Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Memories of Brett Foster

Brett Foster taught the first class I took at Wheaton College: ENG 215 – Classical and Early British Literature, a 9:15 AM class I stumbled into between 9:15 and 9:22 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays during the fall of 2006. I remember writing a rakish poem about one of my roommates in the style of Chaucer for an assignment. A couple days after we turned in our poems, Brett read a few of them out loud, including mine. He praised my poem until he reached the final couplet, at which point he criticized it for closing with an awkward slant rhyme (“times”/”realized”) that basically torpedoed the whole thing. I was elated.

His classes were highly interactive. The students who learned the most came prepared to throw themselves into roiling, expansive conversations. I was not yet a good student in those days and my preparation for Brett’s class was consistently lackluster, but I was struck by Brett’s love for his subject, as clear and instructive to us as his obvious expertise. He offered both light and heat: a way of seeing, but also a way of living. 

I didn’t take another literature class at Wheaton, falling instead into philosophy, but Brett always remembered my name and greeted me whenever we passed one another in the hallway.

We occasionally ran into each other at bookstores around town. The Half-Price Books on Army Trail Road was a place we both favored for its large selection. He was always eager to discuss recent finds with fellow enthusiasts. I’ve seen few people demonstrate a joy as pure as his in the discovery, collection, and endless reading of books.

He was generous in introducing me to his peers and colleagues and inviting me into conversations at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing in 2014. I attended a session of his, a panel on translation that also included John Wilson and Sarah Ruden, and got to listen to Brett dish on Dante’s jealous contemporaries. We talked afterwards for a few minutes. He reveled in the cheeky insults of the forgotten poets and further exposited some of the cultural and social rivalries that fueled their disputes. When he really got going, he turned his head and looked past me, smiling and nodding as he talked. I skimmed along the surface of what he said, peering down at him miles below as he bounced from idea to idea with joy.

In the spring of this year, I published an article about a writer I love in a magazine I love, a magazine to which Brett has often contributed. He emailed me after it was published to let me know that he enjoyed the article and wanted to be kept apprised of my literary pursuits. It was a short email: a small, good thing. It helped me to feel welcome—like I belonged—and I don’t think I succeeded in articulating how much it meant to me in the reply I sent him.

I didn’t know Brett well, but what I do know of him I am confident to say. He was a lovely, generous, and brilliant man; he cared for many people and expressed his care for them in tangible and specific ways; he was an encouraging and patient teacher; he was a beautiful poet. I thank God for him.