Oct 12, 2011

"Portrait of an Old Woman on the College Tavern Wall" by Anne Sexton




Portrait of an Old Woman on the College Tavern Wall by Anne Sexton : The Poetry Foundation

The Campus on the Hill by W. D. Snodgrass : The Poetry Foundation


Recently I visited once again the University of Indiana in Bloomington, one of my very top choices for most beautiful campus and most pleasant college town in the United States. Almost every campus building is grandly made of local limestone, so there’s an architectural harmony that I’ve found unusual in large state universities. In the midst of those acres of lofty academic structures is a small woods. 

For a large school, the campus is well-defined relative to the town. A half-mile of shops, restaurants and bars connects the university to the town square, its courthouse dominating from on high. (Majestic courthouses seem to be an Indiana tradition).

To this outsider, the strained town-gown relationships portrayed in  Breaking Away, the famous bicycling movie, are not immediately apparent, but what non-resident knows that real scoop?

As I walked around, I felt like photographing every stone and student. All those stories . . . .  Then there's my tendency toward sentimentality about campuses and the college life in general; it led me once again to look for new poems that were related to scenes I'd witnessed. I couldn’t have gotten luckier, thanks again to Poetry Foundation. What a luxury, to wander so easily and casually through all kinds of verse and commentary.

At least for now, I love Anne Sexton’s “Portrait of an Old Woman on the College Tavern Wall.” If it weren’t so new to me, I’d say it’s as powerful and important as W.D. Snodgrass’s “Campus on the Hill,” posted here September 9, 2010. We'll see how Sexton's poem holds up, with its haunting interplay of different voices.

"The Campus on the Hill" by W. D. Snodgrass. What Is College?

 Portrait of an Old Woman on the College Tavern Wall by Anne Sexton : The Poetry Foundation

The Campus on the Hill by W. D. Snodgrass : The Poetry Foundation

If anyone wants to revisit the discussion of the college experience, I'm all ears.

By the way, I've just learned that yesterday's poet, Dean Young, earned his MFA at Indiana. 

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10 comments:

Abe Lincoln said...

I have been to Bloomington, Indiana several times. Years ago, a family we knew bought a farm there and raised horses and other things. We used to visit them. Then Indiana limestone comes from Bloomington, that you mentioned. I used to know a lady whose husband was a professor there at the university. She was a challenge to know and very detailed in thought. She would spend a week or more working on a report she would give at the city council meeting. She was allowed 3 minutes. I still have some of them here that she sent to me because she knew I liked the use of words. She loved Bloomington.

I learned from her and a couple of others. . .

Hannah Stephenson said...

I love, love, love Breaking Away!!

And that Sexton poem, too....

My favorite record label, Secretly Canadian, is headquartered in Bloomington, too. I must go there...

Banjo52 said...

Abe, knowing people like her--even if she was a bit obsessive--is one reason to love academic communities. It just seems people are more likely to be talking about something that's worth talking about. Thanks for your stories.

Hannah, I'm surprised I haven't watched Breaking Away again. When it was in the theaters, I thought it was great--don't see why I'd think otherwise now.

Secretly Canadian? Should I look into the label? Any particular kind of music?

I'm pretty optimistic that I'm gonna stay high on the Sexton poem. Glad you like it.

Ken Mac said...

clear as a bell, and thanks for that story link.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Bit of wit in the poem. I like the idealism and sheltered aspect she puts on youth but here on the coast the kids are the first to protest.

I didn't attend one of these types of universities. I was in a freeway adjacent off ramp school that resembled a prison bunker. In fact, my graduate degree was earned at a school where a freeway was what separated us from the women's prison. On the other hand, my state college experience was racially diverse for the time. First generation of boat kids - Hmong, Cambodian, Vietnamize (sp) latino etc

altadenahiker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
altadenahiker said...

'm sure your poem is great, but who is that gummy guy on the right. I can't concentrate when he's smiling.

I love the U at Bloomington. Spent many a disreputable evening there.

RuneE said...

You seem to have captured the spirit of that university well, but the - Our universities do not have so separated campuses as yours often do. I studied and worked for many years at our local university where the students from the University alone comprises nearly 10 percent of the population, with additions from other higher-level educational establishments. However - there is no clear campus, and the various institutes are somewhat spread around. The students even more, as nearly all of them lodges privately. Maybe that leads to less conflicts with the "locals"?

Barbaro said...

I'd have guessed that poem to be Housman, not Sexton.

If you emphasize the qualifiers "large" and "public" then I'll concede that IU is among the prettiest. But I just can't get past the feeling that it was airlifted in en masse from somewhere far East.

Brenda's Arizona said...

The Sexton poem took me by surprise. Not at all what I was expecting from its title. Does the layout of the poem look like it should be a nursery rhyme?
I like your photos and your writings better than Sexton's poem. (your photos tell stories, and your sentimentality about campus life is a story waiting to be told...) Sexton's poem doesn't draw a portrait for me at all. Your photos do.
What am I missing? An explanation, please.

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