Mail Room

April 27th, 2007

A Poet’s Death

It was with some sorrow that I read of Robert Creeley’s death in the July/August BAM (“Hold still, lion!”), for he was indeed a worthy gentleman of poetry in many ways.

However, I disagree with author

C. D. Wright’s premise that W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot were “epistemological and Anglophile models” to be “rejected for something more concretely American.” By rejecting the tradition to which Eliot and Auden belonged, Mr. Creeley and others of his aesthetic position separated themselves from the fertile ground of all great poetry. In rejecting Eliot’s “conservatism,” in rejecting the form as well as the substance of classicism, many modern and postmodern poets ensured that their poetry would not last.

America still has not produced much poetry-as-poetry that could be called great, mainly because our democracy has rejected classicism as elitist. Walt Whitman’s vision, though rich, is rather tedious and repetitive in its presentation. Robert Frost remains America’s great poet because he adapted classical forms to the American language.

Mr. Creeley’s poetry lacks the classical poem’s multi-dimensionality, compacted emotion, and density of imagery. His poems will be read once or twice, but not reread. Once we, the disinterested reader, get the point of his poem, there is little in the language to bring us back; the meaning is limited and does not continue to unfold, reading after reading. It is not poetry in the sense that one of Shakespeare’s sonnets is poetry.

It is the very sad fate of many a talented poet not to have left poems worthy of his beauty and suffering. As the Greeks believed, a poem of lasting value is an act of the gods—not of an individual person. Many strive, but most fail. Though we mourn the passing of the good-hearted, noble Mr. Creeley, it is good to know that Shakespeare is around to comfort us in our grief.

Samuel S. Cuthbert
Hagerstown, Md.

C. D. Wright’s tribute to Robert Creeley reminds me of a time about ten years ago when I would occasionally spend my lunchtime in the John Hay Library looking at its American poetry collection. One day a library worker brought me a very thin folder containing a piece by Creeley called “I Saw Delight.” Inside was a bright-yellow bumper sticker with a line drawing of a light bulb and the words: “Homage to Hank Williams.”

“I saw de-light”: Get it? In addition to everything else you can say about this great poet, he was seriously funny.

David Allen ’88 MAT
Jackson Heights, N.Y.

Clinton’s Visit

Norman Boucher used the words “high principles” in describing former President Clinton’s speech at Meehan Auditorium (“Clinton Comes to Campus,” Under the Elms, July/August). Mr. Clinton talked about “making money hand over fist” and being a “millionaire,” then called tax cuts while the country is at war an “immoral” policy, even in the face of ample evidence that this policy has reaped benefits for the economy and increased tax revenues to the government. Mr. Clinton may be the smartest and most charming guy in the room, but he’s certainly not the most principled, no matter how often he tries to tell us otherwise.

A much better and infinitely more satisfying description of the Clinton event was unwittingly included in Boucher’s piece on John James Audubon (“Student Workers,” Here and Now, July/August): “We were a motley collection of curious wage slaves huddling around Audubon’s embers of color, reaching for their heat.” The truth was there all along; you just had to dig for it.

Raul Vela ’80
San Antonio

Farm Fresh

As the Equal Exchange salesperson who worked with Brown Dining Services to introduce fairly traded coffee to campus in 1996 (see “Java Justice,” Elms, October 1996), it was exciting to read about Louella Hill and her efforts to introduce local produce to Brown dining halls (“The New Organic,” July/August). We at Equal Exchange have always hoped that by connecting students with the lives of coffee growers halfway around the world, we could also spark interest in supporting farmers in our own backyard.

Back in 1996, Dining Services was a pioneer in the movement to serve fairly traded coffee, leading the way for other colleges across the country. Almost ten years later, it’s exciting to see Brown continue to be an innovative leader in sustainable agriculture by supporting local growers and helping family farmers stay on their land.

Erbin “Ted” Crowell ’93
Chepachet, R.I.

I enjoyed the article on Brown’s experiences buying local produce. After a career in industry, I currently teach graduate courses at the Kettering University business school in what is called “lean manufacturing”—the buzzword for what Toyota Motors popularized in its system of market research, manufacturing, and supply-chain improvements. Toyota and Dell Computers, as well as a few other manufacturers, are trying to improve on what Henry Ford accomplished in the 1920s, when his factories converted iron ore into automobiles in only three days.

I plan to use the BAM article as an example in my lectures. The fields of manufacturing and food distribution could learn a lot from one another. When consulting with companies that have a lengthy production schedule, for example, I sometimes point out that if farmers tried to run their businesses like that, the product would spoil.

Congratulations on a practical, real-world article. I’d like to see more of them.

Richard Rantilla ’70 ScM
Bluffton, S.C.

What a great article about the care and effort that Brown community members Louella Hill, Ginnie Dunleavy, Peter Rossi, and Chef John O’Shea are dedicating to sourcing and using food grown by local farmers.

Alumni can do this, too. State departments of agriculture are a wonderful resource for people who want to spend more food dollars locally. Most offer directories that list farmers who sell fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy products, and specialty crops (deliciously variable, depending on where in the United States you dwell) direct to the public—at farm stands, pick-your-own operations, farmers markets, or through subscription arrangements known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

You get fresh, local products raised by people you can meet and talk to, and grown on landscapes you can enjoy. The farmers receive a fairer and more sustaining price for what they produce, gain urban and suburban allies who are interested in issues that affect farmers, and receive the gratification of feeding people they know.

For a copy of your own state’s directory, contact your department of agriculture, which you can locate at

Meg Moynihan ’88
St. Paul, Minn.


I read “Cheaters” (May/June) and the July/August Mail Room letters with great interest. I teach freshman composition and introductory literature at Miami Dade College and have to deal every semester with a few students who succumb to cheating.

About two years ago, after grading two papers that had been completely plagiarized from the Internet, I brought up the problem at a meeting of the Campus Academic and Student Support Council, to which I had been elected. Our discussion resulted in the appointment of a college-wide committee to study the efficacy of subscribing to, a service that checks student drafts for plagiarism. To my relief, Miami Dade decided to buy a subscription to TurnItIn, and I have used it ever since.

Some argue that, in requiring students to use such a service, professors assume their students will plagiarize. My response is that services like do not have to be punitive. I introduce it to my students as a resource that allows them to judge for themselves whether their papers need added documentation. It gives them a chance to make corrections before submitting a paper to me. When students make a failed attempt at documentation, I can intervene before having to fail the paper.

I used to feel I had failed my students when I read a plagiarized paper. Now, however, I know I’ve done everything I can to help them succeed. When I am forced to give an F, I know I am being fair to those students who did their own work. Ultimately, I think this increases the worth of a passing grade.

Victoria Lague ’77
Homestead, Fla.

Bests and Worsts

Your article on the peaks and valleys of the past year in sports (“Season Smarts,” July/August) neglected to acknowledge what was probably the biggest win by a Brown sports team. On Commencement weekend the men’s Ultimate Frisbee team won the College National Championships in Corvallis, Oregon. The team included twelve seniors who gave up the pomp and ceremony of graduation for the chance to win a national title.

In front of cable television cameras and a crowd of more than 1,500, including cheering Brown alumni and a full complement of parents, the team defeated the defending champion, the University of Colorado, 15–14, in a thrilling final game. One alum followed the game in real time on his cell phone while riding his bike through Japan.

Raymond Mahoney
Amherst, Mass.

While I usually enjoy the “Bests & Worsts” in Sports, this year’s is of uncommonly poor quality. For starters, it is incredibly sexist, mentioning ten men’s teams and three coed teams but only one women’s team. Author Ben Miller lists men’s hockey as simply “hockey,” as if the women’s hockey team doesn’t even exist. He also denigrates the accomplishments of the equestrian team with the title of “best sport nobody follows.”

Finally, as a former fencer, I note that the paragraph on fencing is factually incorrect: the fencing team is moving into the Ivy League as well as remaining in the ECACs. It is not a “worst move”; it is something the team has been striving to do for years. And the team doesn’t lack recruiting “tactics”; it lacks university funding and recognition.

Margaret Kosmala ’00

Not a Wage Slave

I started reading Norman Boucher’s column on the Audubon prints (“Here and Now,” July/August) with interest in the topic. By the end of the piece, I had forgotten about the beauty of the prints and instead was extremely irritated by your condescending tone.

I am an alumna who left the corporate world in 2003 to work at Brown as an administrator. Never before in my long working career have I been referred to as a zookeeper or as part of a “motley collection of curious wage slaves”; it seems especially inappropriate in the house organ of the institution that employs me.

Most of my work acquaintances love Brown just as much as the most loyal alum. Their behind-the-scenes dedication to keeping this place operating smoothly allows the business of the University—the teaching and learning—to go on without a lot of bureaucratic fuss. My colleagues are bright, interesting people and it is a joy to work with them. Please remember that the next time you are tempted to choose a clever turn of phrase and haven’t bothered to consider the meaning it conveys.

Beth Burlingame ’81
Riverside, R.I.

Making Music

“Quintet” (March/April) evoked fond memories of my days at Brown. In the fall of 1956, one of every three students was in some musical organization. During my four years, I served as concertmaster of the orchestra, participated in student recitals, and sang in the chapel choir. I studied violin with the revered Arlan Coolidge, a gifted teacher who chaired the music department. Music was an important aspect not only of my life but also of the Brown community as a whole.

After retiring recently from a career in financial services, I began taking violin lessons again, after forty-five years. The violin study has been deeply fulfilling and genuinely rewarding. I regret not making time for music after college and urge today’s students to study, perform, and enjoy music throughout their lives.

Ronald M. Whitehill ’60
Darien, Conn.

We Sang Too

Regarding your article on the Chattertocks (“Chasing Dreams,” July/August), the Skati-Eights, also known as the Pembroke Octet, preceded the Chattertocks by at least a year or two. We performed popular songs a cappella at many events and locations on- and off-campus from 1950 to 1952. To my knowledge we were the first such women’s group on campus. The eight of us, all members of the class of ’52, were Mary Burrows Nye, Emily Preston Bradley, Marybeth Keser Burbank, Mary Littleton Sistare, Nancy McLandress, Marylynn Monk Boris, Erma Raab Campbell, and myself.

Lucy Laventhol Brody ’52
Teaneck, N.J.

Leftist Spin

I can always count on the bam to get me outraged over its leftist spin. Your reporting of Seymour Hersh’s visit (“The Last Muckraker,” Under the Elms, May/June) was another in a series of demonstrations that the BAM and Brown have a political agenda totally inappropriate for a supposedly liberal institution. Somehow liberal education and liberal politics have gotten mixed up. More and more, Brown’s definition of liberal seems to include extremist political views.

Mr. Hersh’s comment that President Bush is one of the “worst presidents in U.S. history” clearly stems from his journalistic frustration (and his own politics). Mr. Hersh seems to feel that presidents should run in fear of the press. Bush does not, so in Mr. Hersh’s view the president is “inert.”

Who is Mr. Hersh to assess White House leadership? How do we know Mr. Hersh’s reporting of Abu Ghraib reflects the situation? What “sources dropped hints” about Afghanistan? Reporters are under considerable pressure to make something of what they’ve collected. The consumer has little recourse.

Mr. Hersh’s complaint that the president won’t listen to him is childish. Perhaps in the future Brown will broaden and balance its slate of speakers. And pigs might fly.

Brian Barbata ’67
Kailua, Hawaii

Not Forgotten

Sometimes news travels slowly to overseas destinations, particularly sad news. I learned in June on receiving the March/April BAM that Marvyn Carton ’38 had passed away. The obituary, which referred to him as a “benefactor of the University,” did not do him justice. He created the English department’s endowed I. J. Kapstein Chair in honor of his former professor, my late father Israel J. Kapstein ’26, ’31 PhD, ’76 LLD.

When asked his reasons for endowing the chair, he told the New York Times that to expound completely on my father’s influence on more than a generation of students would take a bottle of cognac and an evening by a fireplace. To Marvyn’s credit and to the University’s benefit, Marvyn Carton always appreciated the educational experience he received at Brown.

Jonathan Kapstein ’61
Ohain, Belgium

Gable’s Clemency

I was saddened to read John Gable’s obituary in the May/June BAM. In the spring of 1973, I took his American political leadership seminar in biography which included, of course, Theodore Roosevelt. I enjoyed the class immensely.

Unfortunately, I pulled an all-nighter before the final exam. Around daybreak, I lay down for a quick nap. To my horror, I slept through the entire test. With trepidation, I approached the history department’s imposing mansion on Angell Street. The department, thoroughly excellent, was composed of a formal and formidable professoriate. I explained my situation to Gable, who paused for a moment and then simply allowed me to take the exam that afternoon. With a slight twinkle in his eye, he suggested that we had never had the conversation.

I did well in the course—he didn’t penalize me for slumberous tardiness. It was Milton who said, “I shall temper so Justice with mercy.”

I have taught law for more than twenty years as a faculty member at the University of North Carolina, and I have told this story more than a few times, sometimes when called upon to grant Gable’s clemency to a student in similarly dire straits. I always end the story the same way: “Wherever you are, John Gable, I salute you, and I am still in your debt.”

Donald M. Stanford Jr. ’73
Chapel Hill, N.C.

More on Pollard

As a parent of Heather Lobenstine ’90, I am always delighted to read the BAM. I found the article on Fritz Pollard (“Fritz’s Fame,” March/April) especially poignant. Not only did people fail to give him full recognition for his athletic achievements, but he also felt the need to apologize for having so many other interests. Alumni who feel down on themselves for failing to stick to just one path might check out

Margaret Lobenstine
Belchertown, Mass.

I have always proudly displayed my copy of the Brown 1916 Rose Bowl poster. Now I’ve read the excellent article about Fritz Pollard’s accomplishments, including his induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame. Norman Boucher writes that Pollard led Brown to its only appearance in what came to be known as the Rose Bowl (“Passion,” Here and Now, March/April).

If Pollard played in that 1916 Rose Bowl game, shouldn’t one of players depicted on the poster be African American? Maybe it’s time for a revised edition.

Melvin H. Kirschner ’47
Granada Hills, Calif.

A Gentle Soul

Reading about the passing of Paul Symonds (Obituaries, July/August) brought me back to my days as a grateful advisee in his Barus & Holley office. I was an undergraduate more interested in solving society’s problems than in declaring a major, and he helped me use Brown’s curricular freedom to craft something more durable than either of us expected. We called it “urban engineering” and it led—with twists and turns—to my current position as head of the urban planning program at Rutgers. He was a generous and gentle soul. I will miss him.

Clinton J. Andrews ’78
Highland Park, N.J.


An item about the 2005 Tony Awards on page 42 of the July/August issue contained both errors and omissions. The name of actor Ben Shenkman ’90 was misspelled, and his class year was omitted. Sight Unseen, the play in which he and Laura Linney ’86 starred, closed in July 2004, not July 2005. The article also neglected to mention Rachel Sheinkin ’89, who won a Tony for best book in a musical for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

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September / October 2005