August, 31 between 10 and 10:30 am via WGN Radio by clicking here please…
August, 31 between 10 and 10:30 am via WGN Radio by clicking here please…
Last Tuesday, July 22, 2014, Rob Zoschke and David Pichaske met in Ellison bay with two librarians from the University of Wisconsin Library—Susan Barribeau and Robin Rider—to inventory Norbert Blei’s papers in storage there.
As a result of that meeting, twenty-six boxes of manuscripts, letters, files, books and other published Blei stories are now tucked safely in the special collections section of the library in Madison, there to become the Norbert Blei Collection. Norb Blei is now a part of the University of Wisconsin! The 26 boxes of material—most of which had been inventoried by Pichaske last summer—will be assessed, re-inventoried, and refoldered. The process will take some time, but eventually the archives will be open to the general public and the library will provide a “finding tool” for what it considers “a very special acquisition.” Some materials may be available on-line.
Meanwhile, Pichaske is hard at work inventorying the electronic files stored on Blei’s computer, which will also become part of the Madison collection. While some items seem incomplete or gone missing, Pichaske has found digital files containing substantial portions of some book-length projects on which Blei had been working back in the 1990s and early twenty-first century.
On the wall of Vesecky’s Bakery in Berwyn there’s a framed Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine piece from 1971, by the writer and poet Norbert Blei, who grew up in this area (and died last year in Door County):
There are almost as many bakeries along Cermak Road in Cicero and Berwyn as savings and loans… Nobody knows what it is between Bohemians and their bakery. They just never seem to get enough of it… No matter how many housky, or kolacky, or coffeecakes are on the table Saturday morning, someone in the family will usually be told, “Stop at Vesecky’s (or Fingerhut’s or Vales’ or Stetina’s or Minarik’s) for some Bohemian rye… maybe a poppyseed Babovka, too.”
Hardly a word of it remains the case 40 years later. Berwyn and Cicero are increasingly Mexican, all those other bakeries are gone, and the association between savings and loans and Bohemians (aka Czechs and Hungarians) is incomprehensible today. (Bohemians, despite their association with careless Parisian artists thanks to a certain opera, were notoriously the tightest bank customers in Chicago, impossible to sell credit cards or installment loans to; as an officer at the late Talman Federal Savings and Loan once told me, the Bohemian version of buying on time was “If you want a refrigerator, you save for ten years until you have the money to buy it.”)
And yet Vesecky’s Bakery survives. Old Man Vesecky, James Sr., 62 when Blei wrote about him, passed away in 2005 at 97, and the frantic overnight baking scene Blei describes had surely calmed down long before. Today it’s a quiet place, a couple of young female sales assistants serving the customers. But someone who knows the place’s heritage must still be in the back, cranking out both Czech apple srudl with its flat crust:
Surprisingly, it was the simplest thing, houska, that I think proved the most satisfying in the end. It’s basically raisin bread, but with brandy-soaked raisins, I think, and a dough made with milk and egg (close to challah or a less rich brioche). Simple, as befits a people who watched a buck like it was Dillinger planning an escape, yet completely satisfying. As long as you can swing by Vesecky’s for that, Norbert Blei’s world isn’t completely gone.
Norbert Blei is whispering in my ear.
“Don’t forget to say that it all begins with poetry.”
“Make sure they understand the power of the small moment.”
“We breathe telling tales.”
I am preparing to teach The Norbert Blei Writing Workshop at The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay, Wisc. This is the second year that I will lead the class without Norb. Of course, I have a partner in teaching the class (just as Norb always had his “assistant” which over the years became “co-teacher”) and I couldn’t do it without her. We are both long-time Norbert Blei students and truly co-teachers. Last June, when many of us were still hurting from the loss of Norbert in April, I tried to incorporate as much of Norb into my teaching as I could. His presence was so strong within the class and at The Clearing. Of course, I cannot be Norb. There is only one Norbert Blei. I will teach the class as Albert DeGenova. Norb would have insisted on that.
Yet, Norbert continues to whisper in my ear…and he keeps “sending” me things to read, quotes from Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Basho, Kerouac.
“Write what is true.”
“Write what you know.”
“Your way is the only way”
As with any teacher and student, I know I have absorbed much of Norb’s direction and style. Both of us who teach the class cannot deny his influence. But just as any great maestro brings the wisdom of his own life and learning to his student, the student becomes their own artist. We have become the writers we are, and the teachers we are, because of Norbert’s influence on the people that we are. This is the way.
And in this way we keep the legacy of Norbert Blei alive. Here in the Poetry Dispatch, at The Clearing, as Norbert’s books continue to sell, but most importantly in our own writing. His voice keeps whispering in all of our ears. Norb recognized the power of the internet and embraced it. Simply search Norbert Blei’s name and you will find his legacy. Or join us at The Clearing for the annual workshop, all writers are welcome.
To some this may be old news now, but it bears repeating. Nearly two years prior to his death in 2013, Norbert invited some of his long-time students (all accomplished writers themselves) to contribute essays to a book he intended to write about his years as a teacher at The Clearing. The book would be his personal perspective on teaching, students and the importance of place, specifically The Clearing.
The Professor’s Quarters is a collection of those student essays. It is a book about Love: the love of a teacher, a place and the writing life.
The book is published by After Hours Press through the financial support of enthusiastic sponsors and will be donated to The Clearing for sale in the bookstore, beginning June 22, 2014. All profits from the sale of the book are dedicated for use as a scholarship fund for the continuing Norbert Blei Writing Workshop week at The Clearing.
For those readers of Norbert Blei’s books, articles and blogs, The Professor’s Quarters offers insights to the man and his teaching style, but also the place he found so important in his own life. Order at: http://goo.gl/v2UTje
YOU TAKE a kid away from an apartment house on the west-side of Chicago at the age of 5 and plunk him in the middle of 15 acres of woods and fields of Wisconsin and tell yourself, “There, now let nature do it’s work. Let the kid grow green and clean. Give him a boyhood of space and natural wonder that I never had. Save him, 0 Lord, from suburban abundance, a city’s compulsions.”
And in time, you begin to wonder in his wonder. By the age of 8, the kid knows some of the soft green machinery of earth, like the taste and private habitat of wild strawberries and blackberries; the temptation of tea made of wild roses; boiling milkweed ketis for vegetables, an old Menominee Indian secret.
AND HE can tell an English sparrow from a fox sparrow, and identify all manner of birds . . . chickadees, thrashers, towees, rose-breasted grosbeaks, purple finches, nut hatches, hawks, every kind of woodpecker. I could tell a robin from a sparrow, when I was a boy, in Chicago and had heard some talk of a blue jay.
Give him any season, and there’s sure to be something brewing in this earth.
Spring, and the tree swallows come back to nest in the houses on the birch trees out front; the towees take up their secret nesting sights in the bushes in the back. “Do the same birds come back every year? How do they find our house?” I don’t know, I don’t know. They just keep coming back.
SUMMER, and you plant a sunflower seed and see it plow five feet before your eyes, and watch it track the sun. Fall, and you catch black and white and yellow caterpillars on the underside of milkweed leaves, and you put them in a jar, and you watch the caterpillar move to the top, in time, and form a fantastic green house, about himself, and then watch for that house to turn transparent, and watch for the orange wings and old black patterns to glow brighter till the wings are free. And then you open the jar and set a monarch butterly free. Magic.
Winter, you keep the birds alive with sunflower seeds, you see the tracks of deer in a garden now under snow, you see a red fox move across a landscape in white and, maybe, you never forget a picture like that. You hold onto that like a painting, ‘Fox in Snow’, the rest of your life.
But In time, you begin to wonder in the wonder of it all. Is to be a father, to be in doubt? . . . “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep . . .and miles to go before I sleep. . . .”
The kid can tell a birch from a maple, but does he know what a corner lot is like, where you set traps and build forts and hold all manner of meetings in secret clubs with all the kids on the block? No. . . The kid knows perch from bass and is a better fisherman than his father ever will be, but does he know the summer games kids play in the dark, after the streetlamps have gone on? No.
DOES HE know how to chant “Ole, Ole, Ocean Free!”? No. Does he know how to lag pennies, play marbles, throw a rubber ball against concrete steps with just himself and a friend and play a whole nine inning ball game? No. Does he know how to win? Does he know how to lose?
And does he know what it means to grow up with a friend, the kid next door or across the street? To go to school with him, to show with him, to work with him? To know his family as your own? To keep such a friendship [and many of them] alive for over 20 years? No. And very likely he never will. There is just too much distance between friends in the country.He has one or two, about three miles away. And so friendship is not an everyday, ever growing thing in the country.
AND HAS he ever been introduced to alleys? Those cracked concrete [asphalt, brick, or stone] runways that go on and on [north and south usually] and, lead to either more of the same, or great streets of business? No.
Alleys, for playing baseball, football, basketball, ice skating, roller skating, hop scotch, walking, running, chasing, throwing, hiding, junking, climbing trees and telephone poles, climbing fences, climbing garages.
Whatever your fancy, whatever your fantasy… it can be worked out in the alley.
“Do it in the alley!” … a Mother’s last resort.
And so, what for my son? I wonder, I wonder…
I can give him a bike, but I can’t give him a wire basket attached and a newspaper route. I can’t give him ten kids in the alley playing kick-the-can. I can give him a solitary swing tied to a magnificent maple, but I can’t give him a real playground. I can give him an occasional movie [80 miles away, round trip] but I can’t give him a Saturday afternoon matinee at the neighborhood show, fresh popcorn, and a carmel candy bar.
And zoos, museums, concerts, buses, trains, skyscrapers, freight yards, air ports, great bridges, department stores, elevators, escalators, neon lights, uncles, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, hot dog stands, and McDonald burgers are out of the question.
I CAN GIVE him books and music and paints, and everything nature has to offer beyond our kitchen door . . . the geese now flying overhead, the purple asters starred along the roadside, the sugar maples turning radically red by the hour.
I can give him all this, but what will it all add up to for him? And when? I’m afraid he does not know black from white. Is this good? I’m afraid he does not know the machinery of a city, the poetry, and tragedy of streets. Is this bad? He saw poverty once in a camp of migrant cherry pickers and said, “Dad, I don’t like what poor is. Dad, I don’t ever want to be poor.” Is this good?
I can give him a morning so blue and gold he can taste it. I can give him a night with such a moon and so many stars, he can touch them. I can give him all this for the time being, and only hope it will stay with him forever . . . or 20 years from now, when , he may need such luxuries.
I can give him all the time in the world to be alone, in the silence of it all.
But I can’t give him a friend from next door, standing on the sidewalk, calling for him to come out and play. And that is the sound I remember most, and the way it was with me. And I can only wonder how it will be for him.
Chicago Tribune, Sunday, December 10, 1972 BY NORBERT BLEI
ELLISON BAY, WI (June 7, 2014) – The Clearing Folk School is where Norbert Blei taught a week long writing workshop every summer for nearly 45 years. The school, built by land architect Jens Jensen, is situated atop one of the most beautiful bluffs in Door County. This is Norb Blei’s Door County, the subject of much of his writing.
Nearly two years prior to his death in 2013, Norbert invited some of his long-time students (all accomplished writers themselves) to contribute essays to a book he intended to write about his years as a teacher at The Clearing. The book would be his personal perspective on teaching, students and the importance of place, specifically The Clearing.
The Professor’s Quarters is a collection of those student essays, compiled and edited by long-time Blei students and assistants Al DeGenova, Alice D’Alessio, Susan O’Leary and Jude Genereaux. This is a book about Love: the love of a teacher, a place and the writing life.
The book has been published at the expense of enthusiastic sponsors and will be donated to The Clearing for sale in the school’s on-site bookstore, beginning June 22, 2014. All profits from the sale of the book are dedicated for use as a scholarship fund for the continuing Norb Blei week at The Clearing.
Nearly two years prior to his death in 2013, faithful friend and supporter of After Hours, Norbert Blei invited some of his long-time students, all accomplished writers themselves, to contribute essays to a book he intended to write about his years as a teacher at The Clearing Folk School in Door County, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, time ran out before his vision was taken to fruition.
In the winter of 2013-14,the essays were gathered and compiled by Alice D’Alessio, Albert DeGenova, Jude Genereaux and Susan O’Leary and (in the spirit Norb foresaw)are now being published by After Hours Press as the new book entitled The Professor’s Quarters.
This collection stands as testimony to The Clearing, to Norb as Teacher, and to his writer-students. The book will be published this spring with profits going to the continuing “Scholarship Fund” for the Norbert Blei Week at The Clearing.
If you are interested in buying this book, please click here…