'Communing With the Mystery'

by Steve Charles

April 30, 2015

“Our poet finds meaning, affirmation, belonging, love, and even clarity through the reading and writing of poetry,” senior Stephen Batchelder said Wednesday as he introduced Professor of English Marc Hudson in Salter Hall. “He calls it ‘communing with the mystery.’”

For the next 70 minutes Hudson celebrated that communion and his 28 years teaching at Wabash with a stirring farewell reading of poems from his books—the Juniper-Prize-winning Afterlight; Journal for an Injured Son; and The Disappearing Poet Blues—as well as new work.

It was Hudson’s second presentation in the past six days as the Wabash community savors the gifts of the poet, teacher, and essayist in anticipation of his retirement from the classroom this spring. The writer whose words once captured the essence of the College—“What is Wabash but friendship and story, the history of a hunger to know”—delivered his final Chapel Talk last Thursday. Dedicating the talk to his daughter, Alix, and in memory of his son, Ian, Hudson painted a vivid picture of life on the Wabash campus, remembering particular students and events with intriguing detail.

“All these images cohere into an idea of place that is Wabash,” Hudson said. “Not just this brick and mortar, pulpit and wooden pew, these tall windows where the morning light slants in, the creaking stairways of Center Hall and all its kindly ghosts, nor the entryway of the Allen Center, where the bronze bell hangs, silent for now, nor the Field House or the Stadium, nor the stone tablet sarcophagus of the Goodrich Room, nor the Arboretum nor the Natatorium, the galleries and halls and theaters of the Fine Arts Center, nor all of you and your many houses, nor all the deans and professoriate and staff, the avid discussions, and vivisections, study tables, periodic tables, and ping-pong tables.

“Wabash is all of this and so much more,” Hudson said. “This place stands opposite those anonymous public spaces of transit and power—airport waiting rooms, money machines avid to scan our credit cards, security check-in lines, on-board travel magazines advertising five-star luxury hotels on the shores of second world island nations. These are the temporary resorts of folks in transit, whether the conditions are luxurious or inhumane, whether they be hotel chains or refugee camps, Disney Worlds or nursing homes, where we are simultaneously nowhere and everywhere.

“True places, on the other hand, convey a sense of permanence.”

Speaking the day before Earth Day, Hudson turned to the “slow moving catastrophe” of “anthropogenic climate change.”

“Such knowledge is one of the penalties of a liberal arts education and so too is the compassion we feel for those hard pressed island families,” Hudson said. “Such an education means we connect fact with value, and understand our responsibilities to others as liberally educated citizens.  And it also may mean a hopeful kind of sorrow, an extension of ethical consideration to our nonhuman relations. As Leopold put it, 'For one species to mourn another is a new thing under the sun.' 

"Perhaps, I wonder, if this might be a kind of evolution that is the gift of such a place as Wabash."

Wednesday’s farewell reading picked up where Hudson’s Chapel Talk left off—with the natural world and the poem “For Wang Wei” (“I need to learn the character for silence.”) But Hudson quickly moved on to “A Familiar Song” and “April 19,” works about his son, Ian, who was injured at birth, was a poet himself, and died in 2002 at age 19. (“’Not half of your fears for him/will come true. He will surprise/you with his accomplishments.’”) “Burro” and “A Father Born” speak to the experience of being a father. Hudson called “Morning Rounds,” about carrying his daughter, Alix, when she was a baby, “a poem of gratitude.” “Above the Gunnison,” also about Alix, seems a wide-eyed revel in that thanks.

Following two lighter poems and plenty of comic relief, Hudson read from Swimming the Acheron, a finalist for the 2014 National Poetry Series.

And after reading “the most serious Christian poem” he’s written, Hudson read “Sugar Creek Sutras,” which he described as “the most serious Buddhist poem I’ve written.”

“There are energies at work in this world that we only now and then are aware of,” Hudson said. He talked about his process of writing: “I go into a place of being still; if you do that, you’ll never go dry.”

Hudson’s Chapel Talk and reading made for a week of realizing why a College poet is not a luxury, but a necessity.

And there was a glimpse of legacy in Batchelder’s remarkable introduction: “Perhaps the most important thing that I have learned from Professor Hudson is that what we write, while we hope it may move and shape the way people see the world, is not as important as why we write.”


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