“Crowds of people, walking round in a ring”—1
That’s us, collating the first Greensboro Review.2
The “academics” thought we were a zoo:
Frauds and phonies, our Program a plaything
For poseur slackers unfit for studying; 3
And, to be honest, I guess there were a few;4
But most were earnest and to their art were true
And gathered notice what note honest work may bring,5
Though that was nothing they would prophesy,
Bob Watson and Peter Taylor, when they planned
A program to square with the resources on hand.6
“We do not want an artists’ colony.
Let’s teach them,” Peter said, “to learn to read.”7
That sounded duly modest. So Bob agreed.8
1. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, I, 56. This line became something of a refrain during the activity described in Note 2. I think, but cannot avow, that Bob Watson first recalled it to mind.
2. The Greensboro Review was the brainchild of one of the students, Curtis Fields, a fiction writer and jazz saxophonist. The first issue was delivered to the MFA office from a local printer in separate sheets. The students began collating by laying all the sheets out on tables and then walking from one stack to another, putting them in order. Bob Watson was directing the action. After a while he called me and I came over.
3. Here is a sampling of remarks I heard from my academic colleagues as I walked to and fro from classes: “How’s your little nest of singing birds?” “How many geniuses have we got this year?” “How many Pulitzers have your little crew picked up so far?” “Got ’em writing Odes to Spring yet?” “Can you really teach someone how to write?” “Melville (Hemingway, Steinbeck, Milton, Shakespeare, et al.) would never have taken an MFA degree.” “When’s your first Nobel laureate due?” Etc. Routine stuff.
4. Names omitted to protect the dubious.
5. You may find their works here in Walter Clinton Jackson Library and in thousands of other libraries around the world.
6. The MFA Writing Program was born of desperation. The state legislature, having decided that North Carolina needed fewer colleges and more universities, made it imperative that graduate programs be installed in institutions unready for such and not enthusiastic about the prospect. The English Department was ordered to furnish one and the chair, Dr. Joseph Bryant, came up with the idea of a creative writing program. He hated the idea, but library resources were not sufficient for a solid scholarly graduate program. Once the writing program was installed, he was no friend to it. This made the situation harder for all concerned.
7. Pretty nearly an exact quote.
8. Because a sonnet has only 14 lines, Bob Watson’s contributions are direly slighted here. But to do his labors justice would require an epic about the length of The Faerie Queen... Not that he would countenance any such thing.