I first met David Madden in a poetry class he taught at LSU; I can’t remember the years now, since I’ve been here in my mountain cove almost five–so I met him seven? eight years ago?
Well, Madden strutted in the room and immediately challenged us with a swagger and a gleam in those eyes – a gleam that was parts excitement and madness! yes! it’s true! I nicknamed him “Mad Madden” – not sure if he ever heard me call him that….ha!
Oh at first I didn’t like our David Madden. At first I thought him insufferable. One day in class I even threw down my pencil and said, “Gawdammit!” while the young students stared wide-eyed at my audacity, even though they later said they wanted to throw down their pencils and curse too (laughing), and then when I arrived home I shot off an email to him full of just what I thought about his …his…pomposity!….oh, it was something. Being an “older” student, I was crankier, er, bolder, than the young ones. So, when grades came out, I was afraid I’d receive back a “bad” grade because I’d challenged him. Oh, but I didn’t know our David Madden. Didn’t know the true man he was (and still is). I received the grade I expected to receive for the work done (and it was a good grade, too), not some grade dolled out in spite because I said what was on my mind and gave him whatfor right back. This was not the man Madden is and was…he has and had too much integrity for those kinds of shenanigans.
Somehow, I think we both faced each other and came away changed, for the better. At least I did, and I wonder if somehow my challenges changed him in some small way. All I know is that his poetry class opened up a world of image-thought that I’d never experienced before. I know his class changed the way I looked at poetry (and I’m not a poet), but it also changed the way I look at prose and at life and music and the world. One of my favorite classes was when he turned out the lights, put on an album, and then asked us to just write down word-thoughts that came to mind without thinking about them. He did the same thing with images on the screen: just write down the immediate thought that comes when you see the image(hear the music) without thinking about it, don’t overthink, just write, and later we’d take these images and fashion them into a poem: wonderful. He also forced us in front of the class to read aloud our poetry -argh! I hated it. I shook, I trembled, but by gawd by end of semester, I could stand in front of people and talk/read! We did a show at the local B&N, and I stood up there and did my thing without hardly a tremble. I can still do this, read in front of a group. I even credit my being able to act in Bat Boy the Musical with Madden’s forcing us to get up in front of a group and read, and read with passion and dignity and Life.
I consider that class, and David Madden, one of the best classes I ever attended at LSU. That “dislike” I felt for Madden changed to respect and then later to a sort of friendship (and I say “sort of” in the way teachers and students stay in touch every so often to see what’s up and to say hello and to say “hey, teacher, guess what? this happened for me and I credit your class….”).
Madden isn’t just a teacher, he has a full full full resume as a playwright/author/critic/poet, so when he wrote a blurb for me, I was astounded. First, I was astounded he took the time to read my stuff (as I’m sure so many people ask him to read and blurb and do do do), then I was astounded he felt as he did about it, for I trembled he wouldn’t like my work. For Madden can be Tough — because he loves language and words and beauty (and I think this is part of what made me look at him differently – because I have that love of language and words too and I realize how tough I can be when it comes to the writing way).
From what I understand, Madden is retiring from teaching. I hate that. I hate that students won’t ever have the urge to throw their pencils down and yell and fire off angry emails in a fit of passion! I hate that he won’t be in front of a class challenging students to do what makes them feel uncomfortable. I hate that he won’t have a student like me who maybe challenged him back in some small way. I hate that he won’t turn out the lights and put on music and allow his students minds to wander places deep within. I even hate he won’t be there to open his door, during his class, and scream out to the rude students outside making noise, “SHUT UP! CAN’T YOU SEE WE ARE HAVING CLASS IN HERE….S..H…U…T …… U…. P!” Oh! I am so glad I had the experience of Madden – I’ll never forget him or that class.
Here is what he said:
Kathryn Magendie’s style—and for me style is everything, character, setting the fictive experience—is immediately arresting, engaging, and flows with the reader in its embrace thourhg all the episodes, moving from humor, to lyricism, to melancholy, to pathos. Readers will hear about the voice in TENDER GRACES and rush out to buy and listen to that voice, familiar and yet with tonalities not yeat heard, igniting delight never before quite felt.
Thank you David Madden for your role in my life. (I have the sudden urge to say “O Captain! My Captain!….” *smiling*)