EDWARD BAUGH, EXTRAORDINARY TEACHER

Edward Baugh

Edward Baugh

On May 7, 2001, the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica hosted a luncheon to mark the retirement of several faculty members.  At the time, I was head of the Department of Literatures in English and it was my most pleasurable duty to write the citation in honour of Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh. 

         For the 2012 Distinguished Lecture established in his name, which I thoroughly enjoyed delivering in his presence, I read again the poem I had written a decade earlier to celebrate Eddie’s exceptional talent as a teacher of literature.  Here’s the full text of the citation.

FOR EDDIE B

Chancellor-in-absentia, I present Edward Alston Cecil Baugh.  And that’s as far as I got:  declamation of the sonorous names.  I wanted to compose for Eddie a citation as magnificent as those he’s crafted in the sixteen years he’s been “trapped” in the role of Public Orator at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

images-4“Trapped” is Eddie’s own mischievous word.  Let me give you the full context of his use of that arresting image in his “Preface” to Chancellor, I Present, a collection of his convocation citations, published by the UWI Press:  “Little did I think then [in 1985] that I would still be at the job, trapped in it as it were . . . . Little did I think then that I would come to be regarded by some as being generally and indiscriminately available to do citations, or that many people would seem to think, to occasional resentment on my part I must confess, that my substantive post in the University was that of Public Orator, rather than Professor of English.”

I cite this example of Eddie’s high-class throw-word skills  in my attempt to help you “find the breathing person behind the bare curriculum vitaeEddie’s own articulation of what he sets out to accomplish so magnanimously in his substantial, if not substantive, role as public orator.

images-2Now Eddie has this unfortunate public image of unswerving, upright propriety.  But if you listen carefully, as I enjoy doing, you will hear and share his joy in role play; you will understand his pleasure in “having a stage on which to exercise delight in the possibilities of English.”  Classic Baugh.

images-5And there are other possibilities.  The disarming possibility in that felicitous turn of phrase, “generally and indiscriminately available to do citations” – the possibility is that the innocent-sounding words simultaneously conceal and reveal in an elaborate verbal strip tease the picture of a resentful person, conventionally a woman, whose favours, usually sexual, are presumed to be loosely available to whosoever wills to come.  And you see Eddie, on his high horse, unwilling to have his chivalry wasted on unworthy subjects.

And, incidentally, Eddie always corrects those who assume that he is Professor of West Indian Literature and not Professor of English.  This is not evidence of a recessive colonialist gene, a desire on Eddie’s part to glorify the pre-post-colonial days of pure English Studies.

Rather, it’s a simple case of pulling rank.  Eddie became a Professor of English in 1978, a mere 13 years after he joined the staff of the University in January 1965 as an Assistant Lecturer in English at Cave Hill.  And though most of his publications since then are, indeed, on West Indian Literature it is important that we not forget that he is a Professor of so-so English. Im no pyaa-pyaa.

images-6Today, I celebrate Eddie most of all as a teacher.  I came to Mona as a student in October 1968, the same year he came to teach.  And for me, he was the best teacher in the Department.  In fact, I did my Ph.D. thesis on Derek Walcott because of the passion that Eddie brought to his teaching of poetry and especially that of Walcott.

So if imitation is, indeed, the sincerest form of flattery, let me conclude this tribute with a poem (I’m an occasional poet) that attempts to turn plagiarism into high art.  Mi sorry fi all who don’t read Eddie’s poem, “It was the Singing” yet.  You will miss the imitation but not, I hope, the sincere gratitude.

It was the teaching

It was the teaching, man, the teaching, it was that

that full wi head and open wi eye

with knowledge.  Vice-Chancellor talk good, an didn’t

give we no long-metre that day

an Augier make us laugh to hear

how from longtime Faculty of Arts an more recent Education

was a place fi di rebel dem – even dem who don’t look like rebel

an everybody proud how Douglas Hall talk

strong bout Baugh di scholar, di administrator, di committee man,

di board chairman, di public orator, di public servant, di man of words!

But the teaching was sermon an lesson an eulogy

an more, and it was only when we raise

“How Great Thou Art” that I really feel

the sadness an the glory, wave after wave.

A man teach fi thirty an three years pon dis campus

From January 1968 to now

an a nuff a wi pass through him hand

the sadness an the glory of the passing of time

an di work of di man multiply from generation to generation

an nobody can’t calculate, can’t figure out

the measure of di man an im work

for is not now yu reap when you sow inna dis ya field

a no one semester, a no two, a no twenty two

yu see di fruit a yu labour.

an plenty time di fruit force-ripe, shrivel down to notn

an di labour in di field getting harder an harder

as di ground getting tougher and tougher.

an plenty time yu feel like yu coulda dis

dig up di folly ground an pitch een di knowledge.

but a no so disya work go

yu give an yu give an yu give an yu give

an yu hope that one day, one day yu wi get couple student

who bring di gift of love fi di subject

an a willingness fi do di work

an is then yu know we is a community of scholars together

student an teacher learning same way

an never mind the bad-minded colleagues

a run jostle gainst you

an di carry-down administrators a hustle fi set up demself

yu can find it inna yu heart to forgive

for all who can, teach

an all who can’t, administer

so is like di teaching bigger than all of we

an making us better than we think we could be

an all we asking when di roll is called up yonder

is that we can answer, ‘Yes, wi did wi best wid wat wi did get.’

it was di teaching, man, di teaching, it was that

that full wi head and open wi eye

with knowledge.

Paul Hallas, Tree of Knowledge

Paul Hallas, Tree of Knowledge

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