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Tributes by Students and Colleagues




By Skip Barnett (Faculty 1988-2018)

Emeritus Professor of English and ESL, Goshen College
Goshen, Indiana

A Visit from Saint Nick

Quiet snows flutter
Mercury crouches
A slanting sun spares us no hours
The last tinseled trees lie low on the curb . . .
But then comes Saint Nick!
Not the red-suited fat one, in magical sleigh
But the gravel-voiced, calloused-hand, lanky ship-builder
Making his journey no glorious way.

Elves he has, clustered round him
Crafting their gifts, gifting their craft
And then, a late Christmas!
A word-feast for all!
With strumming, deep chanting
And images swirling, hearts and minds leaping
Art is proclaimed, our Muse schools us all.

And then, all is stillness, the saint slips away
Edisto boats feel their maker’s return
Hammers and saws build the poems that can sail.

Come back soon to our winter
The long snows are heavy
Without your strong singing.



By Wilbur Birky ’63 (Faculty 1964-2002)

Emeritus Professor of English, Director of International Education, Goshen College
Goshen, Indiana

A Good Job

While Nick was teaching here part-time he was also doing some contract work in carpentry. We had just moved back to Goshen after three years in Iowa for doctoral studies. So at that time we bought our first home (for $10,500!). It needed quite a bit of work. I was “handy” enough to do most of that work, but we wanted a fireplace and chimney. So we hired Nick to do it. At this time Nick and DuBose’s three children were quite young, and one day DuBose walked over to our house with them to see Nick and his work. I was there at the time and I overheard Nick say from where he was on the ladder: “Come on up here, Bose. I want to show you a good job.” So she did. And I never forgot that.



By Todd Davis (Faculty 1996-2002)

Poet, critic, teacher
Professor of English, Penn State University, Altoona
Altoona, Pennsylvania

Big River
In memory of Nick and DuBose Lindsay

In January, the river shrank the sky, and I stood in the hall,
watching your arms reach up and out over the heads of students
who bobbed beneath your freestyle crawl, floating on the words
you’d thrown like a rope, a belief you could haul the drowning
into the boat you’d made, as if the sails your wife had sewn,
hoisted and filled with your breath, could deliver all of us
to that farthest shore.


By Julia Friesen ‘88

Family Therapist
Winfield, Illinois

lindsay4

In Memory of Nick Lindsay

I’m so grateful for the life of Nick Lindsay and his family and the various opportunities for connection over the years. May 14, 2017, Paul, Laura & I were visiting our mother, Shirley Friesen, for Mother’s Day and had the distinct pleasure of hosting Nick for tea at Mom’s apartment at Greencroft. I’ve attached a couple of pictures from the occasion.

I remember first meeting the Lindsay family when we returned from England to live in Goshen, then being in Thelma Groff’s class with Edward in 4th grade for a while. I remember enjoying being around Edward and Jeff Peachey, the energy and humor from those two were definitely a special bonus from that year.

My sister Laura and Charlotte were friends, and after visiting Edisto one summer, my sister brought home a puppy from their house and we named him Tristan.

Another year when the Lindsays were in Goshen, everyone was at our house on Sixth Street, and my sister and Charlotte directed us in a homemade production of “Pyramus and Thisbe” on our back porch to an appreciative audience of parents under the pear tree. The process of putting it together, routing through clothes for costumes, deciding on the portions to be performed, practicing lines, and staging on that concrete block porch and the general hilarious chaos of it all is one of my fondest memories.

My sister and I visited the Lindsays on Edisto one summer in the early 80s, and it was a magical experience, something I should have written down. Storytelling at dinner was epic from everyone around the table. I remember drinking something like blackberry cordial with sparkling water. We went to the beach riding in the back of a pickup armed with a picnic and hats with Karen. I remember exploring the surf and looking for shells with David.

I took the winter term Poetry Workshop with Nick in January 1987. I still have my notes somewhere. I so appreciated the force of nature that was Nick in Newcomer 17, whether he was performing or writing on the chalkboard or chuckling about something mid-story.

With each one of these experiences, I remember being transformed by the energy, the wit and the liveliness of the shared stories, the appreciation for just the combination of words. It strikes me that with Nick and family, I felt a glimpse of something more to life, and that I might possibly be that free and creative as well. And for those glimpses, I remain truly grateful.



Lauren Friesen (Faculty 1982-97)

Playwright, director, teacher
David M. French Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan, Flint
Chicago, Illinois

Nick Lindsay Speaks, the Cosmos Listens

To say that I am lost
In the deep fog of time
Is probably too kind;
Yet, I trudge ahead.

Walking among tall grasses,
The haze limits my sight
But I hear a hammer,
Tap, tap, luring me onward.

Hiking this trail, I follow
The sounds and faintly see
The skeleton of a house:
Boards joined by nails.

The staccato intensifies,
Assembling new rooms,
As the poet breathes life
Into ancient, tired words.

Soon a symphonic band
Joins the solitary beat,
With a rat-a-tat-tat,
Lifting the fog in our souls
And shaking the cosmos
From its dogmatic slumber.


By Jeff Gundy ‘75

Poet, critic, teacher
Professor Emeritus of English, Bluffton University
Bluffton, Ohio

Stairway

Cheer the slaves, horrify the despots, praise the earth.
—Nicholas C. Lindsay

1.

I knew people who wore hooded sweatshirts and work pants,
but they didn’t charge into classrooms with an armful of books
and barely manage to tip them onto the desk. I knew people

who earned their living with their hands, but they didn’t go on
about dead souls, the mating habits of sparrows, the White Goddess,
Jesus and the joy of closing a couplet, in a single fell swoop.

They didn’t bring a box of hand tools to lecture on the Archipelag Gulag.

Have I sinned? Have I not sinned? And what does God get out of it?

I knew people who taught, fine people, their explanations as neat
and orderly as their clothes, as their hair. Then I became one,
almost. The students like it when I say small things in clear ways.

But the big things are hard to say clearly. The simplest birdsong
threads a way into the whole shimmering cosmos. The hammer,
the board and the nail all deserve their songs, and the copper mine

and the forest and the city—oh, enough. It’s easy to begin, isn’t it,
harder to end well. I slip through whole weeks now without
a single strange dream, without saying one thing to surprise myself.

2.

A storm this summer broke the great maple across our driveway,
filled the yard with limbs and leaves. Nothing but to call the crew
with loud saws and big machines, a Bobcat to load the debris,

a boom truck to take down the broken remnants. The rings
were too muddled to count—“many” was all we could agree.
A last machine to grind the stump. The taproot left below to manage

as best it could, hidden and dark, marked only by splinters.

In the time I wasted on that raggy self I could have run
3 rows of pearls around the robe of The Almighty.

3.

That’s no place to end. A man is not a tree, not a bird, not
a hooded sweatshirt or a stack of books under the arm. Once,
he told me, he figured out how to swing a circular saw

with the shield off, to carve oak risers for a curving staircase.
I’ve used those saws myself, cut studs and siding, ripped oak plywood
for bookshelves, everything on the square. But to scrape out

those curves freehand with a roaring, bucking blade? Trickier
than the wildest couplet, the boldest song. Such skill, such labor,
and all done for small wages. Dollars for a new book, for potatoes

and salt. And the stairway, gleaming in the rich man’s house.

NOTE: Italicized passages are quoted from Nick Lindsay, the first a frequent refrain, the second and third from an inscription in my copy of his Esau Lanier: A Sea Island Prince.


Ann Hostetler (Faculty 1998-2020)

Poet, critic, teacher
Emeritus Professor of English, Goshen College
Goshen, Indiana



By Dennis Huffman ‘80

Director, University Town Center
Prince George’s Community College
Hyattsville, MD

Negative Capability

What’s the opposite of salt
he asked
that first day of poetry class
and then he taught us how to ring
a silver bell



By Bob Johnson ’73 (Faculty 1980-82)

Fiction, MFA Iowa Writers Workshop
Retired from commercial television
Elkhart, Indiana

Get Close to Her

I began writing stories in 1974, when I was still at GC. I knew who Nick Lindsay was, though I hadn’t taken his poetry classes and, frankly, his rousing ways and booming voice at readings intimidated me. Nevertheless, I approached him one day and introduced myself.

“Hello, Bob Johnson,” he said, his voice gruff, but his old-man-on-the-mountain face kindly. I was writing stories, I said, and wondered if he might read them sometime.

“Yes!” he said. I would come to learn that “Yes!” was Nick’s favorite affirmative. If something you wrote reached him, he would add that single word in the margins. I came to treasure those yeses, though more often he wrote “Oof!” which meant something else altogether.

Anyway, I gave Nick a couple of stories. He read them and sent them back to me, calling one a “dud” and wondering if my character in another, a young man who flirted with suicide by standing on a railroad track, would go on to have toasters or refrigerators as his children, given that he was so intent on joining himself to a machine.

Undaunted (actually, quite daunted), I met with him to discuss how my work might improve.

“Get close to Her,” he said. I didn’t know who “Her” was, though I nodded. Should I write about women, did he mean? He answered by talking about Robert Frost and Mother Earth and an old neighbor on Edisto Island who’d lost a coin in the house but looked for it in the front yard because the light was better out there. “Get close to Her,” he said over and over.

I went home and wrote another story. I don’t remember what it was about, though I’m quite sure a girl figured into it, because…well, you know, Her.

I gave it to him, and, after a word or two of encouragement, he handed it back to me and said, “Now, write it again seven times.”


By Julia Spicher Kasdorf (1981-83)

Poet and teacher
Professor of English, Penn State University, State College
Bellefont, Pennsylvania

For a Troubadour

the darkened eye knows this two-ness as a trap
—Nick Lindsay, “A Cedar Boat”

From whence came his song?
Rants sprang from the groin,
chants rose from soil and sea.

What did he fear? Death?
Not so much. Failure? Perhaps.
Failure of what? His tongue,
the plow, the pen, the penis,
his mind. His retirement plan?
Ha! Not that, shall I go on?

His boast: building boats,
a fine house on Peter’s Point
road, a winding stair. His song:
smash of the hammer on
his thumb, crippling kick
of a horse that split his brain.

Praise pink dawn, King Jesus,
payday, money bartered for craft,
time, and materials. Praise
the boss man’s wage
that sustained ten children.
Praise those children

whose first home she built
from her bloody womb, she
who wove nests for his young.
Labor and pain such as hers
delivered our Savior.
And for her work, what pay?

His praise always, her glory.



By Harley King ‘71

Speaker, workshop facilitator, writer, artist, storyteller, certified Zentangle teacher
Perrysburg, Ohio

Haiku for Nick

Unexpected –
an old friend
crickets, too


Jessica Lapp ’86 (Faculty 1995-97)

Director, Interdisciplinary Program, Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Nick Lindsay as God

When I was 8 years old, Nick Lindsay was God. Literally. In the spring of 1973, the College Mennonite Church was staging a production of the one act opera Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten. I was one of the animals going into the ark, along with all the other Sunday School-age kids. “Kyrie eleison,” we sang. Jack Dueck was Noah. Nick Lindsay was God. From the perspective of this 8 year old, he represented a very College Mennonite Church version of God – aware of the theatrical, expansive, literate, loving, a bit intimidating but still brilliant.

One of my regrets from my years as a student at Goshen College is that I did not take Nick Lindsay’s poetry workshop. I never envisioned myself as a poet, I guess, and perhaps I was afraid of how God would respond to my paltry offerings. But as a student and then a faculty member briefly, I appreciate the great impact Lindsay had on all of us, students and faculty alike. He made poetry part of everyday life, something that shouldn’t be only up on the mountaintop (or in the balcony at CMC) but down with the people, boisterous and brilliant.



By John Leigh ‘02

Computer specialist for museum exhibits
Baltimore, Maryland

A Comment, a Disappointment and
Some Speculation on the Nature of the Divine, for Nick

That the trick to doing things is just doing them
is a pretty easy thing to say but it is not a very easy thing to feel;
it can become an easy feeling but you have to feel it first and that
like the original trick
is a bit of a trick.

We were supposed to be learning the blues one week
but it was only the form and not the content that we were supposed to learn.
The examples were ambiguous so everyone tried to come up with legitimate complaints.

The complaints did not scan and we had to move on.

What if Odin were an otter and the raven was a guitar
or the raven was a boat in a story.
What if the raven was a construction but Odin is still an otter
with some suggestions and a truthful look.

It took a lot of encouragement.



By Susan Fisher Miller ’80 (Faculty 1985-86)

PhD in English, Northwestern University
Retired, Senior Associate Director of Foundation Relations, Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois

What Is Six?

What is six?
Six suckles the mother cat.

What is five?
Five clenches in the fighter’s glove.

What is four?
Four hides in a tight pea pod.

What is three?
Three studs Orion’s belt.

What is one?
One circles the yawning moon.


By Lenae Nofziger ‘94

Fiction, MFA Eastern Washington University
Professor of English, Northwest University
Kirkland, Washington

There was a poet on Edisto Island who roared
For Nick Lindsay

There was a poet on Edisto Island
with the clear blue eyes of a blind dog.

There was a poet on Edisto Island
who talked about ‘gators,
built a boat in his kitchen,
and wrote in the dead-early hours
of a house full of children.

There was a poet on Edisto Island
who knew dynamite
the way his father knew turtles,
the way his wife knew his jointed body,
the way his neighbors knew about rebuilding.

There was a poet on Edisto Island
who built an arch like a long-memorized
poem, foot tapping, all that energy
packed brick against bleeding-hand brick,
knowing as he worked how fast,
how spectacularly,
it could come tumbling down.

There was a poet on Edisto Island.
Much of what he made still stands.



By Jeffrey S. Peachey ‘88

Rare book conservator
New York City

Hammer and Nail

Nailing

During a College Mennonite Church sermon in the 1970s, Nick Lindsay told the story of a roofing nailer at work. It was not something many of us had thought about at the time. He could hear the Craft of nailing in the sound of nails firmly hit and driven flush with three well-placed blows.

Of course his teaching of poetry was infused with Craft. Nick would always have us close our eyes when a fellow student read their poem aloud. Poems were an aural dreamscape for him. He often talked about dreams, once where Vachel Lindsay's death mask was placed on him. Where did Vachael stop and Nick start? Nick often sang and chanted Vachel's poetry, mixing it up with his own. It troubled some people, but, in the end, it really didn't matter. Nick was interested in Craft, and Craft is built with tradition, participation, presence and transmission.

I don't drive that many nails these days, but when I do Nick comes to mind. And I strive to drive the nails home in three sweet blows.



By Sofia Samatar ‘94

Speculative fiction, critic, teacher
Assistant Professor of English, James Madison University
Harrisonburg, Virginia

the stolen boat

that image of him bending his knees then springing up she wrote and yes i wrote the things he said to us the opposite of salt and all those shamanistic realms and so we traded memories back and forth the leaping squirrel the crashing sea the silver bell the moon the house on ninth street with the bare dirt yard the boat he built in the dining room the milky sun the sleeping corn the nightingales talking ancient greek the class in russian literature he taught at a construction site where students took turns reading aloud while others worked with the building crew and oh the things he used to say the chanting voice the tooth don’t join the certified the goddess dragging her sad barge down a river of blood the savior strewn like fallen dew the broken rim the lion’s den the celtic mourning of the crows the opposite of a woman is and as we wrote of him we also wrote of daily things the car the masks the letters to the local paper the canceled college visits almost as if i thought there was for us no line between the worlds as if contrary to what he taught we did not occupy a ledge with one foot in the world of clocks and the other in eternity but rather without a pause or turn of head or punctuation mark we’d boarded the boat he hammered together on the dining-room table and managed to row it through the picture window right into the street among the frozen trees that crackled language down between the telephone wires the keel of the vessel tearing up the asphalt as we made our way and also she wrote i’m growing out my hair and i replied me too and there were the hills the signs the guns in rain the comet’s arch the words and let perpetual light shine upon him she wrote and we went rowing our boat through this world of darkness where there is true radiance


By Mark Sawin ‘93

Professor of History, Director of University Honors
Eastern Mennonite University
Harrisonburg, VA

Remembrance of Nick Lindsay

During my years at Goshen College (1989-1993) I took Ncik Lindsay’s special session poetry workshop twice. This was an odd class. It required coming back to campus early from Christmas break, as it ran for the Monday-Saturday week at the beginning of January, when little else was going on. Being in Goshen in the bleak days of early January on a quiet campus was already somewhat magical and surreal, and this was compounded by the fact that Nick, firmly believing that “Dawn is for the poets,” began class at 6:30 a.m. Lessons were often interrupted so we could leave our Newcomer Center classroom to walk out into the icy cold and watch the sun break forth from the inky skyline. As blurry-eyed students, we would trudge across the dark campus to class each day, driven largely by the enthusiastic greeting we always received when we entered the warm classroom.

One morning, however, we entered confused, wondering why Nick wasn’t standing there, arms thrown wide to greet us, as he usually was, only to jump back shocked when Nick charged out from beneath the table, snapping his teeth—a not so allegorical alligator inspiring us to see the world from more perspectives than just our own.

I loved those workshops, and from them generated much bad college poetry, but also a few works that I now look back on and wish and wonder at the “me” that was able to be so honest with myself and others. Nick inspired us to take chances, to think differently, to not be afraid to not be afraid. In me, Nick remains a mythical, larger than life figure--someone born of a poetic heritage who cast his lot among the Gullah speaking peoples of Edisto Island, and who lived as a part-time ship-builder, carpenter, intellectual and poet, and a full-time inspiration.



By David Waltner-Toews ‘71

Veterinarian, epidemiologist, poet, fiction-writer, essayist
Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph, Ontario
Kitchener, Ontario

Remembering Nick Lindsay

Born in Winnipeg, having vagabonded around the world for 18 months, and worked in a sawmill for eight more to pay off debts, I arrived in Goshen, in the Fall of 1969, somewhat the worse for wear.

Until that year, the poems I had written veered wildly between the extremes of sentimental Hallmark-type rhymes, composed for birthdays and other similar occasions, and raging, out-of-control laments, which might or might not have been therapeutic. The poets I longed to emulate included William Blake (for the intense, hallucinatory, iconoclastic, religious content), Dylan Thomas (for the delight in word-plays), and John Donne (for the understated, clever, mix of sex and piety). But where, amid the chaotic upheavals of the late 60s and early 70s, could one find an authentic voice for the times?

I found Nick Lindsay’s chanting, hypnotic, incantations puzzling in their points of reference, embarrassing in their raw emotion, and inspiring for their unabashed chutzpah. I wasn’t quite sure how to translate that into something usable in my own writing. I focused, then, on the daily drills Nick required of us, writing in various poetic forms, learning basic techniques, the equivalent of playing scales and Hanon exercises on piano. At the time, with the world around us falling apart, it almost seemed like pointless busyness.

It was only after leaving the quarrelsome cosiness of liberal arts academia for a paying job in the dung-and-disease business that I realized how fortunate I had been to have had a carpenter as a poetry teacher. The repeated drilling in the fundamentals of the craft enabled me, finally, to build a barn sufficiently large to accommodate the many voices inside me clamoring for a tongue. Not every animal got its own room; some had to bunk together; and all shared the same eclectic diet. But from the stage performances of “Tante Tina” and the culturally-rooted poems of The Impossible Uprooting (McClelland & Stewart, 1995), to the multi-voiced cross-cultural explorations of The Fat Lady Struck Dumb (Brick, 2000), and later collaborations with photographers and scientists, none would have been possible if Nick hadn’t handed me a hammer and said, “Here you go, city boy. Build us a poem.”

This poem, from my 1979 collection The Earth is One Body, isn’t my best, but for me --a guy who never handled an ax, saw or hammer growing up—it has Nick Lindsay written all over it.

Homestead

I built this place,
searched out the strong
green words,
chopped and trimmed them,
chinked them with commas,
thatched a title
between the frozen page
and hardwood frame.

I have been waiting for you
here, beside the fire,
between the lines,
cords of unused words
stacked up around me.
I’ve left enough unsaid to keep us warm
all winter.

Thanks, Nick!


By Shari Miller Wagner ‘80

Poet, teacher
Indiana Poet Laureate 2016 and 2017
Indianapolis, Indiana

I loved how Nick’s poetry classes had the feel of a poem. They brimmed with surprises, broke into song, stopped the clock, and resonated with myth. As a poetry writing instructor (one with a tendency to over-plan), I have wanted my own classes to convey that sense of openness to the moment. I don’t have Nick’s prodigious gifts for oral storytelling and song, but I have found that collaborative writing has been a way that I can bring Nick’s spirit of spontaneity into my workshops.

I was inspired to write the following poem by a comment Nick once made in his poetry workshop at Goshen College: “If there are any faerie folk in Indiana, you’ll find them in the cornfields.” That statement affirmed the sense of wonder I had felt so keenly as a child while walking through fields in Wells and LaGrange Counties.

The Old Ones
For Nicholas Lindsay

In winter they hung in honey locust
hidden among wrinkled pods, until
spring opened their knuckles

and they bee-lined to a sprouting cornfield
where the slightest breeze set
their bird hearts humming.

On humid afternoons grown heavy
on tall stalks, they watched
for a child who moseyed near, kicking

loose gravel. They lured me inside
with a stray kitten’s cry. Further
and further I wandered, past hissing

corn that grew into a forest,
and in a veil of dust I saw them,
through blue dragonflies.

When I left the dark field, rows
closed behind me in a rush. I walked
uphill toward a room where soup

had grown cold. Since then I have wondered
if the flicker of lanterns was a dream
by the curving brook. But I heard

their killdeer cries the day men cleared
the fencerow and pushed the corn under
cul-de-sacs named for what was never here.

From The Harmonist at Nightfall: Poems of Indiana
(Bottom Dog Press 2013)



By Don Yost ‘72

Playwright, screenwriter, storyteller
Goshen, Indiana

One Easter

I heard a voice muffled in cloud and dark.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Elaine and I joined the somber procession. Elaine carried a smooth stone and I carried a wooden toy and a box of matches. The mourners headed south down the alley between 8th and 9th Streets inGoshen.

More scripture and sad hymns as we walked. We approached the back of the house where Nick had built a sailboat in the living room. Nick, DuBose, Charlotte, little Nick, Edward, and David waited.

“We’re going to his tomb,” I announced. “Will you join us?”

“We will,” Nick boomed.

The tomb was a stack of scrap wood in the outfield of the college baseball diamond. But the body was not there. “Search, then,” said Nick.

Each person took a stick with a rag wrapped on the end and wandered off into the mist and dark.

At the far edge of the rising dawn, hope found me. I stuck a match, lit my torch and followed its light to the nearest pilgrim. “He’s risen,” I whispered and passed the flame.

Fire found fire. Pilgrims laid their burning torches at the tomb. The bonfire and the rising sun warmed our dancing, our jubilation, and our yelps of joy. The heat melted the frozen ground. I swung Edward in a wild circle and his muddy shoe caught the side of David’s face.

As pilgrims circled to comfort the injured boy, we gave each other the gifts we had intended for our dead Lord. We sang and danced our way back to the Lindsay house for crossed cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate.

“There’s no use trying,” Nick announced. “There will never be another Easter like this.”


Dawn Zehr ‘95

Director, Audacious Poets
Woodstock, Illinois

Nick Lindsay Says

I.

In every notebook margin,
scraps and quotes.

Birds fly out of his mouth
and I tie them to my belt and eyelashes,
tailbone and teeth.

They stay with me,
fluttering
and furious.

They pull and steady
the shape of migration,
but topple me
hard
on sidewalks and
in conference rooms.

II.

An Incomplete Catalog of the Birds (and What They Saw in the Room That Day)

Bird one:
“If someone tells you that you are their world, you better run.”
Never blind to the danger of obsessive love.

Bird two:
“You love yourself so much, I don’t need to.”
Never mind a narcissist trying something.

Bird five:
“Art leaves you stronger—better equipped for survival.”
Feel around for purpose and push.

Bird twelve:
“I’ll circle the words that break the spell.”
Notice the spells you are casting.

Bird twenty-nine:
“If all this is true, then this poem is...”
Ask for the truth, then let it arrive.


About the Author

This piece was features contributions from numerous students and colleagues.