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A Tribute to Nick Lindsay




Nick Lindsay arrived at Goshen College in an almost accidental way. In the spring of 1969 the Lecture-Music program found itself with a small surplus and, as was sometimes the custom, decided to sponsor a bonus program late in the spring. Nick Lindsay was the choice. He had been recommended by Helen Clay, a Goshen friend of the college whose son was studying at Indiana University Bloomington, had attended a performance by Nick and thought he would be a good “fit” for Goshen College.

Nick was the son of Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), prominent American performance poet, and was a performance poet in his own right. Vachel had given a program at Goshen College in the 1920s. Nick, who was living with his family in Bloomington and working at a Dr. Pepper (“coke,” he always said) plant, came to Goshen overnight to conclude the L-M series in the presence of a small audience.

Later in the summer, a person who had been hired to teach in the English Department in the fall semester withdrew from the position. Thanks partly to the rapport that Nick had established with Jack Dueck, English prof, Nick was hired to teach fulltime. The rest, as we say, is history—of a 30-year association with Goshen College.

Nick was a charismatic person and teacher who found, and tried to express, the mythic—and often mystical—aspects of literature and everyday reality. His students and colleagues did not always understand what he meant, but his poems and comments encouraged audiences to “fill in the gaps” with their own imaginative ideas. He was very different from his “certified” and more rational faculty colleagues and thereby attracted many student to his courses and to him personally.

The most concrete legacy of Nick’s time at Goshen College is his establishment of Pinchpenny Press in 1969, which enabled him and his students to publish their own inexpensive chapbooks of creative writing. That project endures to the present, and usually generates five or more volumes of poetry, fiction or essays each year. PPP became the venue for publishing nine of Nick’s books of poems and oral histories. They can be found by searching the online holdings of the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College.

In 2000, when he taught his final Poetry Workshop, the English Department honored his retirement by inviting him to be the S. A. Yoder Memorial Lecture; by publishing his collected poems in a 200-page volume; and by toasting him at a dinner party at Prairie Manor. We put laurel wreaths on his and DuBose’s heads and declared him (as in Dante) “Prince of Poets.”

The frontispiece of his collected poems from 1960-2000, Magnificent Storm (PPP, o.p.), is his hand-drawn, colored mandala that depicts his view of the universe. Following it is a ”Preface” by Nick and an “Introduction” by Prof. John Fisher, his longtime colleague and friend.

The MHL also owns what may be his first self-published volume of poems, Yes, published in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1967, prior to his move to Goshen. I found it in the I.U. bookstore in a bin of used books. Its 61 pages contain 28 poems, 4 of which are set to original music. The cover, which lacks a title, features a line drawing of a sword buried up to the hilt at the foot of a tree. Inside, the title is “Yes,” the three letters consisting of the word “No” in multiples. The text is in his informal, non-cursive handwriting. The cover is of green construction paper and the binding is by sewing machine.

Nick Lindsay as person, poet, teacher, mentor and performer will be more fully described in the collection of anecdotes, memoirs and poems that follow in this issue of the CMW Journal, written by his friends, colleagues and students. Goshen College was lucky to have him for 30 years, and these unsolicited, heartfelt statements show why.

See these publications on his life and work:

Jeff Gundy. “Tribute to Nicholas C. Lindsay, Sr. Online. Also in print: The Conrad Grebel Review, 26:1 (Winter 2008).

Julia Spicher Kasdorf. “An Essential Stranger, Yes: Nick Lindsay at Goshen College, 1969-2000. Mennonite Quarterly Review 82:1 (Jan. 2008): 85-107.

“Mr. Nicholas Cave Lindsay Sr.” Obituary. 6-18-2020. Online.

“Nick Lindsay, former assistant professor of English, dies at 92.” Goshen College news, 6-30-2020. Online.

Sofia Samatar. “The Centaur’s Recipe: In Memory of Nick Lindsay.” In Liberation and Responsibility: Anabaptism and Cultural Engagement. Ed. Dennis Koehn and Lauren Friesen. Forthcoming.

About the Author

Ervin Beck

Ervin Beck, Emeritus Professor of English at Goshen College, is co-editor of The Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing, author of many publications on Mennonite literature and folk culture, including MennoFolk and MennoFolk2, published by Herald Press, and compiler of the three Mennonite bibliographies linked on the CMW homepage. From 2006-07 he taught English and dramatic literature at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania. He was on the planning committee for the two Mennonite/s Writing conferences held at Goshen College in 1997 and 2002. He lives in Goshen, Indiana.