By Alex Vavoulis
In Alexandria, Egypt, in 1954, Greek Noble Laureate George Seferis said, “Learning is one of the noblest exercises of man and to be learned is one of his highest desires.” And now, many years later, contemporary meaning is given to these words in the Henry Madden Library by the opening and dedication of the Philip Levine Reading Room.
The event took place on May 5, 2017, where poet Levine was honored posthumously by many colleagues, friends, students and admirers. The room contained many book cabinets filled with Levine’s poetry as well as other poets. Levine was admired for his lifelong commitment to providing a voice for the often unheard working people, supporting free speech and academic freedom at Fresno State and other higher-education institutions and for his views against fascism and war.
In the formal program, there was strong representation from the university administration. Dr. Saúl Jiménez Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, made welcoming remarks in which he stressed the importance of the disciplines that are the foundation of the academic community. Dr. C.G. Hanzlicek, professor emeritus in English at Fresno State, spoke on To Cipriano, in the Winds.
As a member of the English Department during the many years for which it was a vortex for intellectual life on campus, Hanzlicek provided a special presentation. This history is reflected in the presence of poet Peter Everwine; Ellie Bluestein, widow of Dr. Gene Bluestein; Joy Chittick, widow of Dr. Roger Chittick; and poet Dixie Salazar.
Many of Fresno State’s English professors were involved in the Fresno Poets’ Association (FPA), a group started by poet Chuck Moulton and Jacquelin Pilar. In 1988, they asked for a sponsorship from the Fresno Free College Foundation (FCFF). The FFCF agreed, and the relationship lasted for 19 years. During that time, Hanzlicek was the director of the FPA, which is now located within the English Department.
Hanzlicek’s remarks led one to Levine’s poem, Our Valley. “You have to remember this isn’t your land. It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside and thought was yours…Now you say this is home, so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust, wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.”
The opening of the Philip Levine Reading Room to the academic community brings to life the words of poet George Seferis on the death of the Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos: “The death of the poet is the consummation of death.”
Dr. Alex Vavoulis is professor emeritus in chemistry at Fresno State. He was president of the Fresno Free College Foundation (1972–1992) and founder of KFCF Radio in Fresno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.