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The Gated Community
Since Daisy has already identified me as a nerdy poet, I shan’t flinch from admitting right off the bat that I have Andrew Marvell and Anne Finch on my mind these days. I’m thinking of their poems about the country estates where they found protection and patronage for brief intervals during turbulent historic times: Upon Appleton House, for instance, and A Nocturnal Reverie.
My interest in these poems was piqued in the months since I came to live on a university campus—the American University of Beirut. It’s the best living arrangement I’ve ever had, and perhaps it is ill-mannered of me not to write an ode upon it.
Neither Marvell nor Finch had family wealth to draw upon, but both found cultured patrons. So it is with me and the university. My family doesn’t have any extra money to speak of at the end of the month, but we live in a kind of subsidized luxury, in faculty housing. At the foot of the building is a state-of-the art playground where my two young sons go every day, floating safely between our apartment and the apartments of their friends, other faculty children. There is the soccer field too, and in the summer, a beach right on the Mediterranean with a kiddie pool built among the rocks.
Strange little nooks exist—besides the official archeological museum, we can sneak up to the third floor of the geology department, a place where few venture, and view the rock specimens on display in labeled cases. Or we can wander the halls of the agriculture school and see the skeletons of various animals behind glass.
On Thursdays, there is an organic market on campus. The produce is trucked in from the Bekaa Valley, where AUB operates a farm. The greenhouse has regular plant sales where you can get seedlings to decorate your balcony for about seventy-five cents a pot.
The grounds are magnificent. Robert Pogue Harrison has a chapter on academia in Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition: “Institutions of higher learning in fact have a long history of association with the garden, be it the parks and groves of the famous Greek schools, the Roman villa, the bowers of Sainte-Genevieve in medieval Paris, the Italian garden academies of the Renaissance, the British ‘college garden,’ or the idyll of the traditional American campus.” The only drawback here is that one can’t do any personal gardening (except for container gardening on balconies).
Above all there is the library. A university library. One of the greatest amenities in existence.
In my next few posts I hope to say something about Marvell, Finch, pastoral containment, reverie and safety, family and creativity, keeping in mind the community I’ve found myself in this year. I’ll be winging it—I’m no scholar of seventeenth century poetry, or sociology, or urbanism—but in light of what I’ve found here, and given how intensely American poets have been criticized for sheltering in academia in the last few decades, perhaps it’s time to float the proposition, not that academia has made life too cozy for poets—and by extension all its members—but that it hasn’t made it cozy enough.