Accents on English: Spring 2013
A Department Pays Tribute
After a distinguished career at Reading University in the U.K., Ian Fletcher accepted an invitation to join ASU’s Department of English as Distinguished Visiting Professor. He taught at ASU for the rest of his life. On this, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Fletcher’s passing, we celebrate his many achievements as a renowned poet, prominent scholar of Late Victorian and early modernist Anglo-Irish poetry, and beloved teacher whose contributions to the department and to literature endure.
A scholar of late nineteenth-century British literature and a poet and playwright, Fletcher bridged the creative and the scholarly, conveying a special sensibility to literary studies that his students found inspiring. He first came to ASU as a visiting professor for the academic year 1977-78 and returned in 1982, bringing his wife, Loraine, and their two daughters, Agnes and Genevra, whom the ASU community also warmly welcomed.
He taught literature classes at ASU until his untimely death in 1988, after which the Ian Fletcher Archives, housed in Special Collections at ASU’s Hayden Library, were established in his honor. The collection has approximately 1,500 items, primarily focused on the late Victorian period. The collection also includes a first edition of one of Fletcher’s best known collections of poetry, Motets: Twenty One Poems (1962); issues of journals to which he contributed; and literary works he edited, such as Some Unpublished Poems by John Gray edited with notes by Fletcher (1987). In addition, Robert Langenfeld (ASU MA 1976, PhD 1983), Professor of English at University of North Carolina/Greensboro and Editor of English Literature in Transition (ELT), has donated a rare copy of the memorial edition of ELT (1990), which he edited shortly after Fletcher’s death. That edition includes poems by Norman Dubie, Jeannine Savard, and Fletcher himself, among others.
Fletcher was drawn to poetry early in life. As a young man he was posted to the Middle East in WWII while serving in the British army. During that time he met several well-known poets with whom he became close friends. Fletcher was active in London literary circles during the late 1940s and began publishing his own verses. One of his earliest collections was Orisons, Picaresque and Metaphysical published in 1947. Later his focus shifted to studies in nineteenth-century literature and culture. Among his extensive scholarly subjects were the Decadent movement of the 1890s, the development of Modernist writing, and specific authors such as Meredith, Swinburne, and Yeats. After the war, Fletcher became a children’s librarian and, later, a lecturer in English for Reading University, eventually retiring as a full professor before coming to ASU in 1982.
Fletcher’s ASU colleagues and graduate students have fond memories of his teaching and mentoring. Robert Langenfeld, whose dissertation Fletcher directed, writes:
Word of your ASU event gave me cause to look back at the volume we put together in memory of Ian in 1990, Essays and Poems. As intended it brought a rush of memories, all fond, all rich with friendship and the devotion to the study of literature. And still, twenty years later, Ian’s contributions to the 1890s continue as new generations of scholars read his work. Ian’s legacy goes on in many ways, as it should.
Read: "Dune Primrose" by Jeannine Savard
As Langenfeld puts it in his preface to the memorial issue of ELT, “Ian Fletcher’s modesty was salient. He had good reason to act important. He didn’t. Like Swift’s Bumblebee, through his irony and very example Ian gently admonished that part of us which is the Spider.”
Roger Bowen, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Arizona, a long-time friend and colleague of Fletcher, attributes his first major scholarly undertaking to Fletcher’s influence and encouragement. It was Fletcher, Bowen recounts, who set him on the research path leading to his important first edition of Bernard Spencer's poetry, published by Oxford University Press (1981), and later, lectures and essays. One of Bowen’s essays on Spencer was included in the recent centennial anthology of essays, Bernard Spencer: Essays on His Poetry and Life (Shearsman, 2012), and “it naturally acknowledges Ian's unceasing help.” Moreover, Bowen adds, “I dedicated my book, Many Histories Deep: The Personal Landscape Poets in Egypt, 1940-45 [Fairleigh Dickinson, 1995], to Ian.”
Along those lines, Cynthia Hogue notes that her fourth collection, Flux (New Issues, 2002), is dedicated to Fletcher’s memory. Hogue, who studied at ASU for a year before leaving on a Fulbright Fellowship (1979-80), remembers Fletcher as “modest and witty, learned and kind.” She reflects, “[T]o have wandered into a class given by Ian Fletcher was to have happened upon an unlooked-for gift of a lifetime. . . . He inspired me to write a thesis-length seminar paper on Yeats' oeuvre, a project that took me most of the semester to complete, surprising us both. Ian taught me how to read Yeats. Also Hardy. Thirty-five years later, I am at last getting the chance to honor and thank him.”
Alberto Ríos, remembering Fletcher’s playful side, says he was “always up to something and having good fun in the process. . . . He cultivated the image of the absent-minded professor, not always successfully so that we were all fooled, perhaps, but always memorably.” One of Ríos’ favorite examples is when he encountered Fletcher in the elevator, “looking baffled at the right side front wall, saying something to the effect of, ‘they were here the last time.’ He was referring to the elevator buttons, which were on the other side.” Ríos also has warm memories of engaging literary discussions together with Fletcher and fellow poet Norman Dubie.
And as former Reading colleague Patrick Parrinder fondly recalls, "One thing I remember about Ian at ASU was that, for all his 'ancient British professor' manner, he was cannily up to date in some respects and taught a course on detective fiction in which he was careful to include contemporary women authors."
Fletcher’s memory is honored each year by the Ian Fletcher Memorial Lecture Series, established in 1991 by the English department’s Committee on Research, now chaired by Dan Bivona. The lecture series hosts prominent scholars in literary studies to speak about their research. These lectures provide valuable professional and educational opportunities for students and faculty, as well as bring more visibility to ASU. The first lecture in this distinguished series was “Britannia Rules The Waves,” presented by Jane Marcus, an internationally lauded scholar of Virginia Woolf and Director of Women’s Studies at the University of Texas at Austin (now at the CUNY Graduate School in New York). In addition to her lecture, Marcus held an informal workshop open to all ASU students and faculty, and members of the community on her research, as well as her methods for teaching composition in an inner-city campus in New York.
In 2013, the Fletcher Lecture featured distinguished scholar Regenia Gagnier, Professor of English and Senior Fellow of the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) at the University of Exeter, U.K. In her April 11 talk, “World Literature and What It Means to be Human in the Niche of Nature, Culture, and Technology,” Gagnier considered the “great geopolitical commodities—bananas, cotton, tea, rice, petroleum, coffee, tobacco, sugar, water, waste, transport—around which literatures and lives are built.”
Fletcher’s wife Loraine, herself a teacher and scholar, has written a memoir about her husband and their life together, called Print/Capture: A Memoir. She notes that in the book—in addition to memories of their families, their courtship and marriage in the 1960s, issues of women’s education, which in the tradition of Virginia Woolf she discusses extensively, and sections on her favorite books—“I make it clear, I hope, how much we loved ASU and the people there.”
That abiding affection is surely returned, as this tribute attests.
Print/Capture: A Memoir, by Loraine Fletcher, is available on Amazon U.K.
Photos, from top to bottom: 1. Ian Fletcher, 2. Fletcher as a young man, 3. Ian and Loraine Fletcher. All photos courtesy Loraine Fletcher.
Floral background image: Oenothera deltoides ssp. deltoides, Birdcage Evening Primrose, a plant found only in Western North America. Photo by Barry Breckling from Southwest Environmental Information Network.
Note: a version of this article appeared April 8 in ASU News