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Author: Alex Tepliz
The upper floor of Muskie Archives, full of seats arranged in rows, was already packed with students, professors, parents, and friends alike. I walked in with a couple of other students from my Poetry Writing class; our professor had suggested we attend this poetry reading in anticipation of analyzing some of Robert Farnsworth’s work in class.
I would have come to listen in any case; this semester I got a seat in one of the last classes he will ever teach at Bates: ENG 121C- Frost, Williams, Stevens. Professors and students had all insisted that I, as a prospective English major, take a Farnsworth course.
From the first day, I was awed. He speaks like he writes: words neat and clear, but burdened with poignancy and fervor. Bates has been lucky to have him and I, for one, will be sorry to lose him.
The Literary Arts Live program has hosted readers and speakers who number among the most talented authors of our age, alumni included. The Farnsworth event was the first reading of 2018 and the turnout was beyond what I had expected.
A friend and I had snatched a seat on a comfortable couch behind the podium, but the unlucky people pouring in behind us were squeezing into corners or seizing floor space. Farnsworth helped institute the Literary Arts program over twenty years ago.
Jess Anthony, an English professor and ex-attendee of Farnsworth classes in her day, stood up first to present the man to the crowd. Her passion for her teacher and his writing was clear as she listed accomplishments and published works, including another book on the way. She wistfully told us, “when Rob speaks, you drink words… If we must lose him, let it be to poetry.”
Robert Farnsworth is a talented man and a lover of literature, which is well apparent in his weighty achievements throughout the years. This will be his last year of a twenty-five year tenure teaching at Bates College. A resident poet of The Frost Place, he is as quintessentially an American nature poet as Robert Frost himself. This means, as I’ve been learning in the first semester of his course, that his poetry speaks of a variety of lifestyles, intentions, intimate moments, themes, and locations.
Raised in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, he now lives by the Androscoggin River and works with the Maine Humanities Council. Despite his appearance, it was clear on that Thursday evening, as the aged but dignified man approached the podium and began to speak, that his heart lies in sharing wisdom with generations of Bates College students.
He began with a few poems written by those who taught him; a tradition to honor the profession to which he has given thirty-seven years. As his low and sonorous voice fell over the room, people attending the busy standing-room-only event instantly hushed. People closed their eyes. Some bobbed their heads, faces peaceful as if in sleep. Silently, and in mutual agreement, we all gave into the trance that Farnsworth’s words were casting. Picture it: a warm and cozy room, students sinking into couches and leaning on walls, the soft buzz of a radiator merging with the soft and intimate words of the wizard in front of us. Poems about cameras, past students, diabetes, and Lewiston in wintertime all melted together. I swear I was asleep at moments, despite my unwavering gaze fixed to the besuited man in front of me for almost the entire hour. Robert Farnsworth closed with a poem entitled ‘Fiction’ that had been featured on the Bates website in the past, the last lines fading into the air like satin. Piercing applause awoke us from our daze and the enchanter in front of us became a small, human figure again.
If you get a chance, look out for the next Literary Arts Live event. Three of Farnsworth’s students will be reading their poetry. It’s a fitting way for the program to honor the legacy of the man who created it, and who has given so much to a college that will miss him dearly.
I strolled into the Chase Hall Longue a couple of minutes before 8 p.m. with some friends and settled down on one of the modest-but-comfortable couches. Around the room, laptops were being plugged in, televisions arranged by seats, and a large projector pointed towards the center. Bates students aren’t ones to turn away the offer of free cookies and cocoa, but on a social Saturday night, the temptation of meeting up with friends tends to trump the idea of a bunch of guys in a room playing video games. I happen to be friends with a few people in the club, but I wasn’t just pulling up for their sake. The extent of my video game skill is a couple of games of Mario Party and Mario Kart in high school, so curiosity was part of my decision to attend. The real reason? I’m a cookie-decorating connoisseur and I didn’t want to miss a chance to show off those skills.
The Video Game Club (VGC) was holding a raffle that Saturday, sponsored by Tespa, to give away water bottles, shirts, pillows, and an elite gaming mouse and mouse pad. Tespa, a subsidiary of Blizzard Entertainment, aims to bring college students together by supporting gaming clubs and E-sports. The VGC has hosted tournaments, smoothie nights, raffles, and video game nights before, but the more people come, the more awesome gaming loot Tespa sends. I came away that night with a free water bottle and a fluffy green pillow, and pretty much everyone else who showed up earned an item as well. The mouse went to my friend Naythan, a serious gamer and champion at Smash Brothers. He’s a club officer, so we have talked a lot about how he and his friends want to expand the club to allow new members to learn, compete, and create teams together.
If hardcore ‘nerd’ gaming doesn’t sound like your cup of tea- and trust me, I’ve never played a Blizzard game in my life- you probably still would have had a blast. Boys and girls sat on couches, fiercely competing in racing games while sipping hot cocoa. The more competitive club members had pulled seats next to each other in front of a small television and were whooping and catcalling their friends as virtual avatars punched and kicked. As I smeared frosting and M&M’s all over a chocolate chip cookie, I watched two friends sit next to each other on their laptops. With only a few words here and there, they battled together in the same game of Overwatch for over an hour. Conversation was sarcastic and competitive, but the atmosphere was incredibly relaxed. I was surprised to see people trickle in to grab a steaming cup of hot chocolate and slowly get drawn in to one group or another. The highlight of the evening for me was a game of Quiplash with about ten people. All of us typed in witty answers to questions on our phones and cracked up as we picked who had the cleverest retort. I won the first game, giggling the whole time.
As the event wound to a close around 10:30 p.m., the coordinators began to call out raffle numbers and snap pictures for Tespa. I saw smiles all around the room as virtual games ended. Gear was snatched up from a well-laden table and the box of cookies had rapidly depleted. Organizers were urging stragglers to grab whatever they wanted as laptops were unplugged. As I waved goodbye to my friends and headed back to my dorm to drop off my prizes, I found myself well contented with my use of a Saturday night. If you’re looking for something to do on a weekend, and dancing isn’t quite your thing, try stopping by a Video Game Club event. There’s more to it than nerds. I promise.