribute – RogerGreenable (for Roger Green)

ROGERGREENABLE  (after Nat King Cole)

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

1.
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”—
To—

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!

2.
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”—
So—

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

3.
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
You’ll—

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”)

1.
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.

2.
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.

3.
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”)

1.
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.

2.
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.

-SUNG FROM OUR TRUEST HEARTS BY THE VOCAL BAND AT A CELEBRATION MARKING ROGER’S  40+ YEAR TENURE AT (WHAT BECAME THE UNITED) COLLEGE—MAY 2, 2016.
VOCAL BAND MEMBERS WERE STEVE, NORM, SELF AND, RINGING THE CHANGES, OUR LOCAL N.K. COLE—GRAEME.

roger and karen for blog

bonus:

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—

[chorus]
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—

[chorus]
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.

LISTEN TO THIS HERE.

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.

v1
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…

chorus
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.

v2
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…

chorus
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.

-PERFORMED BY THE VOCAL BAND AT A CELEBRATION MARKING DAVE’S  30+ YEAR TENURE AT THE COLLEGE, MAY 4, 2019.
VOCAL BAND MEMBERS ARE STEVE, NORM, PAUL, AND SELF. ON THE ELECTRIC IVORIES—GRAEME; ON PERCUSSION—CONVEY; ON VIOLIN—SARITA; ON SLIDE GUITAR—GEORGE STRAIT (NICHOLAS OLIVEIRA).

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: meeting donors 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.

-PERFORMED BY THE VOCAL BAND AT THE COMPLETION OF THE EDWARDS’ FIVE-YEAR TENURE AT THE COLLEGE, FEBRUARY 6, 2020.
VOCAL BAND MEMBERS ARE STEVE, NORM, OLIVIA, SELF—AND ON THE ELECTRIC IVORIES, GRAEME, AND ON PERCUSSION, CONVEY. EVERYONE PRESENT SANG ALONG.

audience for accustomed to suitcase

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.

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.”

Exactly.

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.

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.
So.
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 room 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.

Tribute – Loyatorio (for Donna & Barry)

LOYATORIO (link here to a video of the event)

MARK: One score and seven years ago, plus two, our Father brought forth on this incontinent a new administration guy—who was dedicated.

Today we are met in a great oversized New England church. We have come to celebrate a portion of that guy’s work—and make fun of his mistakes.

Is it altogether proper that we do this? Who cares?

But when you get down to it, how do we celebrate—how do we consternate—how do we harass this man?

Perhaps, in the manner of these things, the animated Disney musical will do.

Let’s try a few.

How about CindereLoy: ♫
“CindereLoy, CindereLoy,
Night and day it’s CindereLoy
We can keep him wicked busy,
He’s not relaxing, is he?”

♫ Or, make him the Barry Godmother:
“…doing things you should not do.
One poor decision, and what have you got?—
Barry and Terry and you.”

Nah. How about The Loyin King— ♫ Timon and PumBarry:
“I cook empanadas, for the best R.A.s—
And with my R.D.s, make daiquiris—
I cook empanadas.”

That’s inappropriate, Barry. “Daiquiris”?

Perhaps The Loyttle Mermaid— ♫ Sebastian and Bariel:
“…zooming around on those—what do you call them?—long boards…
Finally free – from Gordon C,
And digging for pottery”—

What?—


“At Gordon C, at Gordon C,
Darling, it’s better when you’re a debtor
Financially.”

…I just got fired.
No, in the end Disney is too limiting, there are just so many facets to Barry—so many Barrys… So many Barrys—that’s it. Songs by many Barrys – about Barry.
Yes. Let us begin, then, our strange celebration – with Barry Gibb & the Bee Gees’ tribute to our man’s distinctive sense of humor…

How Deep Is Our Loy
Barry Gibb / the Bee Gees

I see you try out another pun
I hear your listeners recoil in pain,
later on you horrify the faculty
when you go dragging out that pun again;
but I’ve come to see
awkward jokes like these
are your strategy to put us all at ease
and that’s one more way to show:
How deep is our Loy!–is our Loy
how deep is our Loy,
it took me years to learn:
when you’re living in a world of rules
Loy can abound;
he’s an awesome referee
who belongs to CSD.

MARK: Falsetto is manly.
Next, a classic by Peter, Paul & Barry—a ballad about our deep dean’s – dire need for hip replacement surgery…

Half the Man is Draggin’
Peter, Paul & Barry (the ballad of Barry’s hip)

Half the man is draggin’
limps violently
And falling for robotic hips
he’s intent on surgery.
Gimpy Barry prayed for
a lovely crutch or staff,
Then bought a Stephen Spielberg watch
and strapped it to his calf.
O, half the man is draggin’
limps violently
And falling for robotic hips
he’s intent on surgery.

MARK: Strange AND true.
Now bring on Barry White, and let him groove soulfully about our man’s unslakeable, unmistakable presence…

Can’t Get Enough of You Loy, Barry
Barry White

[spoken] I’ve heard people say that…
too much of anything
is not good for you, Barry…
but I don’t know about that…
as many times
as I’ve met Loy…
and I’ve greeted Loy…
on the quad…
or down in Gillies purchasing a tasty beverage…
it’s just…
it doesn’t seem to me like it’s enough…
it’s just not enough, Barry…
it’s just not enough…

[sung] Oh my colleague, I…
Can’t get enough of you Loy, Barry
Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know why
Can’t get enough of you Loy, Baa-rrry

MARK: Selah.
Then there’s Freddie MercBarry (and Queen), a rhapsody addressed to Barry’s most powerful facet – his wife, Donna…

Loyhemian Rhapsody
Freddy MercBarry / Queen

Donna,
just failed exam,
spent a ton of class in bed,
pulled all-nighter
but I’m dead;
Donna,
strife has just begun
’cause now I’m academic probaaa—
(tion)
Donna, youuu
you can help me bribe
the one guy here who’s never been bribed at all—
Barry Loy, Barry Loy:
Now’s when family matters.

MARK: When we put our hands to our ears like this it’s to compensate for sounding bad.

And then Earth, Wind & Fire & Barry—with a chorus deeply steeped in that keen pain you feel – after the Loy is gone…

After the Loy is Gone
Earth, Wind & Fire & Barry

Something happened along the way—
Did Britt Carlson go mad?
Something happened along the way—
Is Terry Charek breaking bad?
and O
After the Loy is gone
All I can do is yawn
Without all that fun around
O-O-O

MARK: Yes, these five Barrys celebrate our man with pun and panache.
But, another Barry remains, the sunum Barryum, whose melodies made up the musical-leisure-suit of a certain generation.

Manilow. And it’s to him we turn for a song sung by our Barry ManiLoy – about his long tenure as Gordon’s behavioral cop.
This is “I Right the Wrongs.”

NORM JONES – I RIGHT THE WRONGS
1. I’ve been around forever
I wrote up that very first wrong;
I bring good judgment and good humor together
I’m amusing
but I right the wrongs
(he’s a hoot but he still rights the wrongs)

-chorus-
I right the wrongs, I’m Gordon’s holy dean
I right the wrongs of love—don’t ask what I mean
I right the wrongs and make those youngsters cry
I right the wrongs, I right their wrongs

2. My wisdom flows like honey
and sweet justice drips from my tongue
how can my rulings be so fair yet so funny?
well I’m elderly
but inside I’m wicked young
(he’s still hip, and his right hip is young)

-chorus-
I right the wrongs, I’m Gordon’s older dean
I right the wrongs of love—stop asking what I mean
I right the wrongs that made those sophomores lie
I right the wrongs, I right their wrongs

-bridge-
When our students perpetrate
then I excommunicate—
though I showed some mercy once to Dorothy Boorse

And when they share their sins
then the gossiping begins:
they tell me, I tell you
you tell them, they tell we—
it’s a world of un-secrecy

-chorus-
I right the wrongs, I’m going rogue as Dean
[when] I right the wrongs of love I’m especially mean
I write their wrongs down in my dia-ry
I write their wrongs, I right their wrongs

-key change-
I right their wrongs, I’m Gordon’s CSDean
I write their wrongs—a one-man Mujahideen
I right their wrongs so you can turn blind eye
I right their wrongs, I write their wrongs:

I am Barry—and I right the wrongs.
__

MARK: Further, now, in our ManiLoy-atorio, we welcome someone pointedly absent from a fiesta like this: the student Barry expelled. Here he is, wealthy, wounded, and sick with regret, singing an anthem entitled “O, Barry.”

STEVE HUNT – O, BARRY
1. I remember student life
Staying up till four or five
Breaking into Frost
With force through a window
Stealing an exam
The light means it’s a
Boring just another day
World of Warcraft game to play
Boy was I surprised
When you came for me
I never realized
That you would J-Board me
Oh Barry

Well you flayed me and fried me like bacon
And you sent me away
Oh Barry
Did you dis me and were you mistaken?
I still need you today
Oh Barry

2. I’m standing in some airport line
Hoping just to pass the time
Nobody is here to rule or reproach me
What I wouldn’t give for you to life-coach me
Oh Barry

Can I pay you to fry me like bacon
Can I rent you today
Oh Barry
Help me bathe and to shave when I waken
Be my Jeeves for a day
Oh Barry

-bridge-
Yes, student dean, I’ve wasted money
Crime cannot appease
To pay this college
Oh Barry

Can I fly you to flay me like bacon
I’ll expense you today
Oh Barry
Will you dress me and stop me from drankin’
Intervene me today—
Oh Barry

Did you make all those rules I was breakin’
I repent me today
Oh Barry
When you speak seems a prophet hath spaken
And I’ll heed you.
__

MARK: So we’ve heard from our Loyjahideen; we’ve heard from the Barry-banished.
But whence cometh this long preponderance of Loys? How did a Carolinian and a Canadian – become the groovy duo of the behind-the-scenes set?
Attend, and learn the history of Loy…

NORM – GORDOCABAMPUS (the story of the Loys & Gordon)

1. Her name was Donna – she was a snow girl
She loved the caribou and trees
and those Canada geese;
When she flew southward – she spied a Barry
A creature famous for its wits
And a hankering for grits
(which she would overlook
’cause he could fix her truck)
they got hitched and they started hiking
up the path they took
To the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus (ca-bampus)
Near the highway you’ll find (off the ramp) us
(here) at the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus:
Goose poop and ocean
affect your emotion at the Gordo:
They had heard of— (Gordo—Gordo-cabampus)

STEVE
2. His name was Barry – he wore a shy grin
And he and Donna settled in
him in Lane and her in Winn
She greeted patrons – he started dean-ing
And, yeah, he seemed so meek and mild
But every student crime got filed
into his attaché
till there was Loy to pay
CSD is a slight misnomer
he’s a CIA
At the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus (ca-bampus)
No place for your grandmas or grandpas (here)
At the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus:
Who’s in a prison
is someone who isn’t at the Gordo—
Push came to shove… (Gordo—Gordo-cabampus)

MARK [during bridge]: Barry and I once hosted a talent show on this very spot.
Mid-show, backstage, he says to me, “Hey, I have something good for the next transition.”

We come back out, Barry turns to me—and then his mouth says, “Mark, why don’t more faculty attend chapel?”

*Here’s a picture of Barry asking me that question.
…With no warning, in front of thousands.

*Here’s Barry just after he asked it. “Heh heh heh…”

MARK
3. Their name is “Donry” – or maybe “Bare-na”
For thirty years minus one
they’ve made academic fun
Now they’re migrating – to Carolina
Or so they want us to believe
—they’ve got someplace up their sleeve
where the sand’s pure white
and you cha-cha all night:
but there isn’t a Dunka-caDonuts
so we hope they might
Visit Gordo—Gordo-cabampus (ca-bampus)
The South ain’t as cold and as damp as (here)
At the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus:
Boy I’ve
enjoyed my
employed time
with Loy I’m
at the Gordo—
We’ve felt in love. We fell in love.
__

MARK: We have fallen in love, each with the other.

And now what? After they’ve gone, what do we do?
We carry on. We brighten as they have.

It is for us to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is consecrated—it is hallowed—it is Kingdom work—
to be carried on toward completion.

Yes, it’ll be hard without them.
But we can.
We can.

DAVE ROX – I CAN SMILE WITHOUT YOU

You know I can smile without you
I can smile without you
I can laugh – and I can sing
I’m sure that I’ll find – I can do everything

You know I feel glad, so glad
for fine years that we’ve had
but I never knew
I’d be someone who
would have to smile without you

-verse 1 (Dave)-
You came along, rightening [sic] our wrongs
and brightening RAs
who couldn’t see that you’re the heart of a team
so highly esteemed
we wish you could stay

-chorus (everyone)-
But still we can smile without you
we can smile without you
we can laugh – and we can sing
I’m sure that we’ll find – we can do everything

I know we’ll feel glad when you’re glad
for fine years that we’ve had
but here’s what is true
you’re the one who
taught us to smile without you

-bridge (Dave solo)-
Some folks might say
et tu, Barr-ay?
but they are not our kind
when you leave here you’re not
leaving our love behind – you – and you know

-chorus (everyone)-
you can smile without us
you can smile without us
you can golf – and you can swim
play racquetball – and climb on a limb

and yeah we’ll feel glad when you’re glad
we’ll feel glad – but we’ll add
this feeling is new –
it’s not easy to –
but we can smile without you.

Celebrating the work of Barry & Donna, May 2014.

Tribute – to Peter W. Stine

What won’t Stine say?

-The chicken, though adequately cooked, is sadly under-seasoned. Is there any lasagna, instead? I don’t sanction miniature corncobs.
-Not a bad speech, but let’s try to lose the accent, Mr. Mandela.
-In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, right, Mr. Bocelli?
-Speak up, Mr. Hawking!—Carve your words and spit them out, like me when I shout this command!
-Hats off in the classroom, your Holiness.
-Mr. Devito, stand and deliver! Stand and—oh… Well, then: stand on a chair.
-The short hair doesn’t really favor you, Ms. Degenerous. Something softer, more feminine, perhaps.
-I would have thought you could have turned out a larger audience for our turtleneck reading of Murder in the Cathedral here at the First Baptist Church of Harpswell, Maine.

Something like that last one most likely got said on a Princemere Readers trip into the depths of the Bert-and-I State.

When won’t Stine begin a prayer on just such a trip?

Me: Hi, I’m Mark Stevick from Lancaster—

Stine: FOR THESE GIFTS, AND ALL THY MUNIFICENCE—for these seven residents of the hamlet of Harpswell, Maine, who will host and feed our twelve Princemere Readers—and their servant leader in a separate home because sharing a bed is unseemly in my considerable book… Lord, we thank you—♫ PRAISE GOD FROM—am I the only one spontaneously pray-singing?—♫ BLESSINGS FLOW—next song-prayer: ♫ THE LORD IS MY LIFE, AND—I can’t hear the women—♫ SALVATION!—have you got any more of those cupcakes, I’m a diabetic, but I could use cupcakes, diabetes, lots of jimmies, find my insulin bag, with frosting, if you’d be so kind… No? We’re out of diabetes-cakes? More’s the pity. That’s an expression that means “too bad.” You lobstermen don’t “readie muchie” do you? It’s all right—that’s why we’ve come to your small wooden church with our 3-hour rendition of The Scarlet Pimpernel. No need to feel embarrassed. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t read—AUSTIN?—are we saving some crabcakes for others? Fine.

[continuing] Breakfast tomorrow at half five—that’s 5:30 for you “Mainuhs”—and I know you’re already up then, trimming the mizzenmast, as I myself also constantly am—for the Men’s Matins Meal, or the Clerical Collar Choir practice—♫ WHOM THEN SHALL I FEAR?—or Racquetball for the Recovering—mm?—what’s that? No: I don’t drink coffee, especially not in Harpswell, Maine, ho-ho! I’ll have some tea if it’s English Breakfast, with milk first, not cream, otherwise just sea water in a small conch, I’m not hard to please. No, it’s “conk” actually, not “conch”—thank you very much, you’ve been malapropping it for centuries. If it’s worth correcting, it’s worth correcting loudly. Why compound ignorance with inaudibility?

__

Here at this retirement dinner, I hear you asking: How many such Stineian sayings have occurred on similar Princemere trips? 525 thousand 600 vignettes—no; let me do some accounting: since 1976 when PWS founded the Princemere Readers, two dozen productions have been uttered by a hundred-and-a-half voices for an audience in toto pushing 20k—in nearly half our states (22), and eight countries—thrice in England, (nearly) twice in Kenya, plus Korea, the Philippines, China and Japan.

Begun with a $500 budget, which had increased to $900 when all was read and done in 1999, Princemere was a blue chip investment, certainly. With a few hats and a good script, the Princemeres could perform in slippy black stockingfeet anywhere; and the scene, in the audience’s mind, could look like the Mississippi, or Hell, or Hester’s scaffold in the Puritan marketplace. And because Stine & Co had brought these settings & stories to their front stoops, a goodly number of high school seniors signed on for a Wenham address—and then paid their 6 or 12 or 21 thousand dollars a year for four-or-more years to its only-and-frugal college.

Princemere paid dividends for the Troupe, too. We were, most of us, sow’s ears, being measured and stretched against great literature: the hypotaxis of Hawthorne, and the figures of C.S. Lewis, the phonemes of Dylan Thomas, and Mark Twain’s metallic twang. We were buffeted by the texts, and by the tyrant director, too. What did he teach us but how to mark with our voice and breath, as he did, every flick of punctuation, every emotive vowel, every, every minute?

And, watching him, we learned, too, in talk-backs after the shows, that one may engage an entire room with bluster and finesse, teasing its members into a different kind of play, a tautened alertness, a finely suspended joy. He was at his best, burned cleanest, I think, in those give-and-take afterglows.

And he, he himself, the Stine carved the roast beast—no, he himself adapted all but one of those two dozen productions. Is it too much to say that those 23 publications (for the first public performance of a script is, in the writs of copyright law, a publication)—too much to say that they mattered more to kingdom and college than the several squat volumes on minor Victorian poets that might have borne his name on their infrequently-handled spines? It’s not too much to say that. (Though it was wordy, I lost my grip on the sentence.) Those 300 productions, 300 play-full, literary interludes, were his scholarship, and his reasonable service.

In 1979, Peter was given the Faculty Award by the student body for, among other things, his work with Princemere. In 1999, after missing two consecutive spring tours with foot sores and sickness, he retired from his adapting-of-lit and his troupe-of-readers. I know he would love for the shows to go on; and he had hoped that I could take up the van keys, but, alas, I couldn’t manage it all; maybe if I’d been married, with 4 kids and a pastorate to boot, I’d have had the time.

How valuable, for me, Patrick Gray, Carol Smith Austin and her man Philip, for Dawn Jenks Sarrouf, and Mark Frederick and Jennifer Hevelone Harper to have started out with Princemere; a troupe founded to “make great literature the handmaiden of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Thanks to Stine I feel like I wrote The Great Divorce and The Scarlet Letter—books I quote often, and impressively, in my classes. Which returns me to my theme. What won’t Stine say. With the slightest of provokings, Stine will deliver a brief, hortatory essay on the value of such literature—and of the amiable word, the vigorous sentence, the paragraph “in the trim.” What he says will be imageful, figurative; it will sound like he’s wholly quoting when, in fact, he isn’t, though he will sample from Heaney or Churchill or Achebe to fine effect. It will be vintage Stine, and it will tingle you under the scalp to hear it, so that you’ll think, If only I could say that the next time I’m called on. As if.

What else will Stine say? Given the merest flash of an opening he will remonstrate with us not to abandon the teaching of public speaking at Gordon. “I speak for the trees, my wooden pupils, for the trees have no tongues.” And O, he is agonizingly right. Should you ever require penance, yours shall be to attend a senior breakfast and hear near-grads speaking cudgels when blades are required.

And this else will Stine say: “Here’s $150 for your Chemistry text; here’s $200 for the student emergency fund; here’s $500 to help get Anne aboard the London theatre trip—I know she can’t afford it, and I have some money from Betsy; but I don’t want anyone to know”—to which one says, “OK. No one will know.” Until your retirement dinner.

All those things will Stine say, along with lots of lively expressions that one hears, as a freshman from Lancaster, PA, for the first time, attaching them foreverafter to their ironic and bearded speaker: as it were; not to say; so to speak; memento mori; carpe diem; tempis fugit; carry coals to Newcastle; set the Thames alight; versatility is the hallmark of genius; fast nickels are better than slow dimes; non illigitimi carborundum; I’m not the bastard I seem to be; WELCOME TO COLLEGE. And that last bellowed phrase signaled welcome to new corners of poets, playwrights, novelists from the world’s wide four; and welcome to nutritious sites of historic and literary significance, narrated from Stineian memory; and to his home, and table, there to relish the easy, expert hospitality of his wife and family. And in my case, to England for the first time. Welcome to Dover, Mr. Stevick. I’ve got some things to show you.

At such a time as this, one wonders where to turn for language to help commemorate and reckon with his retirement. One tries to imagine a Gordon without him, and one remembers his important directives: Stevick, go to grad school; get your language requirement done; try radio; teach my oral interp class; apply for the position here; marry her, don’t wait too long; don’t wait too long—children are a blessing. These, too, Stine will say. How to gather the fruit of all that into words at once true and lovely? To quote usefully, “language staggers here”—or stumbles: at least mine does. Plus I’m afraid I’ll blub or do something ridiculous—

—because this spring I find myself toggling between “Stop all the clocks—Mark Stevick, are you grieving over Peter Stine soon leaving?” and what that means for us, for me in my 44th year to heaven

—toggling between that and lines by Wordsworth, unveiled by Stine in his class:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Perhaps Peter is finding Wordsworth was right. Through God’s grace and Sue’s kidney, I trust he’ll continue to find strength in and among his loves: family, friends and students; reading, writing, performing (from these may there be no severing)—and, next summer, traveling back to England to lead a 10-day literary excursion. The aged eagle’s wings have plenty of spread left in them.

And though much is taken, much abides at Gordon after Stine. Innumerables. For starters, two essential courses in the English department, Nobel Prize winners and African Literature; a theatre major and a black box theatre with a plaque bearing his name; and most notably, row upon row of alumni, I among them, whose lives have borne out another of his sayings—that with a liberal arts degree, especially in English, you can think and write and speak well, so you can do anything.

Some would say, about a legacy like that, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

What would Peter Stine say about it?
“Not bad.”

Here’s to my professor, colleague and friend, Peter W. Stine.

-Delivered at Peter Stine’s retirement dinner in 2008. He passed away August 5, 2011. We carry stones, and pile them on his.

 

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]
SMARTY: Ohhh.

[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…

Tribute Poem – for ADF

Poem for Ann Ferguson

-upon her 50th year of teaching-

One score and a sesqui-score of years ago,
after battening books and folders into cartons,
she hitched the bumper up and made the slow
remove from Fenway northward into Arden.

Princemere was defunct: the railman had pitched
his monolithic ruin to the new U.N.—
little knowing that his ponds, his pine and birch
would be much better kept by Ferguson.

But nary an easel, nary a student center
in that lean hour—a barn door for a table;
but many the grace, and many the young apprentice
remarked what Ann could fashion in a stable.

E.g. should Oedipus Rex want staging there,
then she’ll direct it, and not some musical;
and should she count some wars worth waging there,
she’ll opt for beards, and champion The Crucible.

When fire sacked those vaguely equine quarters,
and all her files, and Grady’s, in one white swoop,
she was unbowed: her actors without borders
rekindled as a traveling theatre troupe.

Look how when want or prospect called for action
over the years, she hastened to that place,
so that now the works of our Fine Arts Division
engender from her steadfast willingness.

Kudos to Ann—for teaching oil painting
without a decent studio or gallery,
for summoning students and going gallivanting
through all the museums of France and Italy.

Kudos, I say, for gaggling them into Boston
for plays, then breaking curfew on return;
for standing up to such old-fashioned custom
as frames a room but leaves it unadorned.

Oh, a hundred-hundred tables she has laid
and set each hundred feasts before her guests,
and of all the finals her scholars have assayed,
it was the one at Ann’s they relished best.

Ever the vines that effloresce about her
are chastened into fruit beneath her steel,
and perennial from the riotous soil around her
are cuttings that bloom with her own daffodils.

See how when need or crisis called for tending,
over the years she harkened to that place:
to younger writers anxious for befriending,
or ailing kin—she modeled sacrifice.

Now at this jubilee it is most fitting
we further the remembrance of these things;
we toast you, Ann, your modesty permitting,
and wish you joy—we wish you, Ah! bright wings.

-with thanks to Ann for teaching, mentoring, and promoting me.

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.