June 1960: Symbols of Blessedness and/or Divinity
Poet Howard Nemerov while he was on the faculty at Bennington (1948-1966). Courtesy of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation
Every now and then our angels in Crossett Library–Laura Payne, the Public Services Coordinator; and Oceana Wilson, the Dean of Libraries–turn up a document from the archive so completely, well, Bennington, that we hold it in reserve until it’s just the right moment to share it with you. Now that June is on its way out and the campus is its full summer splendor (see bluebirds, purple aster, fields of fireflies at dusk, etc.), we thought it was the right time to revisit a moment in 1960 when the poet Howard Nemerov, a longtime faculty member at the College, saw a cloud above the Jennings music building so strange and so singular that it moved him to lodge a complaint.
It was the 13th of June, in Nemerov’s account, and he was walking on campus with a student named Lucienne Davidson “at 1330 hours” (or 1:30 PM) when he witnessed a “large white circular cloud” hovering above Jennings that reminded him of a halo. This “spiritualized and attenuated doughnut,” as Nemerov later described it to the music faculty, was “poised exactly, though at a cockeyed slant, over Jennings Hall.” Was it a sign from the Heavens? A symbol of the music faculty’s “spiritual pride”? Had the halo been summoned to the skies above Jennings by faculty member Gunnar Schonbeck, whose experimental orchestra made strange music from the industrial pipes, giant drums, and huge clarinets he and his students constructed? Nemerov, always an ironist, sent this note of protest to the Music Division:
From the discipline meeting notes of the Music Division, June 1960
Aside from the brilliance of the letter, which parodies the notes of complaint that routinely circulate on college campuses everywhere and consume untold hours in faculty meetings, Nemerov’s regard for his colleagues in music in clear. They are fellow artists and co-conspirators. And by writing Nemerov’s note into the official minutes of the Music Division for posterity, the music faculty shows its regard for Nemerov. It is just the kind of collaboration, generative and off-kilter, that continues to happen routinely on the Bennington campus.
Literary Bennington will be back in the fall with a whole slate of new stories and small treasures from the archive.
Wishing you many “future haloes, nimbuses, or glories” for the summer of ‘16.