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Sunday, April 8th: Dr. Bill Scheuerle

Bill Scheuerle is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English. He was the founding director of the Humanities Institute in 2003, where he began the regular USF celebration of National Poetry Month. His choice is “Magdalen at Michael’s Gate” by Henry Kingsley.

This poem was written in 1871 by the English novelist Henry Kingsley This lyric is, of course, about Mary Magdalen and the blackbird at Glastonbury. Behind it lies the legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the Glastonbury Thorn. Joseph was the disciple who offered his tomb for Christ’s burial and held the Holy Grail to catch His blood at the cross. The Thorn was the growth of his staff that other disciples planted on Joseph’s grave. The Glastonbury Thorn flowers at Christmas time and traditionally symbolized Christ’s birth and death and glory and His promise of redemption. Its symbols offer hope, love, and forgiveness. Kingsley, I believe, puts all of that legend and Christian hope in this understated lyric.

Why do I like this poem? It has a charm and a haunting simplicity. With its subject, the poem could have been mawkishly sentimental. But it is controlled and simple. The religious emotion is restrained and the focus is kept on the contrast that illustrates the religious meaning of the Glastonbury Thorn: the affirmation and the promised reward of love and forgiveness as against the harshness of Michael as the poem builds up its suspense through repetition.

A side comment. Just by chance about two years ago on E-Bay I purchased a copy of sheet music entitled “Magdalen.” The words were Kingsley’s and the music was by a Caroline Maude. The date was 1898. I have it framed and hanging in my house.

Magdalen at Michael’s Gate, by Henry Kingsley (1830-1876).

Magdalen at Michael’s gate
Tirled at the pin;
On Joseph’s thorn sang the blackbird,
“Let her in! Let her in!”

“Hast thou seen the wounds?” said Michael,
“Know’st thou thy sin?”
“It is evening, evening,” said the blackbird,
“Let her in! Let her in!”

“Yes, I have seen the wounds,
And I know my sin.”
“She knows it well, well, well,” sang the blackbird,
“Let her in! Let her in!”

“Thou bringest no offerings,” said Michael,
“Nought save sin.”
And the blackbird sang, “She is sorry, sorry, sorry,
Let her in! Let her in!”

When he had sung himself to sleep,
And night did begin,
One came and opened Michael’s gate,
And Magdalen went in.

View the cover of the 1898 sheet music, “Magdalen.”


Monday, April 9th: Provost Ralph Wicox

Ralph Wilcox has been USF’s Provost and Executive Vice President since 2009. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, Canada, and has published widely in the field of cultural studies and globalization. He chose “If,” by Rudyard Kipling.

I present my selection with some sense of reservation as I remain troubled by two hallmarks of the author's broader literary work: his jingoistic and even racist celebration of British Empire, born of his early life in India, along with his apparent lifelong glorification of the brutality of war which appears to be an outcome of his military schooling. Yet, such inherent criticism may be a mite harsh since he was, afterall, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 and remains lauded for his voluminous narrative skill.

Best known, perhaps, as an author of seemingly enduring short stories for children, including The Jungle Book (which, incidentally, was written while he was living in the U.S.) and the Just So Stories, Kipling’s work represented “required reading” for so many children growing up in the U.K. during the last century.

While I was all too familiar with Kipling’s colorful literary characters by the time I entered grammar school (high school in England), it was my first form English teacher who introduced me to this memorable poem. Written by Kipling to his son, “If” presented a maxim for life, a guidepost for personal integrity, and a reminder of the importance of calm, balance and humility to countless numbers of schoolchildren, myself included. I find it to be an optimistic piece that calls for courage in thought and action, for modesty, restraint and patience, while urging tolerance of others. At the same time Kipling makes clear his disdain for displays of arrogance, pretension, and irrational behavior.

Further, Kipling’s prose challenges the young and impressionable reader to seek a silver lining even in the most difficult of times and the poem struck me as much more about “growing up” than simply perpetuating the paternalistic ideals of nineteenth century “manliness.” While somewhat of a cliché, “If” presented me with “a lesson to live by”, words upon which to reflect in shaping my life.

If, by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!

Listen to a reading of this poem.



Tueday, April 10th: Applied Anthropology Doctoral Candidate, Jamae Morris

Jamae Morris has just defended her doctoral dissertation in Applied Anthropology at USF, under the direction of Dr. Elizabeth Bird. She also holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from USF. After graduating this May, she will begin a postdoctoral position at the Centers for Disease Control. She chose “Things,” by Eloise Greenfield.

I discovered the power of poetry at a young age. It spoke to me; it reflected me. It was as flexible and as strong as I was. It provided me with a means to express a range of emotion: compassion, empathy, anger, fear, excitement, and love. Outside of some of my own writings, there is one singular work that impacted my love for poetry as a child. It was a small book, comprised of little more than 50 pages, entitled, Honey, I Love. I remember reading the book and returning it to my school library only to check it out again and again. The poems were written in language that was familiar to me. The central character looked like me. She experienced emotion just like me. All of the poems included in the book are powerful. However, the poem included here has special meaning. In it the young girl had discovered what I was in the process of discovering myself, the power of poetry. Poetry was simple, it met me where I was at—even while lying on the kitchen floor, and, as long as I had a pencil and paper, it was always accessible. It was mine, and, even now, I still got it.

Things, by Eloise Greenfield (b. 1929)

Went to the corner
Walked to the store
Bought me some candy
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the beach
Played on the shore
Built me a sandhouse
Ain’t got it no more
Ain’t got it no more

Went to the kitchen
Lay down on the floor
Made me a poem
Still got it
Still got it



Wednesday, April 11th: USF Board of Trustees Chair and TECO CEO, John Ramil

John Ramil is Chair of the USF Board of Trustees, and President and Chief Executive Officer of TECO Energy. A USF bachelors and masters alumnus in engineering, he has served on the board of the Tampa Bay Partnership and currently serves on the boards of Florida Chamber and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. He chose “My symphony,” by William Henry Channing.

Channing was a clergyman and served as a chaplain of congress. His words fit with my style and philosophy in life. For me, living content is to be free from worry of things I do not control. Channing’s juxtapositions of elegance/luxury, refinement/fashion, worthy/respectable and wealth/rich, remind me that there are higher, broader, more fulfilling aspirational levels to achieve than single dimensional material goals. His line of “listen to the stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart,” is consistent with my belief that a full awareness of one’s surroundings and consideration of input from many diverse views leads to better outcomes. And, finally, study hard, think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, is descriptive of my natural approach to most situations.

My Symphony by William Henry Channing (1810-1884)

To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
And refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly,
Talk gently,
Act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully,
Do all bravely,
Await occasions,
Hurry never,
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.




Thursday, April 12th: Dr. Cesar Cornejo

Cesar Cornejo is Associate Professor of Art at USF, and a member of the Humanities Institute Faculty Advisory Board. His Ph.D. in Fine Arts (sculpture) is from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. In his scholarship he applies architectural processes to create sculptural spaces, and his work has been widely exhibited. He chose “Considerando En Frío, Imparcialmente …,” by César Vallejo.

César Vallejo was a tormented poet who lived his life as a true artist, always struggling to fit the demands of the society that he lived in. He wasn't understood—not in Perú, Spain or France where he finally died, leaving a body of work that although not too extensive was one of the most important and influential in Spanish poetry of the 20th century. His poems are of such depth that they touch the insecurities and flaws of the human.

This poem, even though I will not attempt to translate it, refers to the nature of human kind, making us reflect on mortality and the ridiculousness of our condition, portraying how we always seem to be looking for reasons to make our existences more bearable. The poem ends with a positive acceptance of ourselves for who we are and shared emotion by Vallejo hugging a person while hugging the human kind as a whole.

I chose this poem because as an artist who works in projects that focus on social issues and relations among individuals and society, I identify with the questions asked by Vallejo in this poem. Through it somehow I feel that it is possible to gain access another level of understanding of human kind.

Considerando en frío, imparcialmente …, by César Vallejo, 1892-1938.

que el hombre es triste, tose y, sin embargo,
se complace en su pecho colorado;
que lo único que hace es componerse
de días;
que es lóbrego mamífero y se peina...

Considerando
que el hombre procede suavemente del trabajo
y repercute jefe, suena subordinado;
que el diagrama del tiempo
es constante diorama en sus medallas
y, a medio abrir, sus ojos estudiaron,
desde lejanos tiempos,
su fórmula famélica de masa...

Comprendiendo sin esfuerzo
que el hombre se queda, a veces, pensando,
como queriendo llorar,
y, sujeto a tenderse como objeto,
se hace buen carpintero, suda, mata
y luego canta, almuerza, se abotona...

Considerando también
que el hombre es en verdad un animal
y, no obstante, al voltear, me da con su tristeza en la cabeza...

Examinando, en fin,
sus encontradas piezas, su retrete,
su desesperación, al terminar su día atroz, borrándolo...

Comprendiendo
que él sabe que le quiero,
que le odio con afecto y me es, en suma, indiferente...

Considerando sus documentos generales
y mirando con lentes aquel certificado
que prueba que nació muy pequeñito...

le hago una seña,
viene
y le doy un abrazo, emocionado.
¡Qué más da! Emocionado... Emocionado...

Listen to a reading of this poem.




Friday, April 13th: Vice-Provost, Dr. Graham Tobin

Graham Tobin is Vice-Provost and Professor of Geography at USF. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, and came to USF in 1996. His research focuses on the human impact of natural disasters, including floods and volcanoes. His choice seems appropriate for Friday 13th -- “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” by William Topaz McGonagall.

McGonagall, a loyal Scotsman, is generally recognized as one of the worst poets in the English language, yet his writings (I will leave the reader to judge whether or not his works should be classified as poetry) will be remembered “for a very long time.” He was a prolific writer, an original rhymester, penning several hundred poetic gems, many of which are still recited with great enthusiasm today.

I first encountered the doggerel of McGonagall while living in Glasgow and undertaking my doctoral research. One of my flat-mates, an inveterate Glaswegian, was predisposed to recite McGonagall at the fancy, sophisticated soirees (student parties) we held in our apartment. Most of the time, these renderings were almost totally incomprehensible to the gathered throngs; his impenetrable Glasgow accent combined with the fact that my other flat-mates hailed from Turkey, India and Northern Ireland did not help. However, to me it was music to my pristine, lyrical ears – here was a poet graphically illustrating the terrors of disasters, the very focus of my doctoral dissertation endeavors! I was captivated (stunned might be a better descriptor) and have since explored many of his scholarly creations, at least three of which focus on natural disasters. After all, who can resist such pathos exhibited in “The Pennsylvania Flood” of 1889 as portrayed in these two verses:

          “And when the torrent dashd against the houses they instantly toppled o’er,
          Then many of the houses caught fire, which made a terrific roar;
          And two thousand people, by the fire, lost their lives,
          Consisting of darling girls and boys, also men and their wives.

          And when the merciless flood reached Johnstown it was fifty feet high,
          While, in pitiful accents, the drowning people for help did cry;
          But hundreds of corpses, by the flood, were swept away,
          And Johnstown was blotted out like a child’s toy house of clay.”

Okay, so the lines might not scan so well, and the use of English is maybe a little shaky, the meter somewhat off, while ending with unintended bathos, but you must admit he has captured the bleakness, the despair, the tragedy, and the utter anguish of disaster victims…or not?

There are now many websites devoted to this bard, one of the best of which is http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/ . I urge you to explore this site and become more familiar with his works and character. The charm (or is it foolishness?) of a man struggling to pursue his lifetime dreams becomes apparent, his constant failures and rejections only to pick himself up and continue writing reminds one of that other fanatical Scotsman, Robert the Bruce…or perhaps I go too far! Certainly, one has to have great sympathy for his ever-suffering family, including seven children, dragged from one end of Scotland to the other in pursuit of literary fame and fortune.

While McGonagall is usually known for his tragedies, you will discover that he wrote on many other topics; nothing it seemed could escape his poetical pen. In addition, he was a faithful and ardent supporter of Queen Victoria, composing several odes to honor her and her jubilee year. Nevertheless, it is clear that his poetic prowess was seldom appreciated. As the web site notes, “His audiences threw rotten fish at him, the authorities banned his performances, and he died a pauper over a century ago.”

“The Tay Bridge Disaster” epitomizes the essence of his prodigious output. To truly appreciate the man and his works, the poem needs to be read in a Glaswegian accent, so I urge you to sit back and listen to John Laurie reciting “The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

The Tay Bridge Disaster, by William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902)

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

‘Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers’ hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov’d most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o’er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill’d all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav’d to tell the tale
How the disaster happen’d on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.



Saturday, April 14th: Humanities Institute Program Assistant, Liz Kicak

Liz Kicak has worked at the USF Humanities Institute since 2010. She completed her M.F.A. in poetry at USF, under the direction of Dr. Jay Hopler. An accidental feminist, her poetry has appeared in a Sylvia Plath anthology, Southern Women’s Review, The Tulane Review, The New York Quarterly, Barely South, and others. Picking her “favorite” poem for Poetry Matters at USF! caused her many sleepless nights; she finally chose “For a Sister” by Adrienne Rich.

The world lost a strong poetic voice when Adrienne Rich died last month. An extraordinarily brave poet, Rich’s work often dealt with the unique experience of being a woman. One of my favorite quotes of hers is "The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet." This has been profoundly true in my life and so I selected “For a Sister,” to honor Rich and all my sisters—biological and otherwise—who fight to tell their stories every day.

Of course, while the poem is “For a Sister,” the battle outlined in the text is not specifically a women’s issue. How many of us have felt imprisoned within a social system, or rendered invisible because of its rules? How often do we feel that our intellect, our creativity, our intensity of spirit is interpreted as a threat? How many have felt pressured to lower our voices, mute our passions, or play dumb? We don’t need to be physically incarcerated to experience the sudden, violent realization that we are no longer the women (or men) we desired to be—that expectations, egos, and all the little compromises to our integrity have imprisoned us.

When we have the courage to be honest, I think we all find areas of our lives (or perhaps entire chunks of time) where we’ve conceded essential parts of ourselves and chosen “to imitate the smile of the permanently dulled.” All of my sisters are bold and brilliant women living in a world that can have a pretty narrow opinion of what’s acceptable. In the times when I’ve lost myself—been taken hostage by doubt, misconceptions, or fear—it is my sisters who search me out, bring me home, and help me “get out the typewriter and begin again.”

For a Sister by Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012)

(Natalya Gorbanevskaya, two years incarcerated in a Soviet penal mental asylum for her political activism; and others.)

I trust none of them. Only my existence
thrown out into the world like a towchain
battered and twisted in many chance connections,
being pulled this way, pulling in that.

I have to steal the sense of dust on your floor,
milk souring in your pantry
after they came and took you.
I’m forced to guess at the look you threw backward.

A few paragraphs in the papers,
allowing for printers’ errors, willful omissions,
the trained violence of doctors.
I don’t trust them, but I’m learning how to use them.

Little by little out of the blurred conjectures
your face clears, a sunken marble
slowly cranked up from underwater.
I feel the ropes straining under their load of despair.

They searched you for contraband, they made their notations.
A look of intelligence could get you twenty years.
Better to trace nonexistent circles with your finger,
try to imitate the smile of the permanently dulled.

My images. This metaphor for what happens.
A geranium in flames on a green cloth
becomes yours. You, coming home after years
to light the stove, get out the typewriter and begin again. Your story.