When I talk about certain works of literature, I can hear the words of my own professors coming out of my mouth. I truly received a good English education at my college, and I look back in fondness at my college classes, perhaps none more so than the very last one I took, Twentieth Century American Poetry, which was the last class Coleman Barks taught at UGA before he retired.
Coleman Barks is probably best known for his translations of the poetry of Rumi, but he is a fine poet in his own right, and he was a great teacher.
Perhaps he made it a practice every time, but perhaps it was because we were the last class — I remember he asked us to submit our own poems and he had them made into an anthology for us. I wrote one about my great grandfather that he found kind of dizzying, but to be honest, it really captured my feelings as I watched a man who I wasn’t personally close to, but who was important to my family, slowly dying of Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
We read only one female poet in that class: Adrienne Rich. I remember we tried to talk about that omission, but he didn’t seem as concerned as we were. I think he just picked what he liked.
It was a great class, and I remember the day of his last lecture, he was crying as he walked quickly out the door — he was trying to hide his tears from us.
And then he slept through the final exam. I didn’t know he’d slept through. I think we were told there was a a problem with a flight. We waited. And waited. Another professor stuck his head in the door, ascertained the situation, then left to find out what was going on. He returned to tell us that we should just write Coleman letters about what we thought of the class. So we did.
I didn’t realize until this very day, which is at this point over 10 years later, that Coleman wrote a poem about us. Wow, I didn’t know he felt that way about us or the final exam. I’m so glad I found it.