“Hans wants to produce a book of poems by his class. I told him you would work on this with him.”
It was early 1996 and I was working with the Learning in Retirement Institute as a part-time graduate assistant. Hans Juergensen had retired several years earlier, and he was a “get” for LIR. Hired in 1961 as faculty in the Humanities, Hans had been a consultant to the Nobel Prize Committee on Literature and was an esteemed poet. Lee, renowned for her arm-twisting abilities, had worked on Hans for a while to get him to try teaching for LIR, a program now in its second year. Hans agreed to focus on poetry writing.
As happens, Hans arrived reluctantly and with little expectation that he would make poets out of a group of older adults. As also happens, those very members promptly sucked Hans into OLLI life. The poets formed a tight bond and returned again and again to work with Hans. Ultimately, Hans taught poetry-writing classes continually up until his death in 2000.
Sadly, I knew exactly how we were going to put together the books, from a previous job working at a print and copy shop in Miami in the late ‘70s. Let’s just say it was the sort of job that really encouraged me to return to college and finish my degree. I knew my way around a computer pretty well, but we had few tools then. We only had whatever we could print from our office printer and get copied at our friendly copy shop, which picked up and delivered. We did not have access to a copier: back then, we never purchased most office supplies, but relied on scrounging up pens and notepads from wherever we could. We were using old PCs that ran on MS-DOS and WordPerfect 5.1. Was THIS what I came to grad school for, I wondered?
I can’t remember who came up with the name Vintage for the collection. It seemed appropriate: Hans and his poets believed that, as with wine, life can become richer over time. An old drawing of Hans’ would be used for the cover: a pen-and-ink drawing of a sinuous abstract figure wriggling on the page. We carefully wrapped up this drawing and gave it to ProCopy to reproduce.
I typed each poem on the office computer, attempting to adhere to the manuscripts’ typed or handwritten layout. I would print each page and poem out for review, editing and Hans’ approval. When I couldn’t force WordPerfect to capitalize, indent, or punctuate as the poet intended, I would find a way to cut them up, position and then paste them onto each page with rubber cement. Cut edges showing on the copy? I knew the secret for reducing them.
ProCopy printed enough comb-bound copies of Vintage for each of the poets to have one. I’m pretty sure frugal Lee required that each poet pay for their copy. I kept the final manuscript with its glued-on cover at the office. It’s still there, though the pages are now yellowed, bent and stained from moving and from storage.
Cut/copy and paste happens with barely a thought these days. Hans and I worked on this project for at least a month; he was one of several instructors we (I) worked with this way as they were preparing their class materials. By the time Hans was ready to reprise Vintage with a new crop of poems the following year, cut/copy and paste had been assigned to someone else.
But Han’s preface to the first Vintage feels appropriate to share again, in light of the renewal of poetry as a subject of continuing interest in our OLLI, and of the dedicated poetry groupies who support it.
Consider these poets
who plow fertile soil
of thinking and feeling
for the sowing
of seed imagery
as a life-long harvest.
Ara Rogers is the Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of South Florida.