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Monday, January 10, 2011

Number 34: Hughes Means excerpt from "Antigonish"

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away
When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
-- Hughes Means

Hap Notes: I'll just bet you remember this little snippet of verse from William Hughes Means' (1875-1965) college play "Antigonish." Means wrote the verse for a play he penned when he was a student at Harvard in 1899. He is not noted for writing any more verse that people remember but this one is sure stuck good and proper in the memory, eh?

Hughes Means (he dropped the William professionally) did something else that was pretty darn exciting, though, at least in terms of writing and poetry. He was a steadfast believer in the educational principles of Dewey which included personal, creative self- expression in children. To that end he developed a "new" class which would teach children to unleash their creativity. He called it "creative writing." Perhaps you've heard of it?

He started teaching this revolutionary class in 1920 at the Lincoln School, a laboratory school run by Columbia University's teacher's college. The repercussions, fruition and consequent products of this class are enormous. Before this class students in writing and English were strictly taught grammar. Now, I know grammar can be a sore point right now when scanning the internet. But those "creative writing" classes spawned by Means undeniably created lasting beauty in prose and poetry.

It's ironic that the "man who wasn't there" when it comes to writing is actually Means himself, the creator of new generation of writers and nobody even sent him a thank-you card.

So let this post stand as a thank-you card for his devotion to teaching and progressive education.

Here are a couple of marvelous Means quotes: "You have something to say. Something of your very own. Try to say it. Don't be ashamed of any real thought or feeling you have. Don't undervalue it. Don't let the fear of others prevent you from saying it... You have something to say, something that no one else in the world has said in just your way of saying it."


"Writing is an outward expression of instinctive insight that must be summoned from the vastly deep of our mysterious selves. Therefore, it cannot be taught; indeed, it cannot even be summoned; it can only be permitted."

and my particular favorite: "Poetry is when you talk to yourself."

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