I went to college under the impression that I would major in art. I only vaguely recall now why I thought I could have any kind of future as an artist, but fortunately, after one or two college-level art courses, I realized that (a) I wasn’t nearly as talented as I had somehow been led to believe, and (b) I didn’t care enough about art to work at it as hard as I would need to in order to get better. College is like that, or can be.
So I changed majors to something I had always cared about: English. The English department at St. Andrews included a strong creative writing and modern poetry contingent, led by Ron Bayes. I took a modern/contemporary poetry course with him, in which the foundations were Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, H.D., and then Roethke, Stafford, and the Black Mountain poets—Creeley, Olson, Levertov, etc. He taught us how to read and appreciate these open forms, and gave us the skills to develop our own tastes. Having spent some time in Japan, Bayes was also enthusiastic about Japanese poetry and the fiction of Yukio Mishima; for me, the poetry took, the fiction did not.
Bayes is an encourager—not only in the writing workshops I recall, when probably some of us should have been stifled a bit more. He supported my applications to creative writing MA/MFA programs. Thanks to Bayes, I knew that “Old Possum” was a nickname of T.S. Eliot (as in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats), enabling me to answer the Final Jeopardy clue correctly, even though I still only came in second. And when I co-edited a book recently, Bayes was kind enough to e-mail congratulations, even though the book was nothing to do with poetry.
Bayes is still going strong and apparently unstoppable. As I prepared to compose this post, I googled him and the first result was a story about his readings this past week in Wilmington. Dozens of SAPC English majors and writers will testify to his skills as a poet and teacher, and to his graciousness.