Forum, June 30: Tale of the Poet and the Milk Crate

Friday, June 29, 2018
The Poet and the Milk Crate

I was saddened to read of the passing of Donald Hall (“Ex-Poet Laureate Donald Hall Dies at 89 in N.H.” June 25). I am one of many who love his work, but I came by my signed copy in an unusual way, 35 years after a freshman year escapade.

We were trimming our tree one December and invited a friend and her husband, whom we barely knew, over to help. He noticed the milk crate the lights were stored in, and asked me where I got it. I coughed and confessed that I’d nicked it from behind the grocery store in college.

He said “Dartmouth?” I said yes, and asked how he knew. “It says Hall’s Dairy, and my granddad had a dairy in New Hampshire.” I was mortified, even more so when they offered to buy the milk crate to give to his dad. I immediately unpacked it and gave it to them.

The next time we met, they said, “We’d like to thank you for the milk crate. My dad really loved it. He wrote some poems, and he hoped you might like one of his books.” My jaw hit the floor.

So that’s how I met Donald Hall’s son. And returned a stolen milk crate to a poet laureate. I will always see the twinkle in his eye when I open my signed copy of Unpacking the Boxes.

Lynn Noel

Waltham, Mass.

Vast Changes in Teaching Profession

My response to the story “Where Are All the Teachers?” (June 12) is: “Why teach?”

As a public school student, I revered my teachers as educators and advocates. I not only drank from their fount of knowledge, but they were my counselors, coaches, mentors and daytime parents. I sought their signatures on recommendations for jobs and college applications. I was inspired and encouraged to follow in their footsteps — which I did — while trying to live up to their high standards. 

Between the year I first stepped into the classroom (1971) and the year I retired (2003), vast changes occurred in education. To begin with, teaching had become thoroughly politicized. With little or no training as educators, politicians invaded and infected our noble profession with their malignant policies and corrosive regulations, using fear and intimidation to usurp the authority once maintained by well-trained professionals.

Think of it this way: Would untrained politicians — appointed or elected — force any other professional to follow their arbitrary and capricious decisions? In education, that is the norm. The result has been stagnant salaries, endless testing, teaching to the test (replacing many curriculums), at-will hiring policies, loss of tenure, loss of benefits, and cuts in school spending for books, supplies and infrastructure. These communicate a strategy of discretionary educational policy.

Perhaps the biggest impact on the teaching profession has been economic. To qualify as a teacher, the minimum requirement is a four-year education, with a master’s degree required in some states. The cost of that education now compares with the price of a house.

Acceptance of a teaching position is also a personal commitment. When teachers move into a district — house, car, kids, pets and all — they’re committing to a long-term relationship with that community.

Getting back to that teacher shortage. Perhaps we should hire those politicians who will be unemployed after the 2018 election — contingent upon their collection of “Box Tops for Education.”

Ralph Epifanio


Trump Has Done Evil Things

Memo to those of you who have been in a coma since you voted for Trump in November 2016 and have recently awoken: He won. Not easily or well; essentially, he cheated.

As so-called-president, he has done despicable, unimaginably evil things. If you were a Christian before your coma, you should review all of the basic tenets of your religion. If, after reviewing your self-worth and the atrocities that he has committed, you choose to continue to follow him, please realize that your Christianity has been revoked. You can’t have it both ways. This applies also to non-Christians. If you still like him, you are a racist and hater of most of humanity and the world itself.

Stan Phaneuf

Newbury, Vt.

The Lawful and the Lawbreakers

Randall Balmer’s cogent opinion column (“Context Is Everything: Jeff Sessions, the Apostle Paul and the Ruse of Selective Literalism,” June 24) helpfully puts the use of the Bible by representatives of the United States government in defense of immigration law and policy into perspective. The use of isolated bits of Biblical material out of context that Balmer is describing is usually called “proof-texting,” and since the beginnings of the church, Christians have been warned repeatedly against the practice, lest they be led astray. The more recent adage, “A text without a context is a pretext,” has served to remind us of this.

But I want to make one further observation about the assumption, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and others, that God’s will is invariably biased toward the “lawful.”

Slavery was a lawful institution. The extermination of Jews during the World War II was lawfully instituted and carried out. Race-based segregation was a lawful institution. And, as Balmer points out, many of the supporters of these institutions quoted the Bible (and especially Romans 13) in defending them, asserting that God’s will was embodied in civil law, and our obedience to civil law carried a Biblical mandate.

The corollary, however, is this: Those who sheltered slaves in the Underground Railroad were breaking the law. Those who hid families in attics during the Holocaust were breaking the law. African-Americans who sat at segregated lunch counters were breaking the law. Many (if not most) of these “lawbreakers” also believed that they were acting according to God’s will. But they were acting on a higher set of biblical principles: God’s persistent bias toward justice, compassion, mercy and human uplift.

Susan White


Balmer’s Columns Provide Context

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from another state visited me. She picked up our copy of the Valley News from our coffee table and started to read it. She pleasantly exclaimed that it is a great newspaper. She mentioned some newspapers from a few major cities in other states and said that the Valley News is so much better than those newspapers. Thank you.

I enjoy reading the Valley News, and have so for several years. I particularly enjoy columns by Randall Balmer. His column on June 24 (“Context Is Everything: Jeff Sessions, the Apostle Paul and the Ruse of Selective Literalism”) about Sessions using a biblical quote to defend President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy provides me with a clear label for how too many evangelicals use the Bible to support their politics.

Valley News, keep doing the great job that you do, and keep publishing Randall Balmer’s columns.

Barbara Tolman