Earlier this week, on Monday, I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, to present a talk and workshop on visual thinking as a strategy for engaging students more effectively in reading assignments and other course work. I’ve already written a bit about this opportunity here.
In addition to the presentation and workshop, I wanted to do a bit of time travel back to my days at Southwestern between 1972 and 1976, so I walked around campus and drove to where I used to live in town, and also spent some time at San Gabriel Park along the North San Gabriel River.
I also wanted to find a poem I had written in 1973 that led to me winning the literary festival award in poetry that year, an experience that kickstarted my thinking about the possibility of majoring in English. It also prompted me to see writing and poetry as core features of my identity.
Unfortunately, I no longer had a copy of that poem, even though I had a photograph of me sitting with the other festival winners in poetry. That’s Bill Cates on the left, Cary Campbell in the middle, and me on the right.
But I do remember thinking that the last time I saw the poem that I was a little embarrassed by its simplicity and awkward phrasing. Still, it opened a door to the person I am today, so I wanted to find a copy for my own records.
Last week, I looked on the Southwestern library electronic catalog and had trouble finding the 1973 edition of Southwestern Magazine, the student literary and arts magazine, so I emailed the library staff for help. A staff member there found a catalog entry and sent me an email with a link to a entry which identified a copy on microfilm
I left early from San Angelo on Monday, and after a four hour drive or so, I walked over to the library, pulled up the email on my phone, and saw at the bottom of the entry that there were also hard copies available in Special Collections. I walked up to the top floor, filled out some paperwork, and was then handed a box of Southwestern Magazines from 1970-1980.
I hadn’t remembered that this little magazine was published three or four times a year, but there they were all neatly huddled together in this box. Little journals in all colors and sizes. I reached in and began pulling out one by one those that were recognizable to me, focusing on 1973, the year I won the festival prize.
I thumbed through each magazine from that year, and I found other poems I had written during that time, but I couldn’t find the poem I was looking for. I was confused because I was sure it had been published in one of the collections that year, but I couldn’t find it. Convinced I overlooked it, I went through all of the magazines again. Still no luck. I stood there, 41 years after the fact, wondering if I had only imagined the poem being published in the magazine.
The librarian in special collections came over and asked me if I found what I was looking for.
“No,” I said, “Maybe it was never published. Or maybe it was printed in the student newspaper instead of the magazine. I guess I don’t remember it after all.”
So I handed him the box of magazines, and both disappointed and confused, I headed over to where I would give my presentation/workshop later in the day, wondering if I just didn’t look closely enough in the box and thinking maybe I should go back later and look again a third time.
That afternoon, after making sure the audio-visual was in place for my presentation, a few members of the campus community, faculty, staff, and students, began filing into the room. I greeted them one by one, introducing myself and learning their names. One woman walked up to me and said,
“Hi, you must be Laurence. I’m Joan Parks, and I work in the library. We talked on email about that poem you were looking for. And here is a copy I printed for you off of microfilm.”
And sure enough, there it was. And here it is.
I am very thankful to Joan for finding this for me.
Reading this poem of mine by the me who was 18 years old at the time helps me remember him and the kind of serious fun he liked and I like when writing our poems.
But what strikes me now as I read the poem is the fact that here was a poem about vision, about seeing and knowing and not seeing and not knowing, and there I was back in the same place four decades later talking about visual thinking.
As my pal Tex would say, “The older we get, the more we get to be the who we already were.”