Painter, Poet, Professors
- By Tom Weaver
THE GREEN /
BOOKS & MEDIA
Painter, Poet, Professors
At first glance—and probably second, too—Tony Magistrale and Michael Strauss wouldn’t appear to have much in common. Magistrale is a professor of English and widely considered to be among the world’s foremost scholars of horror film and gothic fiction, particularly the works of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. Strauss is a professor emeritus of chemistry whose CV lists heterocyclic and medicinal chemistry and use of NMR in mechanistic and structural problems among his many research interests.
But peel down a couple of layers, sit with them and hear their banter, their easy, honest friendship and mutual admiration and those initial perceptions must be edited, like the revision process that comes up repeatedly as they discuss their work, both individual and collaborative, including their recent book Entanglements. Strauss and Magistrale have known each other thirty years, since working together on UVM’s writing across the curriculum initiative. Over time they peeled back their own layers.
“We started to realize that we had these alternative lives,” says Magistrale, “that Mike was a chemistry professor, but he was also a painter, and that I was a literature professor, but I was also a poet.”
After retiring from the chemistry faculty in 1993, Strauss increasingly turned his attention to art—painting every day and writing books on drawing and painting. Having started in watercolors and oils, his work has evolved. “A few years ago, he deemed to discover color,” Magistrale says of his friend. “For me it was a renaissance... watercolor by its very nature is a little washed out. Not the acrylics—they have a dynamism about them that really appeals to me.” “Harder edges, brighter colors, more impressionistic,” Strauss adds.
Strauss, equally candid with Magistrale: “I have to be honest about it. I really like at least three quarters of your poems. I like the funny ones, the ones that are profound, the ones about nature. I like them because they’re very tight, and they always have wonderful endings. I think he’s getting better and better.” Once they became aware of their “alternative lives,” the pair began sharing and critiquing each other’s work. Magistrale says Strauss is his best reader, that he sends him drafts of everything he’s working on.
Though he’s still teaching, Magistrale, too, is changing focus. “My orientation for the last five or ten years has been really strongly towards poetry,” he says, “because I figure, if not now, when?” And he’s had some publishing success, including a poem in a recent issue of Harvard Review.
For their new collaborative work, except for the iconic Strauss painting on the cover, Strauss illustrated selected poems using black ink wash. In their first book project together, Letting Go, they paired existing poems with existing paintings.
If there’s a commonality to the process of painting and writing poems, it’s the element of reworking, revising, never quite being satisfied, the professors agree. “I don’t think a poem is ever really done,” says Magistrale, explaining how the work can morph between its first publication in a journal and the time it’s collected into a book. “I’ve often reworked it, sometimes substantially, so that it’s not the same poem—it’s a different bird.”
The same is true, Strauss says, as long as a painting is sitting around his studio. “With a painting, when you stop and put a frame on it and hang it on the wall it’s probably done. It’s done for sure,” he laughs, “when the painter is dead.”
[ BRIEFS ]
Northeastern University Press
Edited and with a new introduction and afterword by Mark J. Madigan G’87 and Dan Gediman
“Some writers, as the saying goes, need no introduction,” writes alumnus Mark J. Madigan G’87 in his introduction to a new release of the 1953 memoir The Seeking. “Will Thomas is not one of those writers,” he quips. But Thomas’s story, Madigan argues, which chronicles his family’s move to Westford, Vermont in a bid to escape the bigotry of the Jim Crow South, should be better known. Thanks to Madigan, professor of English at Nazareth College, and his coeditor Dan Gediman, it’s now back in print for the first time in sixty years.
Legendary Locals of Burlington
Robert J. Resnik ’74
Host of Vermont Public Radio’s “All the Traditions,” alumnus Robert Resnik ’74 has published Legendary Locals of Burlington, a book that traces the history of Vermont’s Queen City through the people and businesses that have contributed to its renown. It’s a town that’s produced a range of personalities that have occupied the national and international stage, from first lady Grace Coolidge to jam band Phish. The book features never-before published images of the many people who have contributed to Burlington’s “cultural renaissance” over the past forty years.
Songs at Twilight: Stories of My Time
Arthur Langer ’50
After serving in World War II, Arthur Langer ’50, a Brooklyn native, landed at UVM, a school he says he chose after happening upon Dr. James Brooks Wheeler’s 1935 book, Memoirs of a Small Town Surgeon. Wheeler’s description of the university resonated with Langer, and UVM turned out, he writes, “a good place to be.” But life at the university—and stories about the people Langer encountered here—is just a small slice of Songs at Twilight, which Langer calls “a memoir of sorts.”
Doyle Flynn’s Alaskan Environmental Crime Story
Roany Phelan ’83
Disbarred, divorced and depressed, Doyle Flynn is a haunted man. He’s living in a camper-trailer, having sold most of his possessions in a swap meet, and he’s seeing ghosts. But a new assignment, that draws on his training as an environmental lawyer, gives him a shot at redemption and the opportunity to confront his past. Author Alex Prud’homme (co-author with Julia Child on My Life in France) calls the book “a fresh and intriguing novel, one that is equal parts thrilling crime story and existential journey.”