Remembering Robert Dana

February 8th, 2010

Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence Emeritus Robert Dana, 80, died Feb. 6 of pancreatic cancer. This blog was created to allow his former students and colleagues to share their memories of Professor Dana. To read the full obituary, click here.

49 Responses to “Remembering Robert Dana”

  1. […] To share comments on or memories of Robert Dana, visit his remembrance page. […]

  2. Mitch Teich says:

    I took just one class from Robert Dana – a narrative essay-writing class in the Spring of 1992. Professor Dana worked with me to polish my work, and encouraged me to submit it to (now long-departed) Iowa City Magazine. Having my first piece published – and discovering the impact my words could have on readers – was one of the most significant lessons from my Cornell experience. That single class – and that one person – had as large an impact on my journalism career as anyone I’ve known – for which I will be forever grateful.

  3. I love his work, the way he crafted words into spaces I could inhabit.

    I had a short story writing class with him in 1992, with one of my stories being published in a student publication (Open Field)that Dana oversaw along with a student publisher. Later in 1993 I had an independent study with him–I loved our conversations, his mentorship, how he appreciated my love of words and fed it. Cheers to a great man whose legacy lives on in his students and his work.

    “perhaps if I walk far enough now, listen hard enough, I’ll hear it again, put it in my pocket and carry it home.” (excerpt from the poem “O, the river is deep and the water is wide” in Robert Dana’s collection “The Other” 2008)

  4. John Rosecrance says:

    I knew Robert not as a writer but as a swimmer. One of his passions was to lap swim in the early mornings at the city pool in Coralville, IA. We swam side by side for nearly 20 years. He was easy to get to know and he always had something interesting to say in the locker room about politics, his garden, and his cats. I learned to love his poetry and was drawn to his celebration of the simplest pleasures. He knew how to live and enjoy life. One memory will never fade. The endearing love between Peg and Robert.

  5. Joel Morton says:

    One of my fond memories of Cornell’s English department during my time as a student (1976-1980) and in subsequent years was the unlikely (and instructive) friendship that formed between Bob and Steve Lacey, two radically different men, each of whom contributed to students’ lives, including mine, in invaluable ways. The one course I took from Bob, a senior seminar in American Experimental Fiction, opened my eyes considerably and informed choices would make later in my own life as a teacher. I mourn his passing.

  6. Allan J. Ruter '76 says:

    Among English majors in the 1970s floated the story that R. P. had, in his earlier years, spent some time with Robert Frost on Frost’s New England farm. A few years ago, at the Presidents Society dinner preceding Homecoming, my wife and I were seated next to R. P. and Peg. As conversations wove among us all that evening, I asked R. P. about that story–specifically, whether it was apocryphal or not. He quickly assured me that the story was real and then spun the tale with his trademark turns of phrase. When he finished, the two of us clinked our wine glasses in memory of a great poet. I shall hoist my own glass this evening in R. P.’s memory.

  7. J. Harry Jones says:

    I doubt Prof. Dana would remember me, but in 1980 I took a creative writing course from him. He was very complimentary of several short stories I wrote and it got me thinking about writing as a career. I’ve been a newspaper reporter for the past 27 years now. Did he change my life forever, I don’t know. But he played a role. I also became a lifelong fan of John Berryman’s poetry because of Dana. I wish I had told him this. Rest in peace.

  8. Sue (Waskow) Shaw says:

    I took one class from Prof. Dana. I was a freshman and was told I might enjoy the Writing Fiction class he taught. The first day of class he told us that an average junior or senior writer would get a “C” in his class. Then he asked us what year we were. When he found out I was a freshman he said “You’re a freshman? You’re brave! I managed a C+. He took time out of his schedule to read my poetry and give me advice. He was never to busy to help the students improve their writing. He will be missed.

  9. J.J. Connaughton says:

    I had Prof. Dana Block One of my freshman year (he was also my advisor). Coming from AP English classes in high school, I was perplexed as to why the grades I was receiving from him were not “up to par” in my book. He explained, “J.J., this is not high school English, you are in college now”. He went on to explain how much more was expected of me, and it really was the wake up call I needed. I never forgot this conversation, and have often thought that sometimes what you think is enough just by “getting by” really isn’t enough. Thank you for your words of wisdom…you will be missed…

  10. Bob Nellis says:

    Robert Dana taught me the value of words and the power of an individual word. Thanks to that and the strong start he gave me I’ve somehow been able to support myself with words for the last 30 years. My heartfelt sympathy to Peg and the rest of the “extended family”…

  11. Sam Schuman says:

    I met R.P. when I interviewed for a position in the Cornell English Department at the MLA conference in Denver, CO, in December, 1969. Nancy and I saw him and Peg last in the Spring of 2009, when Bob came to North Carolina to read at my campus of the University of NC. Bob and I taught a couple of courses in tandem in Mt. Vernon; our offices were contiguous; in nice weather we would play a few minutes of catch on the lawn in front of South Hall. Even in the 1970’s, Bob’s fastball still had sting. I worried about his ulcer surgery; I rejoiced at his marriage to Peg. Our kids grew together. R.P. Dana was a spare and powerful poet: simplicity was his strength, indeed, a simplicity which was rarely simple, and never easy. He was an outstanding teacher. I will miss you, old friend.

  12. Lu Snyder says:

    As a freshman in ’59, I had the good fortune to work one of my many board jobs as secretary to RP and Robert Van Fossen. I had coffee with him every morning, and I often “hung out” in his office between classes. Yes, I was an English major, but I never had RP as a teacher. He was tickled by my wit, and we laughed often with and at each other. At the time, I didn’t know why he enjoyed me so, but I did know that he was one of the first men I met who was a wonderful human being as well. I spent much time in his home as well: eating, drinking, babysitting, and enjoying the ambiance of a faculty member’s life- style. I knew he thought I was very bright and worth his time, but back then, I didn’t even know if I belonged at Cornell or in the English department. In later years, I taught English, was the head of a liberal arts program, and a really fine teacher. I wrote books, poetry and plays. I stayed in the midwest he so much. He was a singular influence and mentor to me.
    Kick back in your rickety office chair RP, and let’s have one last laugh.

  13. Chad Elliott '96 says:

    I was taking Dana’s English 101 course my freshman year at Cornell and after he’d read a couple of my papers he called me into his office. I was very intimidated, I remember, because he was this brilliant man who’d been nominated for the Pulitzer. Anyway, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him I was thinking about becoming a lawyer. He kind of sneered at that and said, “You write well. You should think about becoming a writer.”
    That day forever changed my life. Thank you, Bob.
    Chad Elliott ’96
    Award-winning journalist and comedy writer
    Bristol, England

  14. As members of the class of 1955 my wife Ann and I were at Cornell when Bob arrived. In addition to being a superb addition to the faculty, Bob and his wife shared their thoughts about life and love with us in evenings at their apartment. We were delighted to see his career progress and both are saddened at his passing. The poetry he wrote was outstanding and the poetry of his life was even more wonderful. We and the Cornell community are blessed to have known him.

  15. Michele (Zographos) Whisenhunt '90 says:

    I have always remembered something Robert Dana said to my Writing Fiction class when I was a sophomore and needed academic confidence. He encouraged us to put ourselves into our work, and not to worry what he would think about us personally. He said: “I may love your writing, and really dislike you. Or, I may really like you, and not like your writing.” It made me much more comfortable in all of my classes. I had sometimes felt that the students that spent the most time with the English professors were better than me, and his comment made me put those feelings of inferiority behind me.

  16. Writing in Hong Kong.
    Touring with an Australian women’s baseball team.
    Five minutes before that Cornell email took my breath away,
    completed a team press release.
    Through all these years,
    every word choice stimulated by RP.

  17. William Wilson '95 says:

    I was in one of RP’s last Writing Poetry blocks. One time I turned in a poem and later he told me he felt compelled to call a poet friend of his and share some of my lines with his friend that very night. That was the greatest compliment about my writing I have ever received.

  18. Roger Don Staffaroni says:

    R.P. entrusted me with the knowledge that I could write fiction and poetry and that it was good work if you could get it.
    On a few occassions, he also entrusted me with his Nissan Pulsar.
    For all that he showed, offered and cared for, thank you R.P.
    I miss you.

  19. Donald Patterson '64 says:

    (From an e-mail sent to RP 12/11/09)

    Dear RP–

    Well, I have put this off about as long as I can stand it. I have tried to string together different beginnings, soulful endings and lots of other crap. The truth is, this is painful for all of us who love you. Like so much in life, this will be quite difficult–but necessary.

    It would seem that the news is not good and that there are some time definitions laid on by your doctors. I am torn between swearing that they don’t know what they’re taliking about and sensing Peg’s quiet and soothing tone defining in your blog just what those words meant. As you have been dealing with this cancer over a long period, you have had to summon God knows how much strength in order to deal with it. But just because you’ve had practice doesn’t mean it is any easier now.

    I want you to know what you have given me. I want very much for you to take this in, because your gifts come as close to the core of who I believe I am as can be. The richness of being able to express my inner being, examine it, read it aloud and like what I hear hmyself saying, has given me inestimable joy. These gifts were not pedantic, or scholarly–not even strictly definable. It was just you, with that crinkled smile, reading the lines, reacting to the movement within, reaching out for that audible blessing. And it goes far back, back to the hilltop and your words of praise after one of my theater performances, far back to that King Chapel speech when you encouraged all of us freshman (hey, who is this guy?) to throw away our traditional beanies and give up such dull-witted identities. Back to baby-sitting in the Dana living room with the girls, into long discussions lifting the night, seeing you in your South Hall office counselling or laughing or reading quietly.

    You have never failed to tell the truth. I can still hear the echo of your voice telling me, “Patterson, you’re a survivor.” You cut through whatever crisis I was going through at the time; I have recalled that observation many times duing my life. This essential core of comfort was something you gave everyone in your wide circle. Even after years of separation while watching you read at NYU, that particular gift kept right on giving. I am astonished at such constancy, dumfounded at the meaning your life has had for me. Such a generous life and spirit. My gratitude is just not possible to express, RP. Thank you so very much. You deserve to know what a difference you have made in so many lives. You have surely made a profound difference in mine. . .

  20. Bob Pierce '75 says:

    Just now, my head is flooded with memories. One keeps coming to the fore: that of an autumn morning freshman English seminar taught by a man in his forties, who was sporting a goatee and a flat top haircut. I have never forgotten the ease of his manner as he navigated small town and big city eighteen year olds through difficult topics such as history, racism, sexuality, tolerance, and persecution. No subject was off limits and no question was stupid.

    While Dana was teaching simplicity and word economy, I was learning to think for myself and to question what was going on around me. He advocated critical thinking before it was cool. Somewhere along the way, he told me I did have brains, and I could be an English major.

    Dana taught many lessons. One of them was that he could be taught. I learned this while helping him repair rust spots on his Ford Falcon.

    I am richer for having known him. And I will always cherish the memory of swapping jokes with him long after my graduation.

  21. Dan Kellams '58 says:

    Robert Dana began teaching at Cornell in 1954. I was a freshman. He taught English and journalism, overseeing The Cornellian and the Royal Purple. He was only 25, a young poet up from hard times in Massachusetts, and nearly an alien in Iowa. He was like the wind off the ocean, briny and sharp, bearing hints of distant lands. I asked him to become my advisor. He showed me his early poems. There was anger in them, so at odds, I thought, with his practice of laughing at matters that seemed serious to me. We studied and worked together four years, and then he bucked the college establishment to help me secure a fellowship to Columbia University. Our friendship never ceased. Knowing him is one of the greatest gifts of my life.

  22. Jeanette Rattner '83 says:

    I was introduced to Professor Dana when I took a poetry class my second block at Cornell. I learned my muse is not poetry. Later I took a class in existential literature and the theme of murder–Professor Dana took unusual steps in this class with me as a student, and these steps and questions lent themselves to a learning experience that would last for many years after graduation. I had an opportunity to thank him during lunch several years ago when visiting Iowa.

    I am sorry to hear of his loss and am grateful I had opportunity to met with him and thank him. I wish his family and others close to him healing during this time of loss.

  23. Robin Reid says:

    I was a colleague of Bob’s from 1965-1974. I always marveled at his kindness and thoughtfulness. His was often a voice of sanity in faculty debates. I shall miss him.

  24. Tom Kingston '66 says:

    Never was I RP’s student; but as the years rolled on, as visits to Ibe in Mt. Vernon and then in Iowa City multiplied, our friendship with and respect for RP and Peg grew ever stronger. We remember the fine dinner at Legal Seafood in Boston not too many years ago. We honor the lifelong adult friendship between Ibe and RP. From his wonderful works, I especially recall the image of Lincoln receding “into his penny” on that memorable poem RP wrote after Kennedy’s assassination, a poem the New Yorker decided it had to publish. His poetry was almost as accessible as his person, and we are worse for his loss. Blessings to Peg; our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  25. Dick Reichard says:

    I feel the world is somewhat less of my home now that rp is no longer a part of it. Though we had infrequent contact these past old age-ridden years I thought of him often, most particularly of the honors class we taught together, full of life, more due to him than to me. Above all among memories of rp was his recreation of the North American Review. I can recall sitting in his office where he outlined his plans for its revival, which was a mammoth task carried out and lived with for years. He finally taught me to appreciate his type of poetry with “The Other,” from which gift volume I now frequently read. Unforgotten also are his very full Christmas letters with his achievements of the past year, like being chosen Poet Laureate of Iowa. Indeed the world will be a lesser place for me now that rp has left us.

  26. Carol Monson Reinhard '67 says:

    I hated poetry! I was choosing my freshman required English class in 1963-64 and chose RP as the professor I would take because college rumor was he taught the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Wow, a whole semester reading novels. Alas, I arrived at the bookstore to find the books of 5 modern poets- W.H. Auden, Theodroe Roetke, William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas and one other. RP was the most challenging, innovative and inspiring professor I have ever had. I love poetry. I love poets. We are Cornell were even lucky enough to see and hear Auden. (Yes, my book is signed) Even more important over the years I was able to continue to meet RP and have his books signed. I feel I own treasures. We will miss him and his voice of irony, caution and ultimately love of life. All I can think of is “Do not go gentle into that good night. Fight, fight against the dying of the light.” (Dylan Thomas)

  27. Susan Shillinglaw says:

    Number 28. More to follow. How many lives Robert Dana touched, with warmth and curiosity–maybe it was that curiosity of his I found most touching. As a freshman in his Fitzgerald seminar, I can still remember how frightened I was and then how stunned by the comment he wrote on a paper about This Side of Paradise: “This is an incredible paper for a freshman to have written.” He called me into his office. I don’t think he believed I did write it, and I was a little stunned myself to have come up such a notion. But from that day, I was his devoted student– Western Literature. Japanese literature. Such worlds for a 19 year old to encounter…I loved those worlds and the curiosity of his that opened so very many doors. I wanted to follow in his large, confident steps. My thanks.

  28. Eric Houts '76 says:

    Like many of us, I was laid flat when I received news of rp’s diagnosis and rode the roller coaster of the good days and bad until last week. Thoughts of what rp meant to me as a teacher and more so, what he meant to me as a friend, rose and fell, scattered out and were drawn close over those months. In the end, it boiled down to a single line I wrote to Peg, “I think I don’t like the world as much anymore.”

    I still feel that, because there’s a hole in the world and it’s a dark one and for now, I don’t know what to fill it with. But in the days since last Saturday, remembering rp and the years we had together, most of all, I remember his laugh. Of the many inflections and the sound of his voice that have come back to my ears over the last week, the sound of his laugh is the clearest. Much of what rp has meant to his students and friends and his family is reflected in the comments that precede these, but I want also to remember that rp was a terrific comedian and the best straight man in modern literary history.

    I lived with rp in London for several months in the 70s, in an Islington flat we shared with three Siamese cats. Peg would join us for the last few months, and opened the door to becoming close forever. Up until her arrival, there was some question about how long our friendship would last: I wanted to be a poet, and as much as I think rp wanted that too, he also wanted me to do my share of the dish washing and shopping. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of our common tenancy, and I’m sure rp would agree with that position.

    But in spite of the frequent homebound tensions, we still made forays out into London together, checking out history, tasting the literary scene, and meeting poets. One night, returning to our flat on what rp dubbed the “Hampstead Hurricane” (the Hampstead line from any Heath station to ours was a long run with few intervening stations that made it the line on which trains could reach maximum speed). We had the last train, and almost an empty car: rp sat behind me, a “proper Brit” a few seats away burrowed into the Times, all in silence, except for the screeching of steel as the Hurricane approached maximum speed. The reverence inside the car was broken by rp who, in his Russian KGB personification, leaned forward and said, “You know, if you try to go, we will have to kill you.” I was getting used to rp’s prompts, whether for a better line of poetry, a more complete thought, a faster return of his pitch when I caught him on the South Hall lawn, or simply to take an offering whenever it came along, and so I responded, “But I love her, and I must be free to love.” The Times barely rustled, but we had his attention: the top of the paper crinkled a bit, and though we couldn’t see it, we knew his eyes were looking over the top, either toward us or toward the door.

    What ensued was a fifteen-minute exchange between a KGB agent and a defecting Russian ballet dancer for the consideration of a single soul, a stranger, and, I came to realize, for the sake of me, because this is something that rp taught as well: the delight of improvising with the rest of the world, a poetics for living in it

    The story became a touchstone for all the years that followed. My wife, Peg, rp and I have retold it as a primer for many evenings filled with laughter, and even though the world is not so likable right now and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fill the hole, I call it up.

    I remember rp, and I remember how much he’s given me and the world he lived in over the years, and I remember again and again how much I love him for it.

  29. Gale E. Morey, class of 59 says:

    I can’t express in words what Bob Dana meant to me while at Cornell and over the years to follow. He was my professor, mentor, and most of all friend. I started at Cornell in 1953 finally graduating in ’59. He was very instrumental in my thesis. Over the years as I returned to Cornell for homecoming, my favorite moment was to look up Mr. Dana and sharing our places in life. I was usually at his book signing in the Commons. When I started it was the Cole Bin. Mr. Dana, the professor, Robert Dana the poet, and Bob my friend was always there when I needed him. He was responsible for my returning to Cornell and graduating, not with honors but with my head held high as a measure of accomplishment. I will not be able to find him at the book signing anymore, but I will remember him through his books of poetry,this individual who meant so much to me and many others.

  30. Edith Baker Lauerman, "66 says:

    I, too, was a wide-eyed freshman at Cornell in 1962, taking courses on the Hilltop where my parents had gone to college. In rp’s creative writing workshop, I learned how important word choice was. In those days, we wrote sonnets and experimented with other forms. My sonnet was not distinguished, but it followed the rhyme and meter required.

    During the class workshop, every line eventually fell away as weak, but rp liked one image. He paid me the compiment of saying that he wished that he had written it himself. As my first workshop experience, I hardly remember what the other lines were that celebrated Iowa fall color. However, I will always remember the opening lines that he liked: “October dazzles eyes and steals the mind/like a faint blush on the apple that I can no longer find.”

    I often tell that story to my writing classes, where I have tried for forty years to carry on the legacy of careful word choice, writing,revising, and re-visioning. The image of the blush on the apple was something rp wished that he had written! Such praise, even while 13 other lines had been destroyed, gave me confidence to continue to write. Today I always try to remember to say at least one good thing about a student’s paper, no matter how weak it may be.

    As so many others have written, rp exuded passion and enthusiasm. I remember one fall retreat, where rp was pulling words from the woods and trees. He wrote poems passionately that week-end, and he was not afraid to share them with our group at informal gatherings and meals. Many of those poems became the basis for a small chapbook he later compiled. The poems were spare, but trenchant (and full of ambiguity, a big word in the jargon of the day).

    The “hole in the world” that so many others have mentioned is in my world, too. However, all the voices who are attempting to articulate it help us realize the monumental legacy rp has left. We honor him by being the passionate teachers who love words–and people who love language and nuances of words. Our world is so much richer for having had rp in it.

  31. David Evans, English Faculty 1990-2000 says:

    Robert Dana was one of my cherished mentors. He was chair of the department the year I–a very damp-behind-the-ears A.B.D. visiting instructor–was hired to the tenure track at Cornell. He helped me have a chance.

    He taught me more than I knew at the time about how to have a healthy perspective on college affairs, how to navigate the complexities of generational differences in our department, and how to have and hold my own kind of integrity. Together with Stephen Lacey, though (of course) in a very different way, he taught me to be the professor–and now administrator–I wanted to be.

    No more committees to grind the heart to powder, Robert.

    I had the wonderful opportunity to see him in Milledgeville, Georgia, when he came to speak as a visiting writer at my then-university. I introduced him at his reading as someone who’d “done a lot of interesting things.” That’s minimalist (I hope he liked it), but still a pretty good summary and one that honors him. He did a lot of interesting things. He wrote a lot of interesting things. He taught a lot of people, including me, to do and write a lot of interesting things.

    I cherish his memory and our friendship and am profoundly grateful to him for his kindness and patience with my younger self.

  32. I just found out about Prof. Dana’s passing and I am so sorry to hear. I took two of my favorite classes from Professor Dana during my years at Cornell; a poetry writing class and Third World Literature (Senior Seminar.) Honestly, I was nervous about taking Prof. Dana’s writing class because I had been told that he was a tough grader. Ironically, I was relieved and had to smile on that first day in class when Professor Dana walked into class and informed us that he would only give an “A” to those who were published. I don’t know why I was relieved, however, something in his manner left me feeling liberated to “try my hand” in creative writing, a style that I was unfamilliar with and had not explored previously. Professor Dana was so helpful, kind, and challenging. He knew just how hard to push me and he made time assist and guide me whenever I needed it. He made me want to do my best for the sake of creating something beautiful and inspiring to me. I left Prof. Dana’s class having a new appreciation for creative writing in general and Poetry writing in particular.

    I also remember the great discussions that my class and I participated in during Senor Seminar. I was so excited to read the literature of writers from countries that were often ignored. This class was one of the classes that influenced my interest in learning about cultures that live both inside and outside of the US.

    Upon graduation, I pursued magazine journalism briefly. I thought of Professsor Dana with a smile when my first article was published in Country America Magazine in 1991. Professor Dana’s classes, in part, also influenced my interest in working with people, first through social work and now in the healing arts.

    I also want to add that I saw Prof. Dana on a few occasions after graduation. I was touched that he had remembered me since, admittedly, I wasn’t the strongest English major to graduate from Cornell. (Smile) He was always quick with a smile, a hug, questions regarding what I was up to and open about what he was doing in his life.

    My heart goes out to Prof. Dana’s family. He was a colorful, passionate, engaged, talented professor and a kind, warm, interested, encouraging person. I am comforted knowing what a great impact he had on me and heartened with the knowlege that he influenced the lives of so many other people.

  33. Bob Slater '60 says:

    Bob helped a number of us grow up in the late 50’s. We’d drive into Chicago on a weekend with plenty of drive time to chat and then take on Rush Street and a few other haunts. That was an education in its most personal sense. Bob made Cornell a family affair and for me it was exactly that. He opened my mind to poetry but I must admit its only been in my later years that I’ve come back to it. In my life there’s a special place for him. He will be missed by so many.

  34. Amy Winger '94 says:

    The single most important teacher in my life, aside from my mother. From freshman English reading Raymond Carver to senior year poetry writing I and II. He shaped what I wrote then and what I do today. I was such a punky know-it-all. He had us over to his house once and served blue tortilla chips. I was so impressed.

    I thought of him often since ’94 and didn’t write. What a lesson just learned about staying in touch. Yesterday I made a Carver reference in a business email, just to make myself smile.

    Professor Dana, I miss you.

  35. Nancy Wallace Kane '66 says:

    I came to Cornell without confidence or direction. He suggested I should major in English as it would be a challenge for me. An avid reader with a yearn to write fiction, I took RP’s creative writing class. It was poetry only! He challenged me and gave ME an A! Confidence that he thought my writing deserved an A gave me the courage to value my writing through the years and varied careers. Thanks RP for bringing me to the joy of writing.

  36. Judith Hersh '60 says:

    The best teacher and best class during my four years at Cornell–
    Freshman English with Robert Dana!

  37. In 1971 his red ink splashed across my pages. While in conference with him he made a comment that a good way to get in better practice with my “English” was to write about what excited me, possibly “Bengal Tigers” or something like that. Bob Nellis happened to be be walking past the office at that time and for 4 years he never stopped making comments about my Bengal Tigers.

    Since 1976 Prof. Dana has always been supportive of the Japanese alumni and the alumni, like myself, in Japan to coordinate with other professors and other students to bring Japanese culture to Cornell. He loved Japanese poetry and we talked often about helping bring Japanese language courses to Cornell.

    So, even beyond the English language, he was influential in bringing the rest of the world to Cornell and should be remembered also as a citizen of the world.

  38. Linda Schinke-Llano '68 says:

    How fitting that Professor Reichard (#25) mentioned the honors class he co-taught with Professor Dana, for it was that very class–at times daunting, but always inspiring–that truly introduced me to the life of the mind and paved the way for my own academic career. I am forever grateful.

  39. David Hayes says:

    I took a freshman English course taught by Prof. Dana in which we studied the novels of Saul Bellow. It did not lead to my becoming an English major (math and physics eventually took that role), but the class discussions and assignments were valuable experiences in developing skills in critical thinking and writing.

    I recall that one of the interesting things he did at the time was teach an interim course on letterpress in a print shop that still existed in the basement of South Hall in the mid-1970s. The shop contained an old printing press with a clamshell platen, and we students learned how to set type by hand, mount the type in a chase, complete the preparatory presswork, and then operate the press to print finished broadsides of poetry.

  40. It was tough to learn about Professor Dana’s death. I had visited him just a few years earlier at his Coralville residence, so I had no idea he had been so ill. I think he was my favorite teacher at Cornell for various reasons; he was a tough sell ( he took some of my first “poems” and made me see them for what they were); he took great delight in student efforts and made students in his class feel welcome and valuable; he honored creativity and didn’t accept cheap moments; he seemed truly happy to read and critique something that seemed genuine and of quality; he pushed students to achieve more (once he sent us all packing for the day in Comp Lit because nobody had read anything for the class). All in all, he was a good man. I remember I showed up late that day a few years ago in Coralville, but he didn’t mind too much. We had some Talisker whiskey and talked about all sorts of stuff (shrimp scampoi, included.)After that visit, I became more inspired in my poetry. I’m glad he received the Iowa Poet Laureate designation. He deserved it.

  41. Steve Simmer says:

    During my first year at Cornell, in 1965, I met Bob when I volunteered to stuff envelopes with the North American Review in the years after the revival. I took two classes from Bob during tumultuous years at Cornell–1968-1969. He was a solid presence during the upheaval, remaining both compassionate and somewhat separate from it all. Twenty years later, I took a writing workshop with him at Morningside College. He remembered me, and spoke with me as if no time had passed. I want to honor Bob for the kind clarity of his teaching, and for the deeply moving poem (I’ve forgotten its name, but not its impact) of returning to his home town in Massachusetts. There was a line there about no one remaining there who even remembered his name. Bob Dana, we remember your name.

  42. steve espe says:

    Even though I was very aware of Bob Dana and read a lot of his poetry, I never had a class with him. Then one day, in about 1999, I saw that he was to be poet-in-residence for a week at Hamilton College near where I live. And so 26 years after Cornell, I went to his reading and then introduced myself when he was finished. As I said my name, he stopped me and said “class of ’73”. When I asked him how in hell he remembered that he smiled and said that he held a special place in his heart for the class of ’73 (his wife Peg is a classmate of ours). At the reception following his reading, as he was being backed up to the wall by students and professors alike wanting to talk, I asked him if he would like a drink other than the wine being served, to which he replied with a smile that after a long day he would love a scotch. I found some, and we shared with all attending. Before the reception was over, Bob asked me to join him for breakfast the next morning so that we could visit further. When breakfast was over, he invited me to go with him to the Hamilton library where he was viewing the collection of original Ezra Pound papers housed there. We were ushered into a special room, donned white cotton gloves, and were delivered several folders full of Pound’s work as well as photos of him. As they were delivered, Bob looked at me and quietly said, hand poised to open the first one, “We are entering hallowed ground here…” I don’t remember everything any more, but that is one memory that is seared into my bank.

  43. Rob Johnson '70 says:

    I had the privilege of being in the sophomore honors seminar in 1967-68 taught by Professors Dana and Reichard. What a pair and pairing! It was far and away the most intellectually challenged I have ever been. The two of them played off each other’s intellect like maestros, and they opened up the world to us few who were fortunate enough to have been selected for that class. They were energetic, witty, funny, and inspiring. The discussions we had on racism, femininism, heroism, religion and the like were magical and formative. I owe much of who I am today to having spent a year in their class. I will be forever grateful to them both.

  44. Leslie Hankins says:

    I’ll never forget R. P.’s generosity and support when I was a bewildered new assistant professor at Cornell College; his warm and wise advice –and his kindness and humor and that of Peg– kept me going. Over the years I’ve been so grateful for the poetry, the stories about North Carolina beaches, and the greetings at the New Pioneer Coop–all of which seemed poems in the rough. How lovely it has all been–and cherished it remains.

  45. Joe Campanelli '69 says:

    I was a football and basketball “jock” who majored in physical eduation and minored in French but during my senior year I dared to take a poetry course from Bob Dana. Fearful but determined to succeed, I ventured into his classroom and ended up enjoying professor Dana and his course on Robert Frost and others a great deal. Over the the past 20 years living in Iowa City I would occasionally run into him at restaurants or when I would venture back to the Hilltop for one reason or another and I always enjoyed our encounters. I always felt he had this respect for me for having stepped outside my comfort zone and I appreciated him for having made it so enjoyable. He was a gifted teacher, poet, and a great asset to Cornell. I am also grateful for having known him.

  46. Larry Stern says:

    Had it not been for Bob Dana, my days at Cornell would have been dark, dreary and without meaning. He remains one of the most influential persons in my life.

  47. Rochelle Wildfong says:

    Here it is April 7th and I have just received the news from former Williamsburg resident and poet Ed Foster of Bob’s death. After reading all these blogs I am thinking of all those lucky ducks who got to be his students and friends living nearby Coralville.

    I was glancing at a Poets & Writers magazine one day back ten or twelve years ago and saw Bob’s picture on the cover. Not long after I was shelving books in the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, MA where I work and he walked into the room. I had the nerve to ask him if he was Robert Dana, and he confessed that he was, and that he grew up in this town. Bob was on a mission to find information on his life history. I volunteered to help and we became friends through the mail.

    Bob still visited MA, the ocean,and maintained connections with his foster family in Williamsburg/Haydenville. I wanted him to do a poetry reading here at the Library, and I guess he did too for it was arranged and there were guys he went to high school with sitting on the porch stairs waiting for him to show up.
    It was a memorable evening full of his fine words in this old building with his old friends listening in to the boy who got away and became a poet.

    I was still waiting and hoping for his return, I certainly was wishing for another chance at conversation. He graced the library and me with gifts of his books. Now that it is National Poetry Month and our exhibit is poetry – Robert Dana’s books are featured on the table, with a “local poet” description. My library director had just shown the 4th grade class a book of his poems saying “Here was a person for who life was not easy, he grew up having a hard time, but look, he grew up to become a poet.”

    Bless You Bob –

  48. Janet Schulz King '68 says:

    I just heard today of R.P.’s death, and as Dick Reichart reminds us, the world is a poorer place. My first English class at Cornell was the Fitzgerald semininar, and I was lucky enough to be in the seminar that Linda Schinke-Llano mentions. Though I wish I had been able to be a poet, I have spent 35 years teaching poetry to high school students. Robert Dana started me along this life path, and I will always be in his debt. So, too, are my students.

  49. I only spent one year at Cornell–my freshman year in ’64-65–which would have put me in the class of ’68, had I stayed. Homesick for all the wrong reasons, I transferred back East to Syracuse, where I graduated with a major in Creative Writing. It was RP who set me on that course, literally, to becoming a professional writer. Even so, looking back, I wish I had stayed at Cornell. I will never forget how RP brought F. Scott Fitzgerald to life for me. I couldn’t become him, but RP taught me to be myself. I, too, am forever grateful. He was my first teacher, in the sense of being the first TO whom I actually sat up, leaned forward, and listened with a rapt and sharpened awareness and interest that has never waned. So I will always remember him as my mentor, as well.