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.
“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 vitae” – Eddie’s own articulation of what he sets out to accomplish so magnanimously in his substantial, if not substantive, role as public orator.
Now 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.
And 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.
Today, 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