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Mark Stevick (2009)

Many of you, I am sure, will be stunned when I tell you that I admire this year’s recipient for his precision. After all, this is the same man who used to drive his VW Rabbit around in the snow at night with his door open so he could see where he was going.  True, the headlights and windshield wipers on his car did work—although never at the same time.  But, somehow, in the midst of all the energy and improvisations of his life, there are many moments of elegant precision.  Just try hitting his Whiffleball, for instance.  The pitch only looks frantic.  Then it curves from out of nowhere and finds the strike zone.

For a decade now I have appreciated the surprising turns and the careful precision of his poetry.  And the impeccable timing in his delivery of a comic line.  And the accuracy of a historical recreation.  A skilled actor, he has performed on many local stages and appeared in films sponsored by the Discovery and the History Channels.  He has played the part of old Puritans—and performed children’s shows.  He has narrated radio spots for non-profits and adapted C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and others for radio shows and readers’ theatre.  He has co-led students on theatre programs in Great Britain.  On campus, he has launched a creative writing emphasis in the English and Communication Arts majors, and devoted considerable hours of time to commenting on the work of his students, helping them prepare their entries for literary journals or festivals.  And, through it all, he never fails to honor the College’s request for a song, a parody, or a lyric to enliven a faculty workshop, a Christmas program, or a tribute to a colleague.

Locally, he might be best known as a playwright, especially as the author of Cry Innocent, the story of the Salem witchcraft trials that has run for nearly two decades.  At heart, though, he is a poet, one able to find the elegant modern idiom to fit traditional forms, like a French villanelle.  In the last decade he was won more than twenty awards for his poetry, including a nomination for a Pushcart Prize.  And that poetry is often notable for the unpretentious ways that it evokes the many layers of faith.  Consider, for instance, how his love for God’s creation emerges from this short lyric, which blends the story of Enoch with an intimation of Christ’s mercy:

 

In the cool of the evening

there were so many things to touch—

the leaves of maples, dripping,

the brushy needles of spruce,

the wet vines tapping his calves.

More than any lip against his

he felt the rough grain of a leaf

he didn’t know, or the touch

of magnolia, folded for night.

Handfuls of water plunged

into his face, his hands, his hair.

Not just my feet Lord, he thought:

I could walk like this forever.

 

For helping us love laughter, language and the wonder of creation, please join me in congratulating the recipient of the Junior Distinguished Faculty Award, Mark Wacome Stevick.