Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Not What I Wanted to Read

I was thinking this afternoon about a professor with whom I took four classes in my major field (Rhetoric) years ago. I'd been talking about him and one of those classes (Reader's Theater) with my wife the other day, and wondered whatever became of him. I figured (correctly) that he was long since retired.

But I didn't want to know this:
Robert Beloof, a poet and friend to both Robert Frost and E.E. Cummings, died unpoetically in Portland on Tuesday, hit by a Volkswagen van as he crossed Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard on foot. He was 81.
Two years ago. Man.

This part is highly accurate:
“He didn’t make friends unless people were willing to be honest and frank with him all the time,” said son Doug Beloof, a Lewis & Clark College law professor. “My father had no patience for etiquette or pretense or show.”
In addition to Reader's Theater, I studied two terms of oral interpretation of literature (one each of poetry and prose) and an amazing class on symbolism, the last half of which was spent reading Moby-Dick intensively.

I think it's fair to say that those classes shaped much of my understanding of literature, and certainly trained my voice for reading. There is probably nothing I've enjoyed in this life as much as reading with my daughter, and I'm sure a part of that I owe to my training with professor Beloof.

He was an interesting man, apparently rather difficult to get along with. His office was down a different corridor than all the other faculty in the Rhetoric department, for example. At the corner, a hand-printed sign pointed one way as the "hall of light" and the other as the "hall of darkness." I don't think they were just referring to the afternoon sunshine on the west side.

But he was very curious about many things. We used do discuss computers, since he knew I worked with and taught about them, and he figured he should get one to use in his work, particularly writing.

I'm sure if he'd had the chance, he would have come up with some choice words to describe his untimely demise, but he didn't. Alas.

Hmmm. I guess I should read my alumni magazine more carefully, because they ran an obituary for him in November, 2005. I knew only part of this:
Robert, a resident of Berkeley, was chair of the speech department at Berkeley in the 1960s, a period when many universities were converting their departments to study communications. He pushed in the opposite direction, expanding the department to cover more humanities and to use a pedagogy derived from classical rhetoric, which explains why the department is now called Rhetoric.
Good for him! That's a terrific legacy.

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