With Tenure David Lehman Poetry

local_library With Tenure

by David Lehman

Published in Issue No. 15 ~ August, 1998

If Ezra Pound were alive today
                    (and he is)
he’d be teaching
at a small college in the Pacific Northwest
and attending the annual convention
of writing instructors in St. Louis
and railing against tenure,
saying tenure
is a ladder whose rungs slip out
from under the scholar as he climbs
upwards to empty heaven
by the angels abandoned
for tenure killeth the spirit
(with tenure no man becomes master)
Texts are unwritten with tenure
under the microscope, sous rature
it turneth the scholar into drone
decayeth the pipe in his jacket’s breast pocket.
Hamlet was not written with tenure,
nor were written Schubert’s lieder,
nor Manet’s Olympia painted with tenure.
No man of genius rises by tenure
Nor woman (I see you smile).
Picasso came not by tenure
nor Charlie Parker;
Came not by tenure Wallace Stevens
Not by tenure Marcel Proust
Nor Turner by tenure
With tenure hath only the mediocre
a sinecure unto death. Unto death, I say!
Nature is constipated the sap doesn’t flow
With tenure the classroom is empty
                    et in academia ego
the ketchup is stuck inside the bottle
the letter goes unanswered the bell doesn’t ring.

Taken from Operation Memory, Princeton University Press, 1990.

account_box More About

David Lehman's books of poetry include The Daily Mirror (2000), The Evening Sun (2002), and When a Woman Loves a Man (forthcoming in 2005), all from Scribner.