Saturday, June 30, 2012

Powering down

We knew something big was on the way when the temperature fell 30 degrees in 30 minutes and the sky turned green, and then there was a sound like the end of the world and a wall of rain fell and trees bent sideways. We sat inside and watched lawn furniture and heavy plant pots blowing across the yard and then, when the wind abated, we sat on the porch watching delicate hummingbirds fight over the feeders in a driving rain. We talked about where to celebrate our 30th anniversary this winter (and maybe the big wind suggested New Orleans) and then we walked up the hill to see the sky turn yellow and pink and teal and then, finally, dark.

The newspapers we put down to mulch the watermelon patch blew all over the meadow and a pine tree right next to the house dropped a large limb right at the spot where it could do the least harm, barely missing the house, the phone and power lines, the magnolia bush, and the van. A few limbs blocked our road temporarily, while out on the highway larger limbs crushed cars and downed power lines. 

The power went out at about 6 p.m. and the house quickly heated up enough to make sleep difficult. This morning we set out early in search of ice for the beef in the deep-freeze and we found gas stations and convenience stores selling out their stock of ice before it melts--cash only, of course, since the registers aren't working. We drove north to the next county and stopped at the only McDonald's for miles around that still has power, but the lines inside were so long it took ten minutes just to get coffee, while the line of cars waiting for the drive-through lane backed up onto the highway. Wi-fi wasn't working, but we soon learned that it might take five to seven days to restore power to the county.

Did I mention that it's hot?

And without power, the new well pump won't work?

No power, no air conditioning, no water, no showers, no food, no cash, no wi-fi...we're outta here!

A kind neighbor equipped with a generator offered to stash our beef in his deep-freeze, so my son and I packed some bags and headed north to my daughter and son-in-law's house. Along the way we saw immense trees split in two and a whole line of tall pine trees perfectly intact except for one tree that looked as if some petulant giant had snapped it in two--and then maybe he grabbed that trampoline and tossed it beside the highway and folded back the roof of that barn as if it were a giant Fisher-Price toy. Is he through with his temper-tantrum or shall we expect more?

One sign of hope:  a convoy of cherry-pickers and utility trucks headed south. Let's hope they get the power back on before the entire county melts.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Recomendation reflux redux

Over the past two days I've received a variety of responses to the "You write the letter and I'll sign it" scenario described here, but they all fall into three general categories:

What a wretch!
Colleagues here and elsewhere are appalled that anyone would agree to write a letter of recommendation but then back out at the last minute. Yes, people whose recommendations are likely to be influential are also in great demand--but someone too busy to write a letter shouldn't have agreed to write the letter in the first place. (In my recommender's defense, let me point out that his situation has changed drastically in the months between his agreeing to write the letter and the due date, so I'm willing to cut him some slack.)

What's the big deal?
People do this all the time! I recall a time or two in grad school when my professors offered to write letters for me but asked me to submit a draft, which didn't seem odd at the time. These days when I'm asked to write a letter recommending someone for something, I generally ask to see a vita (if the asker is a colleague) or a list of classes (if it's a student) or even a list of points the letter ought to cover, but I've never asked anyone to draft the letter for me. Still, this appears to be a common enough practice in some corners of academe, so who am I to complain?

What a gift! 
Some see this as an opportunity to write the perfect letter, the letter that will exalt my accomplishments to the skies and say everything I've always wanted someone to say about my wonderfulness. "Go for it," they tell me. 

So I'm going for it. I drafted a letter. It's a good letter, but it makes me nervous. Surely the committee will recognize my writing style and be suspicious of such a glowing recommendation! Worse, I feel like a fraud, passing off my self-serving evaluation as the studied comments of an expert. 

I keep reminding myself that the committee isn't interested in how I feel--they're interested in what I've done and why it matters. I hope the letter I've drafted will help make the case, but if not, this has been a pretty interesting exercise in creative writing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Recommendation reflux

Suppose someone agrees to write a letter of recommendation for you but then begs off thus: "I'm too busy--you write whatever you want and I'll sign it." What do you do?

First of all, you can't really write whatever you want. Well, I suppose you could, but if you mention that your research makes the blind see, the lame walk, and the tone-deaf sing like Pavarotti, you'd better produce some evidence to back up those claims.

So you have to stick with the facts, but there are as many ways to color the facts as there are crayons in the box--and I'm talking about the big box, with enough shades of blue to tint every inch of the ocean and sufficient yellows to gild every lily. 

The opening sentence sets the tone: you have to decide first of all whether to write that you're pleased or delighted or thrilled to recommend Dr. Wonderful for the position or prize or promotion, and if you're writing the recommendation under duress, you start with the neutral "Dr. Wonderful has asked me to write a letter."  

But I can't write that about myself. For starters, I'm pretty sure my recommender is pleased with my work, but is he delighted or thrilled or simply willing to write a letter? And how much shall I gush about my wonderfulness? It's kind of painful. Every time I try to write down something I think my recommender would applaud, I hear the voice of my mother tsking over my self-celebration--and on the other shoulder stands my grad-school dissertation director scolding me: "You'll never get ahead in academe if you can't learn to toot your own horn." I ought to just get out of the way and let the two of them duke it out.

But that won't get this letter written. Here's my first stab at an opening line: "To whom it may concern: I have been asked to write a letter that I then asked the asker to write instead and I hope it says what I really think but if not, don't hold me responsible for the results."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

An otter dog

I can understand why my dog would want to plunge into the creek this time of year--in this heat, I would gladly jump in there myself if we didn't live just downstream from cows. But it's not just summer's heat that sends her swimming: in the dead of winter she'll find an opening in the ice and slide right into the frigid water. 

There's not much water flowing out there right now. Not so long ago we were worried about flooding, but today the creek bed is dry in long stretches and only a few spots retain enough water to keep Hopeful happy. Up on the hill, grass and weeds are dry and brown--except for the poison ivy. It always finds a way to thrive.

I saw indigo buntings in the upper meadow as well as some wood thrushes, tufted titmice, and brown thrashers. Hummingbirds are visiting the feeders but not as many as we've hosted in previous years. I keep hearing what I hope is a green heron down by the creek, but I haven't succeeded in tracking it down since that first time I saw it.

Maybe that's because I have such an excellent helper. I have a feeling the birds don't find Hopeful's antics particularly entertaining. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Notes from the Bev-Cave

After I spent the morning Monday pinballing around amongst various offices and delivering rants to anyone willing (or unwilling) to listen, I finally persuaded the Powers That Be to look away from their paperwork and toward my unfinished office, at which point the campus was suddenly beset by an outbreak of the passive voice. Mistakes were made, I was told. The office will be painted on Monday. The floor will be stripped and waxed on Wednesday. The boxes will be moved on Friday.

And they were.

For three years I've been blessed with a wonderful office in the library, the best part being the big beautiful windows that let in lots of light and reveal a pleasing view. I may never have an office that nice so I'm grateful I inhabited it for a while.

My new office, on the other hand, is in the basement of a much older building. The ceilings are high and the one small window is so far out of reach that it would be appropriate in a dungeon. I had the walls painted a cheery yellow to counteract the cavelike ambiance, but I'm not sure it's working. I ought to play up the cave motif, painting the walls the color of moss and rocks and mold and bats and calling the place the Bev-Cave, but one day someone would come in and find me curled up on the floor in a fetal position, so maybe not a good idea.

I'm trying to embrace my new office because I may be here for a while. Unless things change in a pretty big way, I don't foresee seeking other offices in the near or even distant future, and I hate the process of moving so much that I'd rather stay in a cave than pack everything up again. So here I sit surrounded by boxes of books and trying to make the Bev-Cave feel like home.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How hot is it?

The gearshift lever on my car is melting. Every time I touch it, a big chunk of sticky black plasticky stuff falls off.

After spending an hour weeding in the front garden before 9 a.m., I feel as if I'm working under twenty feet of water and if I don't surface soon, I'll drown.

The air conditioning in my car occasionally sends a few wisps of cool air wafting my way just to tantalize me with what could be, and then it goes back to blowing moist, tepid air in my face.

I'm tempted to go to the mall for no good reason or to visit a movie theater and watch something perfectly wretched just so I can enjoy the air conditioning.

I know there are birds and butterflies cavorting about the milkweed in the upper meadow, but who can walk uphill in this heat? 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's a guy good for?

When my husband is out of town, I run the dishwasher before it's entirely full and I don't put shredded carrot in the salad. I may go several days without eating meat, and if I'm in the mood, I might just put some frozen lasagna in the oven.

When he's out of town I buy orange juice but not bananas; when I'm out of town, he buys bananas but not orange juice. See how well we complement one another?

When he's gone I leave the radio on all morning just to hear some noise and I update my Netflix queue so I can watch British comedies, and when I'm out of town he watches whole seasons of 24, one episode after another.

When he's out of town the dog gets fed later in the day and the weed-eater sits silently in the garage. I may remember to pick the lettuce and blueberries, but weeding the kohlrabi can wait until he gets back.

The mouse in the mousetrap, on the other hand, can't wait, especially in this heat. I realize that a strong, independent woman shouldn't need a man to empty a mousetrap, but I don't intend to touch that trap as long as my big strong son is still in the neighborhood. I can take care of a lot of things in my husband's absence, but dead rodents are outside my bailiwick. Besides, I wouldn't want my wonderful husband to think he's not needed!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rant alert! Run away!

I went down to check on my new office today since I'm required to move out of my current office by Friday and I've been out of town for a week, surely long enough for all the promised work to be completed. You know what's coming:

The lock hadn't been changed so I couldn't get in.

I waited for campus police to let me in and discovered dingy paint, cobwebs draping the corners, extra filing cabinets lining the walls, and the filthiest floor I've ever seen outside a gas-station rest room.

I talked to the Powers That Be about the difficulty of moving into an office that hasn't been cleaned and painted and to which I do not possess a key, and they said, "Oh, that office is done."

I talked to some Higher Powers, who checked with the Lower Powers, who assured them that the work had been done.

"Nothing has been done," I said. "If you don't believe me, go over and see for yourself." He promised to do so. Meanwhile, I've received two more phone calls and an e-mail from various PTBs and their minions assuring me that the work on that office has already been done when anyone with functioning eyeballs could clearly discern that NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE.

But that's okay. Who am I to demand an actual functioning office? Starving children in Mogadishu don't have offices at all. It's totally selfish to expect an office when we have underutilized spaces all over campus. I'll just find a quiet corner of some supply closet or stash my books in a rest-room stall--or, I know, there's space under that big table outside the English Department office. It might be a little tight when I have to meet with students, but at least it's a space, and what more do I want?

Easy answer: I want an office!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Grim Reader and other anomalies

If I had to meet the Grim Reader, I'm glad it happened on Thursday morning. If I'd met him earlier in the week, I might have run straight to the river and thrown myself in. 

He sat at breakfast looking funereal while the rest of us at the table giggled over silly comments we'd read in student essays--and let me just interject a note on how inhumane it is to expect people who've been reading 300 student essays a day and sleeping poorly at night to engage in sparkling repartee while still ingesting their morning quota of caffeine. There's a reason I don't have breakfast with strangers every day and if you ask me a simple question some morning before I've had my orange juice and granola, you'll understand why.

So anyway, a bunch of us are chattering and laughing and failing to notice that this guy over on the other side of the table is looking more and more grim, and then during a lull in the conversation he chimes in to chastise us. This is serious work, he says, and we need to take it seriously. The students work really hard and we should give them the respect they deserve by taking their work very very seriously. How dare we laugh? 

Nobody's laughing any more. Pretty soon everyone leaves to get back to the serious work of reading student essays.

And it is serious work. If you don't believe me, ask my eyeballs, which seriously threatened to go on strike at least twice a day. But seriously, it's possible to respect the work while still appreciating its lighter points. If I couldn't laugh once in a while I'd walk away from the pile of papers and never look back.

But the Grim Reader was an anomaly; in a week of grading essays, I never met anyone else who made me want to run screaming from the room. I enjoyed talking with high school English teachers and college professors from all over the country, and I learned a little something from every encounter. Mostly I learned that AP readers are passionately serious about respecting their students and improving their teaching, but I also learned that Sluggers Field offers terrific hot dogs, that "no tipping allowed" sometimes means "tipping expected," and that it's possible to read in your sleep but the results are not particularly accurate.

Yesterday my table leader asked if I'd come back next year, but I couldn't answer. I don't know. I found out that I can do the work pretty well and remain fairly sane, and where else can I make that much money for one week's work? But there's always the chance that the Grim Reader is not an anomaly. If I had to share a table with him and his ilk, I would walk away very quickly and never ever look back. Seriously.        


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Room for improvement

You know those giant slingshots they use to propel T-shirts into the stands at baseball games? We need one here in grading-land, and here's why:

There's nothing I like better than finishing a difficult task, but every time I close the folder on a stack of AP essays, a cheerful helper shows up at my elbow with another stack and I'm back at work before I have a chance to take a breath. But what if the helpers instead delivered the essays via giant slingshot? It would add a touch of drama to the process, especially if each blast were accompanied by a burst of confetti or a trumpet fanfare.

And that's not the only improvement I'd recommend. The snack breaks are nice, but today I saw some English teachers nearly come to fisticuffs over the last of the popcorn. Making the snacks more scarce and encouraging food fights would get the sluggish blood flowing again. 

Alternately, we could replace the afternoon stretch break with the Chicken Dance or the Hokey-Pokey or, heaven help us, the Macarena. Or how about massages? I would gladly accept a lower stipend in exchange for a daily neck rub from a trained masseuse.

Finally, what about Arts & Crafts Time? Everyone's wearing these T-shirts that call the AP reading "Summer Camp for English Teachers," but what's summer camp without Arts & Crafts? We could cut out the pictures students draw in the books and decoupage them to make wall plaques, or instead of merely filling in bubble sheets, we could fold the essays into origami shapes indicating their rankings.

I know, I know: all those things take time and money and might distract from the serious business of grading essays, but a girl can dream. In fact, sometimes dreaming is the only thing that gets me through that next big pile of papers.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bridge over troubled chickens

I'm about to walk across the Ohio River when I see this sign, and suddenly I regret neglecting to bring along a tape measure to make sure all walkers maintain assured clear distance on the sidewalk. Fortunately it's a slow time of day--I'm alone on the bridge all the way over to Indiana and halfway back, and then about a dozen people all clumped close together come walking up the sidewalk toward me. What am I supposed to do--toss them off the bridge?

The Ohio is significantly wider here than it is back home and there's quite a breeze up on the bridge. At one point a great blue heron flies beneath the bridge, perhaps the only time I'll ever have a heron flying under my feet. 

Wait, which bridge should I take?
Hotel carpet. Somebody thought this was a good idea.
My feet have have done some serious walking since I've been in Louisville, which is difficult because I'm accustomed to walking on grass or gravel. Pavement hurts. And so does the carpet in my hotel, which I'd like to enter into the World's Ugliest Hotel Carpet competition. It would definitely be a contender.

And then there are the chickens. I happened upon them yesterday and had to go back today with the camera because they are like no birds I've ever encountered, with their multiple misshapen heads and dotty bodies. They are the work of the late Louisville artist Marvin Finn and they roost in a sculpture garden called Flock of Finns. The many-headed one looks like me after I've been immersed in mediocre essays for a few days. 

I've made it halfway through my week of AP essay grading without tossing any papers into the river, although I've been sorely tempted more than once. The crowded grading room makes me more claustrophobic every day, but I think I've found a solution: late tonight I'll sneak out and steal that sign from the bridge, and if too many graders intrude upon my personal space, I'll just throw them over the side.



Monday, June 11, 2012

Inside the No-Wailing Zone

Heads are bowed over hundreds of tables as English teachers read essay after essay for hours on end. Some read standing up, swaying slightly as if davening before the Wailing Wall, although wailing is frowned upon here. It's a remarkably quiet room considering the number of people and chairs and pieces of paper. Periodically a bell rings and we all reach for headphones so we can hear what the room leader has to say. By the end of the week the sound of a bell will make us salivate in unison. 

Reading for hours under fluorescent lights puts quite a strain on body and soul, but we all develop our coping methods. I sit up straight and stretch my legs out in front and raise and lower them or swing my feet around in circles. I lean forward and then back, set the essay on the table or lift it up in front of my eyes, cross and uncross my legs and occasionally slouch. To keep from getting sleepy I breathe deeply and maintain steady caffeine intake, but for mental alertness nothing works better than a quick shot of laughter--which is, sadly, in short supply. It's hard to share a good laugh when everyone remains so studiously quiet.

If we all took time to share the funny things we're reading, we'd never get through 200 or 250 or even 300 essays in a day. And so we sit, and sometimes we stretch or grimace or reach for the chocolate, but when something really funny comes up, we're generally constrained to keep it to ourselves.

And then that little bell rings and we're released from our labors--and then, look out! You'd better not get in our way!

Bring on the Kool-Aid!

In the past two days I've read more than 300 student essays analyzing (or purporting to analyze) the same poem, and now my brain hurts, my eyes hurt, and my butt is numb from two much sitting. I've seen the word "repetition" spelled so many different ways that I'm no longer certain which one is correct. I have read essays asserting that literature often contains literary elements, that poets use diction, and that anyone using the word "thou" must be writing in Old English. Help!

People who do this job year after year keep telling me how much they look forward to the experience. They get to share ideas with 2000 English teachers! They gain perspective on the range of students' writing skills! They learn so much about what students are thinking! Maybe after I drink the Kool-Aid for a few more days I'll feel the same way, but for now I'm just slogging through the morass and trying not to sink. Or think. 

Because it hurts. By the end of the day, my head feels as if it has been pummeled by rubber mallets and I struggle to carry on an intelligent conversation. And yet I keep going back for more. If you'd like to see what 2000 masochistic English teachers look like, come to Louisville!

Just don't ask me to spell anything.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The view from my window

Ohio River from the ninth floor of the Galt House, Louisville, Kentucky

Friday, June 08, 2012

From Belles to decibels

Today I watched the Belle of Louisville pull away from the pier loaded with revelers ready for an old-time trip up the Ohio River, but all I could hear was the vroom and hum and screech of traffic on the interstate. 

I walked along the river to a park, heard children playing and saw them splashing in a fountain to the lulling sound of traffic on the interstate. I saw some cliff swallows and heard their calls accompanied by the sound of traffic on the interstate, and I walked back to my hotel seeking cooling shade beneath the elevated interstate.

My room on the ninth floor of the Galt House offers a terrific view of the river and a pair of bridges carrying traffic on the interstate. I fear that those incessant sounds will work their way into my nightmares, driving through my dreams and shoving my sanity off the side of the road. 

I've lived too long in the country, but I recall that when we lived within 20 feet of a railroad track, I eventually stopped noticing the rumble and clatter of the trains that seemed to be thundering through our bedroom.  By the end of the week I won't even hear the traffic sounds that batter my brains today, but then I'll be on my way home with new appreciation for the gentle sounds and soothing silence of my quiet place in the woods.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Louisville blues

I'm leaving for Louisville day after tomorrow to spend a week doing TOP SECRET work along with a horde of other English teachers and I'm afraid the time has come to face the facts: I loathe Louisville. I realize that it's unfair to hate a place based on a few bad experiences, but that's all I've got to go on. Maybe the coming week will change my mind, but Louisville will have to work pretty hard to counteract my prejudice.

I lived in Kentucky for eight years in the 1980s but visited Louisville only six or seven times. We took our daughter to the zoo there when she was still small enough to be pushed in a stroller, but all my other memories of Louisville are less pleasant. 

I have been lost in Louisville more than once and, on every occasion, I received bad or incoherent directions. 

I got my first traffic ticket in Louisville. 

I have been to traffic court in Louisville. 

In Louisville I found a bug in my salad.

My manual-transmission car stalled and had to be push-started in downtown Louisville during rush hour, with me doing the steering and a female college classmate doing the pushing. Fortunately, she was a softball player and it was a small car. 

That was more than 20 years ago, so perhaps it's time to give Louisville another chance. For a week I'll be sequestered inside conference halls for eight hours a day in Louisville, but I'll have evenings free to explore the city. I'm haunted by the fear that nothing good can happen in Louisville--to me, at least--but I'm willing to be proven wrong. Come on, Louisville: show me your stuff! 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Colorful commoners

Pity the Common Yellowthroat: no matter how prettily it flits around our upper meadow sending flashes of gold through the foliage, I'm still obliged to call it common. It would get more respect if we called it resplendent, but I'm not in charge of bird nomenclature so it will have to remain common.

Birders keep telling me that Ohio's most beautiful bird is the cerulean warbler, which they usually refer to as the shy cerulean warbler, but the bird's very rarity adds to its aura. To see a cerulean warbler, you have to trek into the woods in certain parts of the state at just the right time with binoculars and a lot of patience (which is probably why I've never seen one), and then you might just catch a fleeting glimpse of blue disappearing deeper into the trees. If cerulean warblers were regular visitors to birdfeeders, I don't know if I'd find them any more lovely than our elegant nuthatches or other common birds.

Take the cardinal. Some years ago a small child visiting from California started jumping up and down with glee when she spotted the pretty red bird at our feeders. "It's just a cardinal," I said, but that just is an unjust slur on such a distinctive bird. What other wild creature brings such brilliant scarlet color into our lives year-round? Common though they be, cardinals are uncommonly colorful. 

And what's so wrong with being common? While the Brits celebrate their resplendent royalty, I pause to salute the bright spots of beauty so often overlooked because they are called common.  

Sunday, June 03, 2012

With Waldman in the garden of grief

Amy Waldman's novel The Submission is a story about a committee trying to come to consensus. It's full of meetings that inspire more meetings where discussions, disagreements, decisions, and indecisions spread to infect yet more meetings, hearings, rallies, protests, press conferences, and, eventually, mobs. Careers are ruined or enhanced, often accidentally. Threats are issued. A person is murdered. In the end there is submission, although it is not entirely clear who is submitting to whom. And despite its accurate portrayal of the deadening inanity of committee work, I could not put the book down.

This committee, see, is trying to select a design for a memorial to the September 11, 2001 attacks, a matter complicated by the competing interests of artists, politicians, and family members of the victims--and complicated even more when news leaks out that the winning entry was designed by a Muslim, Mohammad "Mo" Khan, who can't recognize himself in the portraits appearing in the press:
Mo began to put psychological distance between himself and the Mohammad Khan who was written and talked about, as if that were another man altogether. It often was. Facts were not found but made, and once made, alive, defying anyone to tell them from truth....He was called, besides decadent, abstinent, deviant, violent, insolent, abhorrent, aberrant, and typical.
The media frenzy disrupts Khan's career and causes him to question his heritage and values, but he is far from the only victim. Claire Burwell, who represents the families of victims on the design selection committee, sees her certainties crumble as she tries to distinguish between the artist and his design. Like Mo, she is isolated, pressured from both sides and uncertain that shared grief is sufficient reason for loyalty to strangers. "Grief was not a country she had chosen to enter," she decides, "but she could choose when to leave, even if joining the diaspora bore the taint of treason."

Among those who consider Claire treasonous is Sean Gallagher, whose brother's death in the attack gave his life new purpose. Even he, though, finds his convictions shaken when he sees how many people are willing to profit from others' pain. Standing before a mob willing to shed blood to protect the memory of those who died by violence, he realizes that "Horrible as the attack was, everyone wanted a little of its ash on their hands." 

Waldman excels at constructing such pithy statements and demonstrates an excellent ear for rhythm and sound. When Claire meets a pesky journalist on neutral territory, Waldman requires only 13 words to create a clear picture: "Its walls were mirrored, its tables marble, its espresso feral, its pastries stale." You could sing those lines--or, better yet, Leonard Cohen could sing them. 

But even better, you could read the book. It's a compelling and thought-provoking novel that maintains suspense despite its mundane subject, and in the end, it leaves you in a garden--with just a little ash on your hands. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Poetry in motion

What makes a sport poetic?

I'm teaching a freshman class this fall on Sports Literature and so I've been working my way through Motion: American Sports Poems, a lively and readable little anthology edited by Noah Blaustein. In just over 200 pages, it serves up some pretty big hitters: here's William Carlos Williams communing with Richard Wilbur and James Wright, and who knew Marianne Moore wrote a poem about baseball? Yusuf Kumunyakaa's "Slam, Dunk, and Hook" is always a big hit when I teach it in American Lit Survey, but why have I never before encountered "Forty-One Seconds on a Sunday," Quincy Troupe's remarkable villanelle about Michael Jordan?

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at the number of poems about old guys trying to regain past glory, but I was startled at how often death steps in and stops the game. Some poems are studded with big names like Satchel Paige, Vince Lombardi, Mickey Mantle, and Muhammad Ali, while more intimate poems celebrate the fathers, grandfathers, and nameless neighbors who leave their mark on the field of play.

The topical index at the back of the book suggests that some sports inspire more poetry than others. Diving, bowling, curling, and karate each have only one entry in the index, while fishing has eight and running six. This is, of course, a collection of American sports poems, which may begin to explain why there's only one entry each for bullfighting and soccer.

I wouldn't consider boxing a particularly poetic sport, but the book includes 11 boxing poems, compared to only six on football (but one of those six is James Wright's "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio," which says so much in three short stanzas that it ought to count double).   

When it comes to volume, two sports beat all the others hands down: basketball (17 poems) and baseball (a whopping 29, although I don't recall seeing the word "whopping" in any of them). My favorite, I think, is a lovely 10-line poem by Robert Francis called "Pitcher," but when I try to find the full text online, I am bombarded by links to student essays of the sort I may encounter this fall. "Pitcher," they insist, is a "relatable" poem the writers can really "connect" with but although it is "mostly a poem with a baseball-like theme," it's not really about baseball. 

I notice that Noah Blaustein did not include a listing in the index for sports poems that are not really about sports, but I have a feeling my students will discover many examples of the type. The not-really-about-sports poem: our most poetic sport. 

Backing faculty into a corner

I wouldn't want to be E.Gordon Gee today. Sure, the Ohio State University president collects a hefty paycheck and gets to wear those cool bow ties and hang around with Brutus Buckeye, but he also has to stand up in front of his esteemed faculty and declare that the future of the university depends upon parking fees.

That's right: there he is on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch threatening his Faculty Council with "budget cuts, layoffs, and bigger-than-normal tuition increases if the university doesn't consider taking a payout from leasing its parking operations." Later, the article explains that a significant chunk of the estimated $400 million payout will fund new tenure-track faculty lines.

This is a classic move when administrators seek faculty support for an iffy proposition: threaten layoffs if the measure is rejected while promising raises or new hires if it's approved. It's a way to "make it personal," as Gee told his faculty.

I have no opinion about OSU's parking situation or budget woes, but when I see the president of a prestigious research institution claiming that its future viability depends largely on leasing out parking facilities, I get a little nervous--and when he uses that familiar carrot-and-stick scenario to back the faculty into a corner, I want to run away. How would you like to slog your way through a Ph.D. program and work up through the ranks to reach a position as a professor with enough clout to be elected to the Faculty Council of The Ohio State University only to be told that you'd better approve this parking lease deal or the whole place will fall to pieces?

No, I wouldn't want to be E. Gordon Gee today--but I really wouldn't want to be on that Faculty Council.