issue 27 > nonfiction > hoffman > barone
34th and Walnutby Dennis Barone
During the days I attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania students and faculty smoked in classrooms. This may be hard to believe, but try to imagine a seminar in the Van Pelt Library with professor and students creating clouds of smoke between words of insight and wisdom -- or, as the case may be, foolishness. I was not a smoker unlike Professor Hoffman with his pipe or students like John Smyth and his long locks and cigarette chain. Yet, this did not propel me to any sort of clarity, this smoke-free existence of mine.
No, I think I spoke infrequently and most likely somewhat foolishly when I did speak. I was so young, a young traditional-age graduate student right out of an undergraduate program. Professor Hoffman was ever kind and patient.
I had attended Bard College as an undergraduate and the poet Robert Kelly had been one of my professors there. The world of Bard and that of Penn were and are, I suppose, different, but different in the sense of being able to create a kind of centrifugal energy.
Oh, I thought the Pound-Williams tradition was not just the apotheosis of poetry but of civilization itself when I arrived at Penn. I recall that one of my papers for Professor Hoffman's seminar compared the use of the historical in Olson and Berryman. And no doubt I refused to abide by the standards of scholarship or essay construction -- and this refusal by no means guaranteed original genius of any sort! Professor Hoffman had incredible patience with my -- intransigence just might be the right word.
But by Quaker light and example he taught me so much. In fact, I can testify here to his important influence on my university career. As any reader of this issue knows, Professor Hoffman is a major scholar as well as a major poet. That path, I think, I had decided upon then and there at Penn. Poetry, after all, is the scholar's art, as Stevens said. And for six or seven years I attended all the readings at the Philomathean Society in College Hall hosted by Daniel Hoffman. (He founded the series.)
For twenty-seven years at the University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut this is the path I have walked. I have followed Professor Hoffman's lead. I am a scholar-poet who has hosted readings by one-hundred and fifty writers.
I recall, too, that after poetry-writing class finished, Hoffman had us out to his house and before we left he gave each of us a copy of one of his books, An Armada of Thirty Whales. I treasure my time at Penn and in the city of Philadelphia. I am thankful for having had the opportunity to study with Daniel Hoffman. I imagine I may have been an annoyance on one or two occasions, but as I've said, he is a kind as well as a wise man -- and I was only twenty-one then. On the occasion of his ninetieth birthday I say thank you and may God bless you as all those who have come to know you have been blessed.
As for the smoky classroom -- at about that time my home state of New Jersey randomly selected me for an eye-exam before renewing my driver's license. I went to an ophthalmologist near Tenth and Spruce whose waiting room and office were abundant in stuffed animals and dolls. Perhaps, he specialized in eye-care for children. It turned out that I needed eye-glasses, desperately. It wasn't the smoke that clouded my vision.