I is for Illicit Harpur College poetry readings. Ninth of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey. Then pop over and visit other Happy Tuesday bloggers: Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…
Softening up my cautious parents during high school and getting them to trust my good judgement was not an easy task.
But my grades were good, I was involved in art club and other school activities, and no great harm had befallen me from spending Friday nights at the church coffeehouse or publishing an underground newspaper, the Avocado. As a result, by senior year my folks had finally become much less strict.
So, imagine my chagrin when the Maine-Endwell school authorities sent a letter to my parents halfway through senior year that nearly pushed my progress back to square one. My alleged infraction? Attending illicit poetry readings in a college student’s house. How did I come to be there? Now that’s an interesting story.
A sanctioned literary program
My Endwell, N.Y., hometown was across the river from what was then Harpur College (now Binghamton University). During the 1960s, the college established a program called “High School Discussion and Academic Enrichment” sponsored by Services for Youth, a college student group.
Maine-Endwell supported the grant-funded program and encouraged us high schoolers to participate. I had published some haiku poems in the Avocado, so I signed up for a poetry-reading class — which may have started in a Harpur College classroom, but later moved to a big, old-timey house in Binghamton where our college-student instructor lived.
If you’ve ever been to a poetry discussion, it’s one of the tamest get togethers imaginable – sitting around the room, reading poems aloud, breaking down the rhythm, searching for meaning, you get the idea.
Truth be told, I found the gatherings a bit boring compared to my other high school activities. And, okay, there may have been a bit of wine available, but I never had any because I was driving (thus, I might add, showing good judgement).
My high school withdraws support
That’s not how the Maine-Endwell administration saw it, though, when they “immediately and unequivocally” withdrew their support of the program, listing their “investigation” findings in a Feb. 8, 1968 letter:
- One of the discussion groups is meeting in the dormitory of a Harpur senior.
- Another group, temporarily inactive, has been meeting at a private home in Binghamton. [Note: Probably my group.]
- Neither of these groups is supervised or sponsored by any Harpur faculty personnel.
- The Harpur faculty advisor of Services for Youth was not, until we made inquiries, aware that such groups were meeting.
- According to the Services for Youth brochure describing the program, the official ending date of the program was November 20, 1967. [Note: Perhaps because funding ran out, but the students tried to keep the program going.]
My thoughts on reading all of this were: C’mon, really? We’re talking poetry here! Then came the big bang ending:
We understand that your daughter, Molly, either is or has been participating in the program under the conditions cited above. We hope you will feel, as we do, that such conditions do not deserve school or parental approval, and that you will advise Molly accordingly.
Using my own good judgement
Re-reading the letter now, I hear the stuffed-shirt voice of the 1950s trying to rein in the creative youthful exuberance of the 1960s – and failing miserably. But at the time, that’s not how my 1940s-era parents saw it.
I had to muster some mighty arguments against my high school’s position, as stated by the school principal, English coordinator and guidance counselor — the main one being that I had actually participated in one of these lit groups, so I knew first-hand how innocuous they were.
In the end, despite making my best case – it’s boring, it’s tame, nothing bad happens – my folks, back in protective mode, forbid me from going. By senior year, however, I had developed the necessary teen workarounds when dealing with parental edicts – saying you’re going one place, then going to another, and having your friends cover for you.
That’s how, on principle, I attended one last illicit poetry discussion before I decided to call it quits – realizing that indeed these lit groups really were boring, but gratified that the final decision to give them up was based on my own good judgement.
Up next, J is for Just for fun: High school vignettes. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please pop over and visit other Happy Tuesday bloggers: Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…
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