When you meet a kindred spirit, reach out to them… especially when they are about saving our threatened language. Meet Huck Gutman.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I’m going to do something different today, something occasioned by my discovery (compliments of The Boston Globe, September 21, 2011) of Huck Gutman. The theme “music” for this article will be an instrument we all have — the human voice — this time wielded by a master of delivery, Robert Frost.
Many years ago, over a half century in fact, I used to ride my bike from the tiny hamlet of Belmont, Illinois into the nearest town, Downers Grove, so I could sit in the cool recesses of the public library. I had many objectives and purposes there, books, of course, always books. But there were the records made by authors and by those very special authors called poets, one of which was recorded, and most memorably, by Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963).
I can recall to this day Frost’s reading of “The Pasture,” a selection from his volume “North of Boston,” published in 1915. It begins so…
“I’m going out to clean the pasture spring; I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away (And wait to watch the water clear, I may); I sha’n't be gone long. — You come too.”
I doubt I can convey to you now — though I shall try — just how evocative, how thrilling the simple words, powerfully rendered, “You come too”, were to me, for I was a boy who longed to see the world and meet its people, and here was an invitation to accompany this special man who had a simple mission he made seductive…
“I’m going out to fetch the little calf That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young, It tottered when she licks it with her tongue. I sha’n't be gone long. — You come too.”
Oh, how I wanted to go… and I believe Huck Gutman wanted to go, too. Before you meet him, go to any search engine and listen to Robert Frost read, especially “The Pasture,” then return here for I want you to meet Huck.
Sensitivity and a love of words from an unlikely place — the Capitol.
Huck Gutman is what Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables to you) would call a “kindred spirit.” She, an author too, loved words and would have written Gutman a nice note complimenting his labor of love; she would have deemed it an act of lexicological solidarity to be lavishly complimented… I agree.
Huck Gutman, a civilized man.
Gutman is 67 years old, an age at which many seek the joys of retirement — travel, golf, socially sanctioned sloth subsidized by Social Security… but Gutman has other fish to fry. This long-time professor at the University of Vermont (where I myself gave many workshops in business success) now serves as chief of staff to the Senate’s most “out there” liberal, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. Since the senator has his hands full resurrecting America’s anemic Left, Gutman is kept busier than most of his administrative peers. But he makes time for another occupation, one which keeps him grounded and of good cheer… he is an avatar of words and of words properly read… particularly the diamond-sharp words of poets.
And he has set himself the (perhaps Sisyphean) task of building civil bridges in the epicenter of internecine political warfare through the love of poetry, of words, and of language. Whew! This is truly a labor of love… but one bringing a special joy to the growing cadre of those who like the likable Huck… and appreciate what he is doing. His e-mail list includes 1,700 readers who include all the Senate chiefs of staff, several White House staffers, university presidents, academics, journalists, and former students.
His point is simple, profound, and absolutely necessary to the well-lived life: “It’s to remind them there are other things than the debt ceiling and Social Security.” Amen.
Here’s how he does it…
Every couple of months or so, Gutman, on leave from the university, makes time to find and circulate a poem. It may be from Ancient Greece, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, or William Carlos Williams — there are no limits but one: it must be a poem by a master, a poem that can (if properly read) read well.
Gutman, educator to his fingertips, presents the work with one admonition. “LISTEN to the poem.” “The worst thing to do with a poem is to try to get at its meaning. We have done an absolutely horrendous job in teaching people how to read poems.” I go even farther than Gutman here… we have done the same horrendous job teaching people — and not just students either — to read prose, novels, letters, speeches, too.
Gutman’s solution is to encourage his audience to read for enjoyment, just as they would listen to music. Gutman is right, but reading his carefully considered selections, for all he gives his readers a few directional signals, is not enough. They need to read aloud, one of the great joys our speed-reading culture has left behind, to the detriment of human communication and meaning.
The marvelous human voice.
Most every day I write an article; the subject range is unlimited. Like all authors I like to have these articles (which can easily double as scripts) read and read widely. But I also insist on them being read aloud, each and every word
My experiment in reviving the joys of recitation started in our online Live Business Center where 24-hour-a-day monitors give out effective business advice… and also read my newest article or any of the hundreds of classics. I must confess: there was a universal, almost rebellious opposition to this innovation by the people who had to read the word aloud. What a mess!
They mispronounced words they’d used since grammar school.
Tripped over anything longer than a couple of syllables.
Disdained the helpful dictionary… making even more errors.
Moaned, groaned, complained that they were being “forced” to learn.
Killed every inflection, every intonation, every emphasis and so rendered brilliant prose banal.
Tossed necessary punctuation away… and thus forced the collision of words which to provide full meaning, needed careful enunciation and precise delivery.
It was brutal, excruciating, painful… . But I knew, despite the squawks and maledictions, I knew, I say, what I was about. I insisted on my point and moved forward word by liberated word. To great effect…
Now monitors take pride in reading these articles… and reading them well by mastering the text, individual words they have not previously encountered, including the mot juste which can make or break a composition. This article, starting today, will enter the repertoire… to touch people worldwide who are charmed, enchanted, comforted and enlightened by the human voice properly used.
Last words (for today) for this fellow New Englander and his romance with words.
Thank you… thank you for allowing all the poets you have carefully selected to speak again and anew, profoundly, passionately, resoundingly. For this you have been rightly praised. Let me add these words to your plaudits. They are from Joachim Du Bellay (1522-1560) “Heureux qui comme Ulysse qui fait une belle voyage.” You deserve such a voyage, and with the multitudes of poets who travel with you, will always be welcome wherever you go.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
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Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.