Something of a Digression, but still about art

I love art in all its forms. I find it inspiring to go to see a musician, to go to an art showing, to attend a poetry reading. On December 3rd, I had the distinct pleasure of going to a reading held by two of my former professors--both lovely people and exceptional writers.
 The beautiful and delightful Wendy Barker is more than my former professor. She was one of my mentors. I remember like it was yesterday, entering her office during my first semester of grad school. I had read her wonderful book about Emily Dickinson, Lunacy of Light, and I knew I wanted to study with her. My focus was rhetoric, not literature, but somehow I made the decision to attend UTSA at least in part so that I could study with Wendy. At any rate, I entered her office. I had never met her--was in none of her classes--and I was a frightened little rabbit (there is no one quite so unsure of herself as a first semester graduate student). I sat down  facing her, I introduced myself ("we have some mutual friends. . ." ) and then I said, in a quavering voice, "I love Emily Dickinson."

"Oh my dear," she said, reaching across the space between us to put her hand upon my knee, "of course you do."

I was eventually able to take an independent study with Wendy while acting as her unofficial teaching assistant in an undergraduate capstone course in Whitman and Dickinson. That semester I went to Cambridge and Amherst during spring break to study the Dickinson archives. It was the highlight of my academic career.

Wendy's poetry, of course, is of even greater value than her scholarship, if such a thing is possible. She writes with a precise instrument--like a scalpel at times-- not unlike the precision of a Dickinson, a Frost.

Steven Kellman, on the other hand, scared me to death! I did take a class with him, and even went to a movie with him once, but oh my god, Don't ask me to make conversation! He'll know me for the phony I am! While  Barker's brilliance is often obscured by her sweet voice and nurturing presence, Dr. Kellman's intellect  is blinding. Even Wendy (his wife, for Pete's sake) confesses to being intimidated! But he doesn't fool me any more. Brilliant? Like steel. Like a diamond. And just as hard. In truth, sweet and funny. He started out the evening with a bit of doggerel about literature -- just the thing to put all of us at ease. By the time he moved on to his breathtaking prose and poems, we knew better. He's brilliant alright, but we aren't askeered of him (much).
 I do not have access to any of the readings done that night, but I will leave you with a poem I found on Wendy's website.

“Trash,” he said, as we walked the line
between our almost-country properties.
Again I pointed, trees and shrubs
whose names I didn’t know, but “trash,”
he said again. Anything not oak.
That neighbor knew three kinds of trees:
live, pin, and Spanish oak. The rest should go.
And now I’ve lived here twenty years
I know how chainsaws take out everything
that isn’t oak, not just the junipers
that choke the other plants nearby, but also
Texas buckeyes, magenta blooming in
the spring, redbuds, huisachillo, sweet acacia.
Mexican persimmon’s bark blends velvet
grays and silky browns, its rounded leaves
bright yellow-green before the purple fruit
draws birds that nest on into June—
buntings and the wrens above the grasses,
gramas and the bluestems. November,
the seed heads in waves of burgundy, of red.
Our city council said they’d leave the trees
when clearing for the city hall. But like
that neighbor years ago, they meant
the oaks. Now they’ve called a meeting.
Oak wilt has hit the neighborhood, and
oaks are what we’re left with. Too much
construction, trimming of the trees, their
wounds not treated. The virus travels
through the maze of connecting roots.
And once a tree’s infected, it’s trash.

Love, Light, and laughter,

1 comment:

  1. This helps me remember the good things about undergrad and graduate school--the lovely, lovely professors. It's been ages since I've been to a reading--I really need to rectify that. Thanks for bringing Professor Barker to my attention!!