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Guy Davenport:  Memorial Service  

Held 10 AM to Noon, Saturday 8 May 2005
at the University of Kentucky Arboretum, Lexington KY





Sweetgum Tree dedicated 8 May 2005 at the Univ of KY Arboretum in memory of Guy Davenport (1927-2005) photo by Chuck Ralston

"Through forests of sweet gum and hickory rising to larch, meadows of fern and thistle, we came toward the end of a day to an old mill of the kind I had known at Price's Shoals in South Carolina . . . "

-- 'Fifty-Seven Views of Fujiyama' Granta 4 (1981)


Posted Sunday, May 8, 2005 [to the on-line edition of the Lexington [KY] Herald-Leader


A human and literary 'miracle' remembered






The world knew Guy Davenport, who died in January at age 77, as an author, poet, artist and English professor. But in a memorial gathering yesterday, colleagues and former students remembered Davenport for his acts of personal grace and giving.

Bonnie Jean Cox, Davenport's companion of 40 years, described her life with him as "living in and with a miracle."

"Not only a human miracle but a literary miracle. And I am grateful for every minute of it," she said.

[thumbnail photo of Guy Davenport]

About 75 guests attended the memorial at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive. The 90-minute event opened and closed with Shaker songs, and featured the dedication of a sweet gum tree, a species that figured in Davenport's poetry and prose.

When Davenport received a $365,000 "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1990, Erik Reece was a student in Davenport's seminar on James Joyce. After class, the two would go to a market on Limestone Street to buy sandwiches.

"I would make these feeble attempts to pay for my sandwich, and Guy would say, 'Oh, let's let John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur pay for it,'" said-Reece, now a UK English and writing instructor. "So I've eaten well on the MacArthur fellowship."

"Auden said of Yeats that the death of the poet was kept from his poems," Reece said in his closing remarks. "I would like to think that the opposite has happened to Guy. Guy has finally escaped into the imaginary landscapes he created."

Ellen Rosenman recalled her days in the 1980s as an untenured professor in the UK English Department, when seeing Davenport was "rather like running into T.S. Eliot at the water fountain."

"The quality I remember most about him is his courtesy," said Rosenman, now chairwoman of the English department. "There was a courtliness in manner about him that was endearing and genuinely democratic. Guy really didn't seem to care whether you were a first-year freshman or the president of the university."

Kentucky author Wendell Berry, a former writing instructor at UK, remembered how he and Davenport had neighboring offices in Patterson Office Tower. "By walking a few steps and leaning on his doorjamb, and saying a word or two of greeting, I could start Guy decanting whatever happened to be on his mind," Berry said. "But my metaphor is off.  The flow started not from a decanter but from a stream, and somewhere upstream it was raining."

[thumbnail photo of Wendell Berry]

Davenport never owned a car, preferring instead to walk from his house to campus. "He did not care one thing ever about material things," said Gloria Williamson, Davenport's sister from Anderson, S.C.

She said that in his last letter to her, Davenport wrote: "I hope you're as happy as I am."

Poet Nikky Finney read a poem she wrote about buying Davenport's house. A portion of that poem goes:

You can remove every book from every shelf
You can even disassemble the shelves
You can untack the old floor coverlets one by one in every room
But he's still there






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