Poet Robert Mezey remembered: “he looked me dead in the eye from across our round table, smiled a little, and said: ‘You don’t feel much, do you?’”


Comfort and solace? Fuggedaboutit.

Poet Robert Mezey has died at 85 – we wrote about that here. His legacy as a poet lives on. So does his legacy as a teacher at Pomona College. One of his students, John Darnielle, founder, writer, composer, guitarist, pianist, and vocalist for the Mountain Goats, and also author of the novels Wolf in White Van (2014) and Universal Harvester (2017), has a tribute, “He Brought Me Here,” over at the Los Angeles Review of BooksIt ends with a great anecdote, and a few observations:

His patience for others was great, but his tolerance for cheap sentiment was not.

So it was that one day I arrived to class with a new poem. Watching the news, there’d been a ghastly story about a father killing his children. Did the young poet think himself up to the task of conveying this horror in quatrains of iambic tetrameter? He did.

In Bob’s class, we’d hand in new poems during the week; he’d print them up so everyone in class could have copies when we next met to read them aloud and discuss them. Proud, I read my poem that attempted to decry the ugliness of the story I’d seen on the news.

He’s grateful “every single day.”

Nobody ever wants to be the first to comment in class, right? So Bob cocked his head, looked me dead in the eye from across our round table, smiled a little, and said: “You don’t feel much, do you?”

Some people want support and encouragement from their teachers, and I get that. I wouldn’t recommend Bob’s approach as a general pedagogical method. But he’d known me since childhood. He knew I’d already had great teachers who’d nurtured my dreams, and he knew I was serious about wanting to write: to make things that reached people, to share the rare air that the greats breathe. By giving it to me straight, he was letting me know: This ain’t it, bud. You know enough about it to be told that this right here ain’t it.

Every single day of my life I am grateful to the poet Robert Mezey, who took my verse seriously enough to hold it to a high standard (and who, per spies in his camp — remember, I grew up with his children — spoke fairly warmly of my work when I wasn’t around to hear it). Every single day. He is gone now, but in any line of metered verse I write — if it’s any good, if its numbers do their job, if the miracle happens and I’m able, through the numbers, to communicate with another person: he’s there. If you know my work and not his, you still know him. He brought me here.

I make bold to borrow from one of the greatest elegies ever penned in saying goodbye to my teacher, without whom I am not nothing — he taught me that, too — but without whom I would be much, much less than I am: Earth, receive an honored guest.

Read the whole thing here.

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