In the fall of 1975, while a second-year undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I attempted to enroll in an introduction to poetry writing course being taught by a doctoral student named Hank Lazer. I went to the first class meeting and found some 40-plus eager students hoping to gain a spot in the 15-person workshop. At the front of the room sat our long-haired, handsome, almost beatific instructor, distributing questionnaires meant to assess our interest in the class. What kind of music stirred us? Did we engage with visual art? How? By whom? Who was our favorite philosopher? Why? What foods did we most enjoy?
A 19-year-old from New Jersey, I had never met anyone quite like Hank, fresh from California’s Stanford University, in his Earth Shoes, sipping apple juice. Nor had anyone had ever asked me about myself and my artistic and extra-literary inclinations in quite this way. I’m still not sure how I gained a spot in Hank’s class, though I thank whatever compelled me to erase “Bachmann Turner Overdrive” and replace BTO with Rachmaninoff, whose compositions, brought to life by Arthur Rubenstein, scratched out of the family stereo cabinet throughout my childhood in a way I suddenly felt invited to appreciate.