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Bradley Hilltopics

Winter 2010 • Volume 16, Issue 1  

Notebook

 

Poet laureate speaks to Gold Star Mothers

By KAREN CROWLEY METZINGER, MA ’97

Poet Laureate Kevin SteinWhen Illinois poet laureate Kevin Stein was asked by Gov. Pat Quinn to read an appropriate poem at the Gold Star Mother’s Day 73rd annual ceremony on September 27, Bradley’s Caterpillar Professor of English gave himself an assignment: create an original poem for the solemn event.

Stein decided early on that no existing poem, not even the famous World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae, seemed to fit the occasion or the audience. Gold Star Mother’s Day ceremonies honor mothers who have lost children in service to the nation and are held annually throughout the country on the last Saturday of September.

A prolific poet, editor, and critic, Stein eventually found this self-assigned task a bit daunting. “To be honest, writing this poem, ‘To Illinois’s Gold Star Mothers, Who Lost a Child in Service of Country,’ is perhaps the most challenging writing assignment I’ve ever taken on.”

Online

Visit bradley.edu/poet/poems to listen to Dr. Kevin Stein recite his poem.

Intent on offering his personal version of solace through poetry, and following a few failed starts, Stein decided the audience he was most interested in serving — and honoring — was the Gold Star Mothers themselves. “More intimately than any others, they understand the nature of sacrifice and loss — no matter the politics or whatever. My sense was to raise the nation of mothers above all others. That’s why I designed the poem in the form of a poetic apostrophe addressed directly to them. And though not rhymed, the poem makes use of the traditional poetic gesture of anaphora — the repetition of a phrase for effect.”

Stein worked on the poem nearly every day for three months. “It was always on the horizon of my attention, waving me onward.” After composing more than 30 drafts, Stein admits to again revising the poem onstage prior to the ceremony.

Focusing on the living child

With a desire to avoid politics, steer clear of ethical disputes regarding war, and beware of overt patriotism, Stein instead chose to focus on “the living child, on the maternal realities that deepened the relationship with that child, and to honor the ways mothers know of that human experience more richly and more lastingly than others.” He relied on his wife’s motherly insights as he read the poem to her numerous times. Stein also chose to “not churn up the boundless and unassuageable loss” these mothers were grieving.

Addressing the audience of more than 300, Stein resolved to look as many of the mothers in the eye as possible. Their grief was fresh. “To say the emotions at work were powerful is to make the proverbial understatement. A few had lost a child in the last month.” Witnessing each of the 27 mothers come to the stage to receive a banner from the governor was an emotionally wrenching experience. Many a mother wore a white T-shirt bearing a photo of her child.

Following the ceremony, several mothers and families shared with Stein that his poem moved them. “In many ways,” reflects Stein, “I felt like I contributed. I was told I had reached hearts.”

At the request of Gov. Quinn, a copy of “To Illinois’s Gold Star Mothers, Who Lost a Child in Service to Country” will soon hang in the statehouse. Illinois has honored American Gold Star mothers annually following a Presidential Proclamation in 1936. Although the American Gold Star Mothers Inc. national organization was formally established on June 4, 1928, the group’s roots are traced back to World War I.

 

LaHood receives bipartisan award

U.S. Secretary of Transportation RAY LAHOOD ’71 received the inaugural National Bipartisan Leadership Award from Bradley’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service (IPL) in October. LaHood, a Republican, spent 14 years in Congress representing Illinois’s 18th district. He led efforts to establish a higher level of civility, decorum, and bipartisanship in the House and was co-founder of the Congressional Bipartisan Retreat. He was named to President Obama’s Cabinet last January. He heads an agency that employs 55,000 people and has a budget of $70 billion.

“Secretary LaHood is most deserving of this award in recognition of his distinguished public service career as a member of Congress and as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet,” said Brad McMillan, executive director of the IPL. The Institute plans to present the award each year to a national public servant who has modeled ethical, civil, and bipartisan leadership.

 

Dr. Rita Newton

Construction continues

With anticipated completion in late Spring 2010, winter weather is not hindering progress on the new 4,500-seat Athletic Performance Center on Main Street, shown above on November 2. By mid-November, floor decks were in place, the precast wall panels were erected, and the glass entry system was being installed, giving the arena its final shape. In its lower level, work continues on a chiller plant that will supply chilled water for HVAC systems on campus. A new boiler plant located below the adjacent parking deck will soon supply steam for the campus. Window framing, glass, and finish roofing materials continue to be installed. The structure’s barrel roof is reminiscent of the familiar roofline of Robertson Memorial Field House.

The Hayden-Clark Alumni Center construction is underway with the demolition of sidewalks, pavement, and landscaping. Excavation has begun with the installation of a retaining wall system to protect the existing foundations of Bradley Hall. Installation of the footings and foundation walls will continue through the winter, keeping the two-year project on target for completion in 2011.