Word By Word, Step By Step
When I arrived at Wabash in 1995, I first noticed two things:
• the size of the religion department (Peebles, Williams, Placher, Webb—one more than the theology department at my own alma mater, which had double the student population. And the Wabash department had three times the majors!);
• the College had a poet.
A published, award-winning poet.
There had been no poet at my alma mater when I was there.
Which is sort of like having a biology department without a microscope, a chemistry department without a spectroscope, or our experimental physicist and Professor Jim Brown trying to track nuclei without access to the National Superconducting Cyclotron he and his students visit during the summer.
Poetry is the pure research of language, words the particles of light we search for.
So to have a poet at Wabash—Donald Baker H’57 before my arrival, Marc Hudson during most of my time here, and now Derek Mong—is essential for those of us who write, no matter what we’re writing.
We need someone who honors meaning of language one word a time, it’s rhythm one line at a time, the interplay of it all one stanza at a time. Someone caught up in the pursuit of the word.
Whenever I’m stuck and despairing of my own work, I go back to pen on paper and read a poet. Seeing the power of paying attention to every single word—it’s nuance, sound, shape, and temperament—reminds me that this is the way everything we write well is built, from the time we first pick up a pencil—and it takes time, and all you are. Take a deep breath, remember, wonder, draw the letter, then the word, then the sentence, and see what you discover.
That Marc Hudson was our poet when I arrived was providential. He was one of the first teachers I interviewed, and preparing for our conversation I read his book Journal for an Injured Son. There a father’s vulnerability merges with a power and grace of language only a poet at his best can conjure. Marc’s words became my introduction to the compassion, depth of experience, and love to be found in this community.
So when we were looking for poetry for an in issue of Wabash Magazine we call “Walking Beside Each Other,” Marc’s most recent book, East of Sorrow, was the first place I turned.
We chose two pieces.
I don’t think any of us who knew Ian Hudson or who know his family can read the first piece, “Helen’s Tears,” without shedding our own. The historical setting of the poem and its ecology make it even more relevant and poignant today. But read Marc’s essay here at WM Online and you also get a wonderful and concise description of Ian himself: “…a sort of soldier, clear-eyed, courageous, and with a great sense of humor that rescued him from self-pity.”
The second piece ends this issue of the magazine because I think of it as a benediction. There are many hard years between the writing of these two pieces, and many pages. An entire separate epic poem, in fact. But in “There Is An Ancient Light” I find a poet emerging from loss and grief with a new sense of wonder and what feels to me like a blessing. I find that a testament to many things—first, the family around him. But also to the power the craft of poetry has to help us heal and walk honestly, openly beside each other. Word by word, step by step.
You can read the poems in this issue’s Voices, and don’t miss Marc’s “Notes on Two Poems” at WM Online.