ONEONTA – As SUNY Oneonta steps back, Hartwick College steps forward.
Wednesday, SUNY Oneonta announced it is pulling out of the two-college OH Fest, moving the annual concert from Neahwa Park to the Dewar Arena, and cancelling the OH street fair that has been a springtime staple in Oneonta for more than a decade.
Thursday, Hartwick announced it will continue the street fair without SUNY’s participation.
ONEONTA – Randall Jarrell (a friend of Elizabeth Bishop) said that a poet is one who, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, manages to get struck by lightning six or seven times.
It doesn’t work that way. And don’t try it at home. And don’t let your kids try it either. But Jarrell’s outlandish savvy underscores one thing: We don’t know how poets and poems are made. Like all art, it’s a mystery we never stop
trying to solve.
We do know, however, that now and again, the universe plants among us a child whose way with words grows through trial and talent and long life, such that her compositions are read, spoken, cherished.
And now and again, the universe gives us a person whose apprehension of those writings grows commensurate with their greatness, whose vision helps us enter more fully the world, at once intimate and vast, that the poetry paints for us, helps us be more alive to the work that so moved him to dedicate his life to it.
I can just see one of Tom Travisano’s students, after a rapturous class on Bishop, ask, “Dr. Travisano, have you studied Elizabeth Bishop your whole life?” To which Tom replies (I imag-ine), “Not yet!”
I wonder what stirred in the young Tom Travisano 45 years ago, when the first Bishop poem lit up in him, lit the first steps on his life’s path to Nova Scotia, New York City, Cambridge, Mass., Rio de Janeiro, and the Amazon villages in Brazil, but always return to this small city in Upstate New York?
Her life’s work ended about when his began.
Was “The Imminent Will that stirs and urges everything” (in Hardy’s phrase) at the end of Bishop’s life passing the task of immortalizing her work into others’ hands?
What thread of fate led Travisano to seek out the whole canon of Bishop’s poetry, drafts, letters; to write his dissertation at the University of Virginia on a little known and less understood poet that would become his first book, “Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development.”
Then to place Bishop studies in the wider circle of Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and John Berryman, in his study, “Midcentury Quartet.” And then to widen his scope to all of American poetry in the three-volume “The New Anthology of American Poetry.”
Having scanned that transcontinental immensity, he returned to his first love, entirely textual I’m sure, to the other woman in Tom’s life (Elsa won’t mind), through the letters between Bishop and Robert Lowell, in his edition, “Words in Air.”
Then attending to Bishop’s future, a study of “Elizabeth Bishop in the 21st Century, Reading the New Editions.”
And now, the culmination of his lifelong (so far!) study, the book we are all privileged to be part of launching tonight, “Love Unknown.”
Through that whole career, the love and support of his family supported him in his addiction: his wife Elsa, son Michael and daughter Emily.
Professor of English at Hartwick College, English Department chair, endowed Babcock Professor of English, twice a Winifred Wandersee Scholar, Travisano won numerous teaching and research and trustee awards, as well external support from the Guggenheim Foundation and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, founded and still serves as president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, wrote and delivered countless (I gave up) articles, chapters, reviews, lectures, interviews with the BBC, across the nation, across the Americas, across the ocean, maybe Mars someday – anymore and I’m going to need oxygen.
We don’t know how poems and poets are made, but we know that the best that can happen for a poet
is to have a reader as brilliant and articulate as Tom Travisano whose dedication carries her work forward, so we reap the reward of understanding. Please give a generous hand of applause to Dr. Tom Travisano.
DAY OF THE DEAD – 10 a.m. – Noon. Experience Dia De Muertos and the Latinx community by telling stories in Spanish & English, participating in family activities, enjoy traditional food, more. Cooperstown Village Library. 607-547-8344 or visit www.facebook.com/VillageLibraryOfCooperstown/
ONEONTA – Tom Travisano is the top expert on Elizabeth Bishop, ever since falling in love with her work while taking a Contemporary Poetry course at the University of Virginia in 1975. “She was the poet who really jumped out to me,” he remembers.
Several of his nine books dealt with her, from “Midcentury Quartet” (1999), exploring Bishop along with Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell and John Berryman, to “Words on Air” (2008), the complete Bishop-Lowell correspondence, reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review.
So, when the founder and president of the national Elizabeth Bishop Society began THE definitive biography – three years research, three writing, it turned out – Travisano expected few surprises.
Instead, “Love Unknown: The Life and Worlds of Elizabeth Bishop,” which will be published next Tuesday, Nov. 5, has a brand new take.
The biography – you can preorder it on Amazon – became “the story of the human development of a trauma survivor,” he recounted in an interview the other day at his State Street home: Elizabeth Bishop had been sexually molested for a decade.
Alice Methfessel, the last love of Bishop’s life – the poet died in 1979 – sold the poet’s papers in 1981 to Vassar College, Bishop’s alma mater. “But Alice had withheld the more personal and intimate ones,” Travisano said.
As he moved toward retirement from Hartwick College’s English Department, which he chaired for five years, he learned Vassar was finally indexing the documents, preparing to make them public. When it did, in 2013, “I was the first one to see them,” Travisano said.
He had long recognized Elizabeth Bishop faced challenges, long suffering from asthma – many people outgrow it – and eczema, binge drinking and depression.
He credited the chronic challenges to the absence of a father – William, a successful businessman, died when she was 8 months old – and her mother’s nervous breakdown when the daughter was 8 – Gertrude spent the rest of her life in an asylum.
But there it was, a 22-page, single-spaced typewritten letter Bishop wrote to her psychologist in 1947 when she was 36: After her mother’s death, the girl was sexually abused by her uncle, George Shepherdson, in Massachusetts, where she was molested from ages 8 to 18.
“She was alive in only two places – school and camp,” said Travisano. “The rest was interment, while she awaited the next resurrection.”
This sent the biographer in a whole new direction – “there’s something very visceral going on here” – seeking to understand Bishop’s struggles anew. A great discovery, he said, was Bessel van der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps the Score” – Bishop, it turns out, was a textbook case.
This is a new layer, on top of the richness of the poems and the poet’s world travels and friendships.
In the interview, along with his wife Elsa, an independent Apple Computer consultant and champion of her husband’s research, Travisano quoted poet James Merrill: Bishop “has more talent for life and poetry of anyone I knew,” and he sought to reflect that in the new book.
“I wanted people to read a good story about a very interesting person,” the biographer said.
He was assisted in this by the Creative Non-Fiction class he taught at Hartwick for years, showing seniors the New Journalism’s use of fictional techniques – story arcs, dialogue and description – in non-fiction writing.
He particularly admired John McPhee, and actually visited the New Yorker’s cornerstone essayist once at his Princeton office.
The result is rich detail and description, as he assesses “The Toucan,” “The Fish” and other textured poems. Bishop arrives home to find a painting by an artist neighbor on her front porch – homeowners will want to recruit a local artist to try to duplicate the poet’s pleasure at the image.
“Each chapter is supposed to begin with a bang!” the writer said, and they do, from page one, “When Elizabeth Bishop was 3 years old, she witnesses the Great Salem Fire … The fire raged in the darkness, sweeping through nearly 250 acres of the historic harbor town and reducing to charred ruins the homes of more than 20,000 inhabitants.”
Then, an excerpt, “the sky was bright red; everything was red:/ out on the lawn, my mother’s white dress looked/rose red; my white enameled crib was red.”
Travisano builds fact on fact, image on image, description on description, allowing readers to reach their own conclusions.
His publisher, Viking Penguin, already intends to nominate “Love Unknown” for a Pulitzer. (Earlier, Travisano also received a Guggenheim.)
The writer – he and Elsa have two grown children, Michael, a docent at The Fenimore and Farmers’, and Emily, who lives in Massachusetts and is writing her first novel – will launched his publicity tour locally at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, a Roots Brewery, an appearance sponsored by the Green Toad Bookstore.
He will speak at Vassar on the 12th, the Worcester, Mass., Historical Museum on the 13th. Programs are also planned at the two most prestigious venues: The Harvard Book Store and, in Washington D.C., Politics & Prose, near Dupont Circle.
Bishop’s life on the move provided another benefit to the researcher: Travisano traveled to locales to see and experience what she had – Europe, Boston, up the Amazon on a mail boat. He spent time at Great Village, on the Bay of Fundy with its 43-foot tides; the worldwide average for tides is 3.3 feet.
Bishop stopped in Santos, Brazil, on a trip around the continent, was presented with toucan, fell in love with Lota de Macedo Soares, who designed Flamengo Park, Rio’s equivalent of Central Park, and stayed for 15 years.
A conservative military regime took over Brazil after Soares’ death and, because she was gay, largely erased her legacy, which is now being revived through Travisano’s research and lecturing there.
Once, he ran into a colleague at Albany airport who was heading off to dreary wintertime Ukraine on a research trip.
I’m off on a winter research trip, too, Travisano said: Key West.
SCI-FI & HORROR – 11 a.m. Day 2 of the strange and horrific festival. Features authors, vendors, speakers, activities, more. Cost, $6/person for day pass. Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta. Visit www.facebook.com/SciFiHorroFest/
The Rev. Paul Messner takes his first dip of the day in the dunking cage at Atonement Lutheran Church’s block party today in Oneonta – credit Keegan Syron’s accurate arm. Helping Pastor Messner at the cage – in addition to spending $1 from time to time for three rubber balls to throw at their mentor – were members of Hartwick College’s Alpha Sigma Phi national fraternity, from left, Keegan, Syrano Edwards, Les Vaccaro and Connor Roadermel. The block party benefits the Susquehanna SPCA’s Shelter Us campaign to raise $3.5 million for a new animal shelter at Index. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
“The sign spins, so when the football team plays, it’s the Clyde Field, and when the girls lacrosse team plays, it’s the Millie Field,” said David Lubell, Hartwick College media relations manager.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, the Wright Field and its new turf was dedicated in honor of Hartwick benefactors Clyde and Millie Wright at the halftime of the True Blue homecoming weekend football game.
“Clyde and Millie donated their time to and invested in the community,” said Hartwick College President Dr. Margaret L. Drugovich during her remarks. “As we dedicate this field, we acknowledge that they will be remembered, woven in the fabric of our strength.”
Clyde Wright, a Milford native and a graduate of Oneonta High School, was a prominent businessman, the owner of Wright’s Grocery and later, Wright’s Electric Co.
“He got to know everybody,” said his son, Brian R. Wright, partner in Hinman, Howard & Katell, the prominent Binghamton law firm. “And he believed that citizens should be involved in supporting the college. So he organized the Citizens Board at Hartwick College.”
Clyde’s wife, Millie, also got involved with fundraising, and the two of them were frequent guests at science lectures and cultural gatherings on Oyaron Hill. “She was very supportive of a college education,” said Wright. “She thought it was wonderful to see all the students downtown, enjoying Oneonta.”
Clyde also served on the board of trustees, and was recognized by the college’s Citizens Board as a Distinguished Citizen in 1958.
“His citation read, ‘Though his name is known far beyond the confines of this community, it is here that the foundation for his abundant life has been laid, and it is here that has the first place in his mind and heart,” said Drugovich.
Son Brian followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as a trustee for 26 years. “There hadn’t been football at Hartwick College since 1958,” he said. “During my tenure, the school decided it would be good to reinstitute football. It’s good for bringing student athletes and it helps the male and female balance at the school.”
The field was then known as the all-weather field, with what Wright described as a “carpet” of turf. “It was getting a lot of use,” he said. “There was football, and women’s field hockey and lacrosse were becoming popular. It just wore out.”
Wright spearheaded a fundraising effort to raised to re-turf and rededicate the field. In all, $3 million was raised and spread out over Wright and Elmore Field, as well as additional outdoor athletic enhancements.
“There we so many donors and trustees who saw the value of athletics,” he said. “And with all the student athletes coming in, they didn’t need a new dorm or educational building, they needed fields to play on that were comparable to other schools.”
In 2006, the field was dedicated in the Wright Family’s honor under the late Dick Miller’s tenure as college president. He gave Brian Wright a Hartwick College baseball cap, which he wore again on Saturday.
“On that day in 2006, the Hartwick community gathered to name this stadium after the Wright family,” said Drugovich. “On that day, the memory of your father and mother came alive through words of tribute.”
And in 2008, Brian and Josie were named Hartwick College Citizens of the Year – 50 years after his father was so named – and the son has received both an honorary degree and the President’s Medal for Extraordinary and Exemplary Loyalty.
Immediately following the 2019 graduation ceremonies, the old turf – dubbed “Clyde’s Carpet” following the original dedication – was removed, and an entirely new field put in. The turf itself has deeper fibers, and the infill layers underneath are made of sand and rubber pellets to provide more cushion for players.
In all, $450,000 was raised for the new turf field, with Wright providing the lead gift and matching dollar-for-dollar every gift.
The ironic thing about actress Felicity Huffman and many other well-heeled parents bribing college officials to get their students into top schools is: It doesn’t matter.
Human beings have lived for 200,000 years. No one’s sure how many of us have walked this Earth, but a common “best guess” is 105 billion.
All but a tiny fraction of those, you must know, never heard of Harvard, Yale or Stanford. Even today, only a fraction of the 7.2 billion living on Earth have heard of the Ivy League – or would care if they had.
Now get this: Despite the inevitable challenges we all face, many of those 105 billion, and today’s 7.2 billion, are living satisfactory lives, some more joyful than others, all containing moments of happiness, and sometimes much more.
This being a local paper, there’s a local angle, beyond all of us knowing a happy person, or two, or many more.
With 10 more of those overreaching parents due to be sentenced this week – perhaps to short prison terms – Malcolm Gladwell’s comparison of Harvard University with Hartwick College from “David and Goliath” (2013) comes to mind.
Gladwell compared the number of STEM students – in the rigorous science, technology, engineering and math fields – at Harvard and at Hartwick.
He found: Even though Harvard’s bottom third of STEM students have higher SATs than the top third at Hartwick, “students in the bottom third of the Harvard class give up on challenging math and science studies just as much as their counterparts in Upstate
Comparing themselves to the geniuses at the top of the class, Harvard’s bottom third become “so demoralized … many of them drop out of science entirely and transfer to some non-science major.”
Dipping into another analysis, Gladwell finds “the likelihood of someone completing a STEM degree … rises by 2 percentage points for every 10-point decrease in the university’s average SAT score.
In the case of a young woman considering STEM programs, he figures she would reduce her chances of success by 30 percent by choosing Brown over the University of Maryland. “Thirty percent!” he exclaims.
“The smarter your peers, the dumber you feel,” said Gladwell. “The dumber you feel, the more likely you are to drop out of science.”
This isn’t to dis Harvard.
If you get in – as a number of lively, brainy, disciplined, accomplished Otsego County high school graduates do every decade – great. When you do go, and are surrounded by all those geniuses, don’t forget: You’re plenty smart or you wouldn’t be there.
Elsewhere, it’s been noted U.S. presidents – until lately, exemplars of American accomplishment – were predominantly from small towns, from Niles, Ohio, to West Branch, Iowa, to Tampico, Ill. In small towns, according to one theory, young future presidents learned they could influence their surroundings, and emerged self-confident
they could save the world.
Many didn’t go to college, but “read law,” and many went to fine smaller colleges
like Hartwick – Kenyon, Bowdoin, Union. Harry S Truman went to Spalding
Commercial College in Kansas City, Mo. – and dropped out.
So two cheers for Otsego County – home of small towns, and of Hartwick College.
Even that’s beside the point.
Two-thirds of Americans don’t have college degrees, and many of them – as all of us know from our neighbors – are living happy lives, with meaningful jobs, surrounded by loving family.
One caveat, don’t forget that Brookings’ study from 2014, identifying – statistically – three ways young people can achieve economic security: One, finish high school; two, work fulltime; three, don’t marry and start a family until you’re 21.
Nor is this in praise of poverty. No way.
Let’s go back where we started. Fifteen parents may go to jail this week for something that doesn’t matter.
What did Freud say? Love and work are the sole requirements of a happy life.
When Huffman’s daughter Sophia learned the news, she told her mother, “Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?” mom Felicity testified.
“I had no adequate answer for her then,” the mother continued, “I have no adequate answer for her now. I can only say, I am so sorry, Sophia. I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong.”
Go Hawks! Go Red Dragons, for that matter – SUNY Oneonta has success
stories aplenty as well. Even further: Go Oneonta Yellowjackets! Go Cooperstown Redsk…, er, Hawkeyes!
The means to happiness may be simpler than we often think.
HARVEST FESTIVAL – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Two-day fest continues today, featuring live performances, music, family activities to celebrate the seasons bounty. Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown. 607-547-1450 or visit www.farmersmuseum.org/Harvest-Festival
FALL FEST – 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Explore the environmental campus this True Blue weekend. Includes apple cider making, cob oven bread baking, hay rides, live music, opportunity to do the ropes course (closed toe shoes required). Pine Lake Environmental Campus, Hartwick College, Oneonta. 607-431-4064 or visit www.hartwick.edu/alumni-and-friends/true-blue-weekend/