Yes, that’s a quote from William Butler Yeats.
Back in university, when I had some free time in my class schedule, I had the opportunity to take a Creative Writing class. My professor was Barry Spacks, a poet and all-around brilliant man. It was a small class, maybe ten of us or so, and remains one of my favorite courses of all time.
I remember Barry telling us during what must have been the first week of class that he loved serendipity. He especially loved hearing people change the words of poetry during recitation. Each of us had to choose a poem to recite in class, and I chose “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by Yeats. Barry pulled me aside after the recitation, and told me that he found it interesting that my “serendipity” was to forget the line “a lonely impulse of delight.” He felt I should think about that.
And think I did. Barry Spacks challenged me and pushed me and encouraged my fear-based, 21 year old self to take risks. As graduation approached, he urged me to just go ahead and start releasing my poetry in small collections called chapbooks. It took me until January 1 of this year to follow that advice.
He was constantly available to his students: whether for a writing critique, or just a few spare minutes to shoot the breeze, Barry’s door was always open. He helped me to take risks, in my small and cautious way (haha) and helped clarify my view of what I wanted from my life as a writer.
At the end of that year, Barry and his wife hosted a barbecue for our class. They opened their home to all of us, and this mismatched group of cool kids and nerdy kids who all had a passion for the written word congregated for hours. It’s one of my best memories.
Barry Spacks died on January 28, 2014. During my cancer, we reconnected. He told me to “keep fighting the good fight.” And I was so proud to tell him that I had finally taken the plunge he had encouraged me to take 16 years ago, and share that I had started to publish my work. Since I’m a bit on the fringes of the group, it took until today for the news to reach me.
It’s a bittersweet day. It’s hard to lose a mentor, no matter their age. I look at the slim volume of poetry he presented to me on that last day of class, and its inscription:
“For Caroline, who knows that at times we must labor to make things beautiful.”
I’m privileged to have known you, Barry. And I will never forget you.
Blessings to you all…
In this dream called life at times those loved
must leave us, moving into darkness,
among them celebrants specially blessed
who spent their strength in mothering others.
Death, we’re told, is perfectly safe,
but these, who’d dreamed their days so well,
they teach us a comfort even more vast:
how to dream a diamond’s dream. ~ Barry Spacks