Letters

Short introduction to page?

 

You encouraged a response from people who marched in the first Earth Day parade at BU on April 22, 1970 (“From the Archives,” Spring 2017). Alas, I did not march. But in the picture you published, I half expected to see me in miniature on the far side of Comm Ave. I emerged from the union or the library just as the procession passed by, on my way to a class at CLA. It caught my attention because of a steady, slow drumbeat accompanying a caisson with an open casket, in which an internal combustion (car) engine lay in repose. My heart swelled in solidarity with the marchers, and I followed them on the far side as a spectator. At Marsh Plaza, there was a large mobile set up, with various objects dangling, such as a galvanized, beat-up trash can, an old rubber tire, a toilet seat. I was only weeks away from getting my BA—that was the year there was no graduation, not after Kent State. With my humanities major, I was used to reading literature dealing with triumphs and degradations of human character; I can’t remember anything about human degradation of Nature. Too bad Rachel Carson wasn’t assigned reading. Back then, I only vaguely realized how important protecting the Earth is to me; a deeper realization came later, especially in recent months as I watch the EPA imperiled. I did not march; but I am surprised by the vivid memory I have of the parade. Thank you for publishing the photo.

—Rita Cavonius (CAS’70)


 

In the text with the Earth Day photo, you made comments about Vietnam-era protests. When you do that era, you need to include the actions of the Silber administration. In the fall of 1971, I was a new history graduate student. As part of my assistantship, I worked 10 hours for a professor and 5 hours a week in the history department. One afternoon, I watched from a fifth-floor window at the corner of Granby and Bay State Road as a group of protesters were sitting in front of a building nearby. Silber called in the Boston Tactical Police Force. They marched down Bay State Road in formation and began to beat the protesters, who were sitting in the street and on the sidewalk, dragging them by the hair, beating them with huge clubs on their legs, head, and body, dragging them away. I was sickened. That was just one incident that I witnessed. There were so many more.

—Jo M. Sullivan (GRS’72,’78)


 

Lara Ehrlich’s interview with Robert Pinsky was an exceptional piece of writing, and I enjoyed the insights I gained into this man and his poetry (“The Inspiration of Robert Pinsky,” Spring 2017). What particularly struck me was what I, a teacher of art history, could learn from him, a teacher of words. I thought about his assignment that students assemble a “personal anthology” of words they found poetic. Pinsky goes on to say, “You don’t study the score before you hear the music. You hear the music first, then you want to know how it’s made….You don’t begin with ‘What does it [a poem] mean?’—you begin with it.” In my teaching, I work hardest at helping students look at the art we are learning about. I want them to recognize their own response and figure out exactly what has evoked that response. Personal engagement with a work of art opens the door to an understanding of artistic intention, social context, and the like. Students who can set aside generalities they have absorbed from peers and authorities can discover their own meanings and establish their own critical footing. I read the piece over my breakfast tea. Thanks, Robert Pinsky and Lara Ehrlich, for giving me something to chew over as well.

—Ellen B. Cutler (GRS’85)


 

I’m just a haiku poet. Moreover, I’ve published little. You’ll never see my work. Regarding my comments below, this cuts both ways. You can say I can’t be much of a poet, but you can’t know that. Countless artists had little recognition ere they died. I may also be the foremost American haiku poet, so you must judge my views as if I were as great as so many feel Robert Pinsky is. Shiki was the last of “the Great Four” haiku poets. I have the gall to call myself the First of the Great Five. So, about Pinsky—I can’t fathom the sweeping adulation. I’ve read little of his work, but what I have seems sophomoric at best, barely poetry at worst. It strikes me as fairly humdrum prose broken up at random to appear poetic. Do I envy him? Yes and no. I’d love to know my work would survive me, as opposed to its probable fate. Conversely, since I have no audience, I write for Him alone who gives me my poems. That’s why I say they’re the best you’ll never see. We agree on one thing: I too believe the poet’s responsibility is to write well.

—David Carroll (CAS’73)


 

Dean Cudd has suggested that we reflect on, and share, thoughts about vocation (“From the Dean,” Spring 2017). I received my BA, MA, and PhD in history at Boston University in the 1960s. I wrote a dissertation about a moral philosopher, Josiah Royce—for many years, a colleague of William James during the so-called golden age of academic philosophy at Harvard. Royce’s first book was the first serious history of his native California. He reviewed the history of the American conquest of California in 1848 and he found it morally wanting; at the end of his book, he offered “confession” for the wrongs America had visited on the Californios. I wanted to write “moral history,” in which, as a historian, I could discuss the moral aspects involved in historical actions. It is not that I wanted to ladle out praise and blame in some simplistic morality tale. Rather, I thought there was scope to discuss, for example, the morality of slavery and of the conquest of brown people in the West. I had questions I wanted to ask of historical actors; and I was eager to have them ask me and my students the questions from their time. But I was told back then that a historian must be as “objective” as possible, and not enter into the issues one discusses. But over my career, a sea change happened, in large part because of the movement called postmodernism. It became acceptable for scholars to evidence one’s own perspective, drawn from prescholarly commitments or social locations. The best single book to show this was Telling the Truth about History, by the celebrated historians Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob. It wasn’t that the authors thought that previous historians were telling “lies,” but that there were multiple ways of telling the past, and that the historian’s race, class, gender, or religion impacted one’s engagement. Historians must, of course, be fair to the sources and to past actors, and they must not grind a tendentious thesis to prove their preconceptions. At the same time, however, there were, and are, important moral concerns that arise from our own beliefs that we can apply to our scholarly work. I am now freer to follow my vocation to be a moral scholar and to comment responsibly on events that are not just in the past but, as Patricia Limerick said, share unbroken links between the past and the present.

—Ronald A. Wells (CAS’63, GRS’64,’67)


 

Yes, “the hardships of summer study on Cape Cod” (“From the Archives,” Fall 2016)—the struggle is real! It was truly a privilege to be in Woods Hole at a time when research had been well-supported and vibrant, and the honor system ruled the day. Long days in the lab were more common than not, and this picture was taken by a photographer [Fred Sway] sent to get some footage of the BU Marine Program for an accompanying article. As part of Waquoit Bay Land Margin Ecosystem Research, the goal was to quantify the effects of nitrogen loading to the Waquoit Bay estuary. We launched from the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in East Falmouth, and here we are demonstrating the placement of an anemometer near one of our regular data collection sites in Sage Lot Pond, Mashpee, Mass. I am “the student in green,” the more senior member of the trio and directly involved with this work, so I was giving instructions. I worked under the direction of Professor Ivan Valiela, now an emeritus professor and Marine Biological Laboratory distinguished scientist. My experiences with the Marine Program, both as a student and then as an employee, forever shaped my ideals of research, inquisitive discussion, and educational pursuit. My affiliation with and love of BU continues as an alum and employee.

—Robin MacDonald (CAS’91)