Ansie Baird

I first met Irving Feldman in the early sixties when he was playing softball for the English department team and my former husband, through the invitation of the late Mack Mahoney, also played on that team.  I recall some balmy afternoons behind what I think was Crosby Hall (?), watching games.  I remember Fernando was a small boy but already had his devoted father wrapped around his little finger.  That devotion continues and now the two wonderful grandchildren are included in Irving's affections.  In 1977 I took a writing course with Irving at UB on the new campus.  I was enrolled in a Masters of English program and worked with many of the poets then at UB, including Mac Hammond, Al Cook, Bill Sylvester, John Logan, Carl Dennis and Irving.  What a star-studded cast!  Irving was always attentive and benevolent in class, very funny of course, but never at the expense of a vulnerable student.  In fact, his suggestions for improving the poem were almost invariably astute (although sometimes infuriatingly accurate;  he didn't miss a trick!) but handled kindly.  Nevertheless, my chief recollection of that class, along with Irving's reliability, was his wry wit.  It never faltered.  We laughed and laughed.  And I would imagine our poems improved.  I recall once bragging (in a personal moment) that I make the best rice pudding.  Irving challenged me that his mother's was certainly better.  So I baked a rice pudding and met him in the faculty dining room  (by pre-arrangement) and we ate the pudding.  He conceded it was "different" from his mother's but very good.  I own and have read all of Irving's many volumes of poems and  I have attended many many readings by Irving over the past 30 years.  They have invariably been powerful and disturbing and memorable.  However, I have never been impressed with Irving's sartorial splendor.  Almost always, it seems to me, he is attired in jeans and a navy blue sweater of some sort.  Irving has a reputation for being reclusive (he seldom comes to my annual poetry party or the preceding reading although I always urge him to) but we've had many a convivial lunch together somewhere on Elmwood over the years.  And I expect that will intermittently continue.  Since Irving came to the English Department at UB while my father, Oscar Silverman, was still its Chairman, I will conclude with a poem which I wrote a few years ago  (and which I believe Irving approved of) which refers to my father and the healing powers of poetry.  Happy Birthday, Irving.  You wear your years lightly.  May we celebrate many more birthdays in years to come.  with warm wishes and lots of recollections and affection,  Ansie Baird


When my favorite professor hanged  himself

In a rented room in London in 1959,

I telephoned my father at his office.

Long distance in those days was a risky

Business for a student, poor and tentative.

Pop, I cried, Walter Stone is dead.

He killed himself.  What do I do now?

Tell me!  What should I do now?

Listen to me carefully, he said.

There are worse things than death.

Here is what  you do right now.

Take your Shakespeare to the library.

Go down to a desk in the deepest stacks.

Begin at the beginning of King Lear

And don’t stop until you’ve finished it.

This will take you approximately three hours.

I promise at the end you’ll be feeling better.

I did

and I did.

Howl.  Howl.

Reenter the day.