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My best memories of Jim


photo by Chris Boese, Copyright 2003-2005

This shot reminds me most of the glare Jim used to give me when I'd say something absurd that drove him up the wall. I didn't do it the day of this shoot, but Jim remembered giving me the look often enough, he had to do one goofing off when I was taking his portrait. He'd like to want to strangle me when I said mouthy things about Wallace Stevens or suggested that Emily Dickinson's "look of agony" came from Victorian "little death." Half the time I just did it to set him off.

He was a great poet, teacher, and friend. Every student I've ever taught has gotten some of Jim bleeding through. His house was the first place I went in 1987 after finishing my very first teaching job, creative writing, in the woods for 2 weeks with gifted and talented kids. He encouraged me and gave me confidence. He also helped me get my first tenure-track teaching position at Valdosta State in Georgia.

He's one of the main reasons I was ever a poet, and the one who made me memorize nearly the entire Norton Anthology of Poetry, while daring us to create our own canons. He let me work off an incomplete for an entire summer, writing a paper on Emily Dickinson that stretched to 60, then 70 pages while I also tried to memorize as many of those 1,789 poems as I could.

Nobody encounters Jim Whitehead and comes away the same. After I left Fayetteville, I still could drop by any time and we'd go into this intense, vulcan mind meld thing, I don't know what else you would call it. After about an hour of it, you'd go around the rest of the day a bit dazed. The last time I spoke with him was in 1998 or 1999, when I was getting settled in at Clemson.

Damn, I'm going to miss him.


September 22, 2003 in Memories of Jim | Permalink


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