Thursday, May 31, 2007


Last night was the last official academic event of the semester. Today is summer. The few students taking summer courses--I bitterly resent their very presence on campus. L. and I had planned to go to Clamtown this weekend to visit my sister, but the trip fell through. I wanted to do summery things--now I feel thwarted. I guess I'll survive, though. (I'm so pathetic.)

Well, I like summer. L., not so much. We have a Labor Day party every year--a sad passing for me, a celebration for her. I thought L. liked warm weather, hiking, and the outdoors. What she really likes is not sweating, flower gardens, and romantic strolls. CR told me it was the false advertising endemic to courtship. She has a boyfriend whom she met six years ago at a dance. They haven't been dancing since.

Well, I love L., so I don't hike as often as I used to. It's ok. My sister and I like the beach. Her husband, who has lived all his life in Jersey and the last twenty years at the shore, has, in my recollection, been on the beach exactly once. And he considered it something of a humiliation. (He sails.)

Well, we all love each other. It's not those quirky little choices that define us, but the big ones. It's whom you choose to love and how faithfully, not whether your partner shares every one your idiosyncrasies. That would be marrying your self.

I'm glad I wrote this. You see, it is because of L. we're staying home this weekend. But, I feel better about it now. Now the question is, How did this blog get so high-minded?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thomas Blackburn (1916-1977)

I wanted to mention Thomas Blackburn, the English poet. I have often sought "the honey of peace in old poems," and, about ten years ago, when I was working for Encore Books in center city, I visited South Street Book Trader, and bought a copy of 45 to 60: an Anthology of English Poetry, 1945-60. Found a few nice poems in there, and one that struck me was "The Lucky Marriage," by Thomas Blackburn. I wasn't married at the time, but it struck me. A year or two later, I met L., and when I proposed, I read her that poem and gave her the book to keep.

I mention all this because L. and I celebrated the Anniversary of our Engagement last Saturday. Yes, we do that. (I once mentioned to my mother that L. wasn't sentimental. "Roc," she said, "all women are sentimental." She was right.) Anyway, we read the poem again and I was reminded how good it is. Technically, quoting Contemporary Authors New Revision Series quoting a Times Literary Supplement reviewer, Blackburn's work had a "restless and nervous but, at its best, peculiarly and awkwardly alive verse surface." Peculiarly and awkwardly alive I certainly was that day, so it fit the mood. But even more we both appreciated the sentiment of the poem, praising the "cunning eye of the rejected," the goose-girl and the kitchen servant, who choose their partners adroitly and wind up with the perfect marriage, which "lasts forever, it is often said."

Another line from the poem: "They learned to see because they had no light." Blackburn had a difficult life, marked by a traumatic childhood, alcoholism, and depression. Yet he was also an educator, and a poet who gave me a voice when I really needed it. So thank you, Thomas Blackburn. R.I.P.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

La Forza del Destino

We got the good news yesterday that Murray Bodo will be visiting the college this fall. Bodo is a Franciscan monk and a very good writer. He will be leading a retreat on poetry and prayer. By "good writer," I mean more than clear or concise or even colorful. I mean he is a literary man. The writing stands on its own. It is done for its own sake. It isn't in service to an agenda. The words in a sense don't accomplish anything; but they do lead somewhere.

Cultivating a receptivity to literature used to be an important part of education. I think I was on the cusp of the change. Formerly, education was literary-historical-theological; now it is sociological- psychological-legalistic. A certain outlook has been lost, a certain emphasis on the person, on their individuality, on the particularity of things and events. I sometimes think to myself, in a sort of mental shorthand, "I don't believe in fairness--I believe in destiny." I'm not exactly sure what I mean by that, but I think people of a certain age and background will understand.

[Try "A Feeling for Hierarchy" by Mary Douglas in Believing Scholars: Ten Catholic Intellectuals edited by James L. Heft.]