Robert Forrey

Robert Forrey

First Fulbright Couple in Lublin, 1972

photo by Nina Smolarz-Figlarowicz (Poland Illustrated Magazine)

 

Dr. Robert Forrey, the first Fulbrighter in Lublin,  earned a B.A. and M.A. from Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, and a Ph. D. from Yale University. His dissertation Theodore Dreiser: The Flesh and the Spirit, places the Indiana novelist in the prophetic tradition, as more of a religious than a naturalist writer.  Dr. Forrey taught  English and American Studies at the University of Hartford, San Diego State University, and the New York State University at Potsdam, where he was chair of the English Department. He was Academic Vice President at Bradford College, in Bradford, Massachusetts, and following his Fulbright year in Poland, he was Coordinator of the Yale-based Bicentennial Committee on International Conferences of Americanists, traveling throughout the world helping to organize conferences on the occasion of the American Bicentennial. For the last twenty-two years he has lived in Portsmouth, Ohio, where he taught English and American literature at Ohio’s newest university, Shawnee State University, where he served four terms as president of the faculty union. Since 2004, he has written a political blog called River Vices http://rivervices.blogspot.com as well as a poetry blog, Poems Old & New http://xpalidosis.blogspot.com.

 

Since educational and cultural exchange was one of the things that helped end the Cold War, I am proud to have been the first Fulbrighter to Lublin, especially since it was at the university named after a woman I admire, Marie Curie-Sklodowska. Though it was not without its difficulties, my  experience in Poland enriched my life. My son Christopher was born in Lublin on June 8, 1972, in a hospital close to Majdanek, about which I published a poem in Poland Illustrated Magazine (July 1972). I later  reflected about my Fulbright experience in “An American in Lublin,” which appeared in International Educational and Cultural Exchange in the summer of 1974. In 2000, I returned with my son to Lublin to deliver a talk to students that my hosts billed as “The First Fulbrighter in Lublin.” I wrote “Lublin: A Memoir,” in preparation for that talk. A personal account, the short memoir included several  poems I wrote during and after my Fulbright year. One of those poems was about the woman whose statue looms over the university named after her. When it comes to adversity, Poles are pros. They have had much practice. They are survivors because they are strivers. No Pole better illustrates the truth of that observation than Marie Curie-Sklodowska.

 

Dissolving in Light: M. Curie-Sklodowska

 

“Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

Shakespeare

 

The mystic substance kept on calling her

Back to the damp, cold shed provided

By the stingy French bureaucracy.

She wrote later, “But what of that? We must

Have perseverance and above all

Confidence in ourselves. We must believe

We are gifted for something and that

This thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

Her husband, Pierre, was just as determined.

“Whatever happens, even if one has to

Go on like a body without a soul,

One must work just the same,” he wrote.

They worked the way the Trappists prayed—day and night—

She stirring a bubbling vat of evil-looking pitchblende

In the yard, foul smoke darkening the sky,

He making calculations in the shed.

She brought him back one night to see the stuff

Glowing mystically in the glass containers—

It was a night she always remembered.

With hands ruined by radium, she carried on

After he was crushed on the Rue Dauphine

By a wagon loaded with uniforms.

Like a Polish peasant in her garden,

She moved each day for years among the glass

Vials blooming beautifully in the lab,

Handling them gently with hands that would

Not heal, with faith that would not die, the world

For which she gladly worked herself to death

Dissolving in light, burning to marrow.

 

Robert Forrey, 1972

 

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