Long Live Ron Bayes

April 21st, 2011 by Terra | Filed under Writing and Reading.

This past weekend I went to my college reunion. Partly I went just to see old friends and visit one of my favorite places in the world, but I also went for a special celebration of the work and influence of my Poetry/Creative Writing professor, Ronald H. Bayes.

At the special Writer’s Forum ceremony on Saturday night, there were a lot of people sharing a lot of memories about Ron. He’s quite a memorable guy–in his demeanor, in his talent, his achievements in poetry, and his ability to teach–so that wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that the thing I felt most grateful to him for that night, involved flash cards.

My freshman year, I took a Modern Poetry class with Ron. I had picked St. Andrews pretty much for the famed Creative Writing¬† BFA there, so I was really eager to make an impression on the head of the department. So eager, in fact, that I was one of only a couple freshmen in the class–surrounded by some of the coolest seniors and juniors on campus. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.

In the first week of class, Ron explained to us that aside from a paper, our grade would be determined by our attendance and also a major exam at the end of the semester, upon which would be questions about the poets we covered in class. We’d need to identify them by the time period in which they lived, titles of their poems, and styles of their writing, plus any other special anecdotes Ron threw out during lectures.

Determined that I would do well on this exam and prove my worth–in a burst of discipline I had not previously expressed before–I then set about dutifully creating flash cards for every poet as we covered them. Dates, what poems we discussed in class, tidbits Ron through out in lecture, stylistic identifiers . . . everything. I took meticulous notes, filling the index cards with my tiny handwriting. In the weeks leading up to the final, I quizzed myself on them religiously. By the time I sat down to take it, I could tell you the birthday and at least three significant poems and contributions of James Dickey, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, H.D., Ezra Pound–you name it.

Needless to say I was the only one to make an A+ on the exam.

It isn’t a very romantic story, I guess. And certainly not poetic. It’s not the kind of thing I think they were looking for at this ceremony, and it’s definitely not the most glamorous story I can tell about Ron. But it stuck out to me this weekend, because of how fundamentally important the lesson was: that being a poet, and studying poetry, requires not just passion and interest, but discipline and focus, sometimes over a long period of time. Sometimes the success of writing doesn’t come from a strike of inspiration from the blue, a sparkly dream that follows you into waking, or some gin-sodden conversation of genius, but instead from something as banal and gruelling as a stack of overstudied flash cards.

Thanks Ron. For this and more.

Songs in my Head Upon Waking This Week:

A song by Low that I don’t know the name of.
“Wherever You Will Go,” by Creed
“Love My Way,” by Psychedelic Furs
“The Final Countdown,” by Europe
“Single Ladies,” by Beyonce
“Things Will Change,” by Daniel Clay
“Never Gonna Give You Up,” by Rick Astley

6 Responses to “Long Live Ron Bayes”

  1. brad says:

    That exam, oh that exam. While studying the night before, it was remarked that all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry could be sung to the tune of the yellow rose of texas. So when in doubt, I sang the poems on that exam. Never before and never since have I sung an exam.

  2. Terra says:

    I remember everyone cramming for that exam, including me, but I had forgotten the Yellow Rose (of Emily)! So glad you were in that class, that school, that whole thing with me! xoxo

  3. Jackson Wheeler says:

    A lot of good memories. My one trip to Laurinburg with Margaret Rabb, dear Peggy, Adrianne Marcus – she of the beer rinse at Greensboro & getting expelled if she was to be believed. Ah yes, the Jonathan Williams poems and anecdotes. The Festschrift published in the Southwest for Ron. The Umapine Cheer. The poem Santa Barbara, published in 1976 along with one other poem, the title of which I forget, right there in the St. Andrews Review. Huzzah Huzzah Huzzah
    long may we remember Ezra, dear old mad Ezra.

  4. David Parker says:

    I took Ron’s creative writing class in the summer of ’73. “The Bard” introduced me to a new way to express myself including Japanese forms of poetry. He was gently critical, enthusiastically supportive, comparing one of my short stories to the style of Ambros and giving me a reclining statue of St. Sebastion that he had in his house for one of my short poems. Sadly life happened and I stopped writing but have started again during the last two years. Nothing earth shattering. Mostly poems about life and lost love but I think of Ron’s influence every time I write.

  5. Drew Kanoff says:

    I am going back to visit st. Andrews. I can not find and contact info for ron. The old st. Andrew’s email doesn’t work. Anyone have his email?

  6. Terra says:

    Hey Drew– So sorry it took me forever to write back. You may have since been to St A and gone. I do know that Ron is not on campus anymore, though I don’t know how to contact him. Ellen Thompson, the Alumni Director, may be your best bet.

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