We all knew that
New free bird
Hatched from the Robben
Was meant to end an evil
That separated Blacks
That gave us the lie
Ninety-five years seems
Not long enough
For him to confront the truth
That still causes such pain:
Diversity is certain;
We now miss Nelson Mandela–
the freed bird who became reconciler.]]>
His family and friends called him Ino.
Ino was a war hero.
Signorino Crisa was in the Air Force.
He flew in a bomber over North Korea.
His plane was shot down, and he was captured.
Signorino Crisa was rescued soon after his capture.
He came home to his wife and son.
Ino was a war hero.
Signorino Crisa was a changed man.
His family and friends said he was shell-shocked.
Less charitable folks said he was LMF, Low Moral Fiber.
Signorino Crisa lived into his eighties.
He spent more than sixty years in the Veterans’ Hospital.
They played “Taps” and gave his family a flag when he died.
Signorino Crisa was my uncle.
He called my dad Theodore, but his name was Robert.
His fingers were orange from the cigarettes he smoked.
Signorino Crisa was my uncle.
His family and friends called him Ino.
Ino was a war hero.]]>
Notwithstanding the realities that temper possibility, yesterday's march on Washington commemorating the march 50 years ago for jobs and freedom does again remind us of the possibilities before us, while it acknowledges the initiative and courage of those who marched and spoke out with Dr. King in 1963. We have an African American as President, many are talking about the very real chance that President Obama's party will put forward a strong woman as candidate for president in 2016 (Hillary Clinton), emphasis is being placed on education and jobs and healthcare, and global transformations show us that horrors such as those in Syria can never be tolerated if we are to endure as a race.
Yesterday reminds me, again, that, despite the many failings and shortcomings in our history, America has led (and will continue to lead) the way for progressive action that will benefit its people as well as the people of the world. I think that all of us who are engaged in the educative process at SVC can assist in that effort, adding to business, social, scientific, humanistic, healthcare, and professional communities. I look forward to next week with great anticipation, as the new academic year will begin and our Academic Convocation featuring Anita Hill, whose role in the sexual harassment narrative of the past twenty-plus years is large indeed. I hope that you all share my enthusiasm for what yesterday commemorates and for the many possibilities that attend the start of the new academic year next week. We might say that 2013 is not an end but a beginning.
Enjoy the Hughes poem below about what is possible and what sill needs to happen in America:
I, Too, Sing America
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
I heard Heaney speak at the Harvard Commencement for my brother-in-law a little more than ten years ago. At that time, his contemporary and poetic translation of the great Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, had been recently released, and he spoke about the importance of study and of exercising the imagination. He read this poem, too, one of my very favorites, which I offer to you all in tribute to Seamus Heaney, to family, and to “digging”:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.
Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
I have been preoccupied with many tasks that have prevented me from putting out this email to all of you, following the surprisingly candid and insightful remarks of President Obama following the Tryavon Martin verdict. I was having a discussion with some students about the Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, and, after that conversation I had to put something down on paper.
First, I hope that you will read the transcript in the link below (you may even want to watch the utube video of President Obama making the speech by clicking on another link I’ve provided). It is a remarkable text. Reminds me of reading Cornell West, especially Race Matters.
Second, on our web site is a link to a snippet of a longer speech Henry Louis Gates, Jr., made at the Bennington Center for the Arts in 2009. I provide the link below because I think Gates’s point about helping African American males stay in high school, graduate, and emulate role models like Dr. King and Thurgood Marshall is exactly what President Obama is saying in his third point about the need to “bolster and reinforce our African American boys.”
Third, I think everyone should treat themselves to a healthy portion of Langston Hughes. His poetry, like Whitman’s, is so rhythmic and melodic, so honest and poignant that one cannot help but learn about life, relationships, racism, oppression, hopelessness, and misunderstanding. I have reproduced two of Hughes’s most well know poems. I think they capture the range of emotions the President was feeling following the Tryavon Martin decision and that he conjured in his remarkable text on July 19.
With all good wishes,
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Theme for English B
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
In it, he talks a lot about his second wife, the writer Jane Kenyon, whose beautiful and comforting poem “Let Evening Come” is a favorite of mine. Later, when Jane died of cancer at 47, he wrote “Ardor.” Magnificent, though sad. Enjoy both poems.
At his lecture, Hall talked about a bygone age of poets and writers, including his meeting with T.S. Eliot, his work with Faulkner and Steinbeck, his writing process (which is really a revising process), his being in the “house of the genuine” when inspiration strikes and the beginnings of pieces fall down upon him like meteor showers falling on earth, and about how confessional poets and the Beat poets changed and loosened up his writing and other writers whom he referred to as conservative writers. One important point he made was that more great poetry was written in the seventeenth century than in any other century and that one who could not scan poetry, who does not understand metrics, could not hear the poetry of that century, including Milton’s booming voice.
I was glad to attend and to have a chance to hear from someone who shared so much of our recent literary history.
Let Evening Come
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
Nursing her I felt alive
in the animal moment,
scenting the predator.
Her death was the worst thing
that could happen
and caring for her was the best.
After she died, I screamed,
upsetting the depressed dog
who brought me her blue
sneaker. Now in the third
vanished year, I no longer
address the wall covered
with many photographs
or call her “you”
in a poem. She recedes
into the granite museum
of JANE KENYON 1947-1995.
I long for the absent
woman of different faces
who makes metaphors
and chops garlic, drinking
a glass of Chardonnay,
oiling the wok, humming
to herself, maybe thinking
how to conclude a poem.
When I make love now,
something is awry.
Last autumn, a woman said,
“I mistrust your ardor.”
This winter in Florida
I loathed the old couples
my age who promenaded
in their slack flesh
and held hands. I gazed
at young women with desire
and outrage –unable to love
or work, to stay home
or travel, to die or live.
Hours are slow and weeks
rapid in their vacancy.
Each day lapses as I recite
my complaints. Lust is grief
that has turned over in bed
to look the other way.
On May 2, those Lincoln High School students and their teacher joined my students at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont, for a wonderful afternoon focused on our mutual exhibits about family history, genealogy, and discussions of DNA testing (Please see the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/449904741747486/?fref=ts).
The fifteen young men and two women from Lincoln High School were treated to all that SVC has to offer, including discussions with my twelve students and members of the College about what college life is like. After it was all over, one young man, Jency Ahedo, sent this poem to me, which he read aloud at the museum. I suggest that you read his description of why he wrote what he did after reading the poem. Before you do either of those things, view this clip from Dr. Gates. I submit that we have gone a long way to helping him (and Dr. King, Thurgood Marshall, and others, too) realize his goal.
Oh my great tree so many years yet you’re still growing
The formation of new branches and leaves
The sprouting of different colors yet the branches now dangling
Those lost due to season change you still grow yet I still grieve.
I can’t say thank you for the protection which you provided from the harsh rays of the sun
As morning rises so do problems and hardship
Try to climb on to you when things get rough but how long can I hold that grip?
Constantly worry about the things I left for you to burden
The sun is going down but my days only seem to darken.
Oh my child, why worry?
No matter how deep in the dirt you are buried
You in life shall use that sun to rise
And now to remove your mind from
Those dark lies
As your days are only to be bright
Because all great trees blossom from sunlight.
“The whole reason why I wrote the poem is that before my senior year I have never focused on school the way I should've and heading in to my senior year I felt as if I had no way of making a future for myself due to the fact of my low grades but every time things go wrong for me I always have my family to back me up. I understand that's the whole point of family but as an 18 year old I don't want to depend on everybody, I want to make a name out of myself. I didn't know how but with the support of friends and family I learned that life always has its downsides but that also comes with benefits and the ability to learn and grow stronger as a human and with that I will be able to achieve the things I yearn for.
“For the first stanza I talk about the long history of my family and the leaves In the poem stand for the different people and colors they represent and the branches stand for the relationship that connect us together. The season change symbolizes the years that have gone by and the people I have lost. Yet my family still grows I still grieve for the loved ones I lost. Dangling branches stand for the connection or relationship I feel I am losing with some members of the family as time and distance often destroys it.
“For the second stanza I symbolize the sun with the hard times life can bring up as the new day arises. And every time things get hard for me I look back and see that I never dealt with things head on and always ran to my family for assistance. And even though they will help clear up any problems which I would be dealing with, which I symbolize using the sun going down, my days seem to darken symbolizes how unclear I am of my future and not sure what I'm going to do as I get older.
“The third stanza as a whole symbolizes the wisdom which each member of my family and my family as a whole teach me and uses the family tree talking to me as a symbol. So though ending just means the lesson which my family has taught me in my life. I learned that no matter how deep in a hole you’re in and the more problems you go through life is just a way to make you blossom into a changed person.”
“You don’t really believe that this ‘positive intervention’ and ‘collaborative learning’ works for all of the students we see today, do you? Half the freshmen can never be taught to write. And then you want the students helping other students, as tutors. That’s the blind leading the blind, don’t you agree? And if you do, what is the point of collaborative learning and of writing centers?”
There had been long pauses in my life before. When Dr. Barry, the doctor who would save my eye, asked me to count backwards from 100 while he gave me ether. Or when I realized I was going to be attacked by the German Shepard after I reached out my hand to pet him. (I still have scars above my left eye, the one Dr. Barry saved, the one with no sight, the one close friends call goofy.) Or when I saw I was about to ride up the rear end of an Oldsmobile on the brand new bike my father bought me. (The look on my dad’s face when I walked the broken bike home was more disappointment than I could ever conceive of causing.)
This was another such pause.
I thought about how far away Tempe was from Lawrence and about how little this important university man knew of teaching writing and what it meant for those who learned to teach others how to do it well. Ten years later, Stephen King, of all people, gave the best advice about teaching writing: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up” (270).
I thought of Frost, who was from Lawrence; I thought of John D’Agata, who is from Lawrence. Bill was far removed in space and in time from the kind of great writing these men produced.
I thought of Michael Struffolino. I thought of Tania Guimond. They were student-tutors, one a Rush Limbaugh conservative and the other had the warmest heart I’ve ever known even if she couldn’t spell a lick. They were great tutors; they knew how to give water to thirsty writers. They worked and studied at Merrimack College, in the greatest writing center still (and I’ve signed the wall of Purdue’s Writing Lab and seen the Stanford Writing Center, close by Andrea Lunsford’s office filled with writing on collaborative learning and tiny red shoes). Michael and Tania knew Lawrence, too.
It was a hard, working-class place, but it was a city of families and neighborhoods; it wasn’t one fashioned after other cities. It didn’t sneer.
Finally, I answered Bill, realizing that I would make my line in the sand.
“Well, unless someone is born with an intellectual disability,” I started out, “I think everybody can learn to write.”
“I think this dissertation looks really good. Did you write it on a computer?” The committee member speaking now tried to loosen the moment’s tightness by this left-handed compliment.
“Yes, I did, a Mac 520. But to answer Bill’s question, when writers work together, they gain a momentum that is truly inspiring. A power coming all over them with words. There is evidence, as I have suggested, which explains this power and how collaborative learning brings about knowledge and social growth for both the tutor and the tutee.”
“Well, it does look very nice–a sign of the times,” said the young professor on the committee, trying again to make things less tense.
“Thank you,” I said to the young professor.“Bill,” I continued to address him,“I would never (nor would you, if you knew them) call Tania or Michael or any of my tutors blind. That’s the whole point of collaborative learning and peer tutoring: when like-minded people work on a task that’s too hard for one of them to complete alone, together, they complete it efficiently and effectively. Heck, my whole dissertation was revised in Atlanta by people who know writing, who worked in a writing center–people who knew that, by helping me, I would get the dissertation done and to get back to my writing center tutors.”
“Now, thank you, Al,” my advisor said.“We’re going to deliberate a little and we’ll talk to you after that. Please wait in the conference room.”
When the committee members called me in again, they did approve my dissertation, grudgingly. They wanted major revisions. I suspect they would have preferred a rhetorical analysis of “Billy Budd,” because Bill was a Melville scholar and writing centers, peer tutors, the social construction of knowledge, and collaborative learning were still far out alternatives.
I completed the revisions. While I have never been thrilled with the dissertation, I was always pleased with my writing center work, particularly while at Merrimack and with the peer tutors I knew there. I’ve learned from many good people through the years (Kenneth Bruffee, Bonnie Sunstein, Harvey Kail, Judith Stanford, Mickey Harris, Lisa Ede, Michael Rossi, Kathy Cain, Lil Brannon, Don Murray, and more). Still, none of them taught me as much as the tutors did about collaboration and compassion and the power of those actions.
I return to those lessons all the time in my position now. I am proud to think about and use what I learned about writing centers, peer tutoring, collaborative learning, and the justification of belief. As I have done for the past 20 years, I use the experience of the Merrimack College Writing Center in every budget decision I make, in every hiring decision I make, in every curricular decision I make, and in every interaction I have with my colleagues.
Though I am no longer at Merrimack, I can still see Frost’s bust on that campus and hear the last couplet of “The Tuft of Flowers”: “‘Men [and women] work together,’ I told him from the heart,/‘Whether they work together or apart.’”]]>
Yesterday, our nation celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while it will also hosted President Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration. Dr. King’s real birthday. Every year on Dr. King's real birthday, January 15, as a gift to myself because that is also my birthday, I re-read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered in Washington, DC, in August 1963. I offer here four A's, or reasons, why I think that speech is excellent: allusion, analogy, antithesis, and anaphora, figures of thought and figures of speech that you may want to look for and listen to in President Obama’s inaugural address.
Dr. King employs:
(1) allusion-a reference to persons, places, and events of note in history. (For example, Dr. King alludes to Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln authored one hundred years earlier as well as to the arbiters of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence who guaranteed all Americans the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness);
(2) analogy-an extended comparison of two dissimilar things so as to make a point more effectively. (In the beginning of the speech, for example, Dr. King makes a comparison between African Americans who have marched to Washington in search of civil rights they have not been able to claim and those same African Americans trying to cash a check with insufficient funds. Dr. King goes on to say that people’s presence in Washington in August 1963 shows that they do not want to believe the vault of justice is bankrupt and that they do believe there will be an opportunity for ALL people to prosper economically, socially, artistically, etc.);
(3) antithesis-a figure of speech in which a statement’s syntax takes us from what is or was, usually something unpleasant, to what could be, usually something pleasant. (For example, Dr. King says, “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. . . . This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”); and
(4) anaphora-another figure of speech in which the same words are repeated in the same order in successive phrases, clauses, sentences. (For example, Dr. King repeats these clauses and phrases in key parts throughout the speech: “I have a dream today. . .”; “Now is the time. . .”; “With this faith . . .”; and “Let freedom ring. . .”).
I hope that the above has some meaning for all of you and that you saw some of what I have pointed out when President Obama addressed us.
Finally, as the 19th is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, I’d like to remember Poe, too, and try to link him to the great leaders mentioned above. In “The Poetic Principle,” Poe says the poet “recognizes the ambrosia which nourishes [the] soul in the bright orbs that shine in Heaven.”
I think that great leaders–Lincoln and King and Obama–are like Poe’s poet.
With all good wishes,
This Euclidean principle undergirds our Constitution and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation; it is the reason why we fought a Civil War and the reason for Lincoln's steadfast pursuit of the 13th Amendment.
All men [and women] are created equal.
There is a scene in the movie Lincoln during which the Lincoln character, portrayed excellently by Daniel Day-Lewis, discusses Euclid and the above. It is a gripping scene and a gripping movie–well worth seeing, especially since Vermont read Bull Run and The Red Badge of Courage this past year and the Civil War, fought over slavery, is fresh in our minds.
I want to draw upon Lincoln a little more to make an analogy to our SVC current reality–the uncertainty cast upon us by the Vermont BON and NLNAC site visitors this past October.
At the end of his second inaugural address, Lincoln brings all Americans under the tent, so to speak, and compels them to work together to honor the Civil War fallen by ensuring that the democratic project that is America will endure and thrive. Here's how that concluding line starts: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in. . . ."
Now, as you know from the past four and a half years, I love words. And, yes, Lincoln himself explains why I see words as the machinery which helps our ongoing human conversation to unfold. Here's what he said in an address to the Springfield Illinois Association (February 22, 1860): “Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world, . . . enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.”
So, I am going to try to compel all of you, my colleagues, to consider applying these words, spoken almost 150 years ago, to our current situation:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in. . . .