It was while I was in the Navy, at the age of nineteen in 1953, that I published my first verses in a national literary journal, The American Poetry Magazine. Soon thereafter my work began appearing regularly in the "little magazines." By the time I was discharged, married to Jean Cate Houdlette who had graduated from UConn in the spring of 1956, and I was myself a student there, I was heavily involved in the literary scene. My friends included my fellow undergraduate James Scully and a graduate student, Alexander Taylor, both poets — Sandy Taylor had been the editor of Patterns, one of the magazines that had published my early poems
Two of my instructors were the formalist critic and poet Norman Friedman and John Malcolm Brinnin who, as the Director of the YM/YWHA Poetry Center of New York City, had brought my generation's idol, the poet Dylan Thomas, to the U. S. and written a book about it, Dylan Thomas in America, published while I was still an enlisted man. John was the best practical critic I ever knew; when I became an instructor myself I built my own style of teaching the writing arts on his example.
On campus I emulated John’s entrepreneurial skills as well by getting myself put in charge of the Student Union's Fine Arts Festival committee which brought visiting writers to campus to read their work: Friedman's scholarly specialty E. E. Cummings; Richard Eberhart who had earlier taught at Uconn; Donald Hall, who had been born in Hamden, a couple of towns over from my home town, Meriden, Connecticut; Philip Booth, the Maine poet; James Wright, the novelist James T. Farrell, and many others. As editor of Fine Arts Magazine I published original work by some of our visitors including Cummings and Eberhart, and as president of The Connecticut Writer, the undergraduate literary organization, sponsored events by student writers, including a “Beatnik” reading at which everyone wore white bucks! While still in the navy I had published poems in some of the Beat magazines including The San Francisco Review, City Lights, and Harlequin; I continued that short-lived tradition by sending some of the poems I wrote for the UConn reading out to the magazines under a pen name, “John Joen” (pronounced "John John"). Much to my cynical delight one of the periodicals that accepted John Joen's work was titled, Hearse: A Vehicle to Convey the Dead.
My bride Jean worked for the university (on the information desk at the administration building — people enjoyed calling her "Miss Information," and when she told them she was married they said, "All right, then, Mrs. Information!" and laughed and laughed); we lived comfortably, therefore, in the Northwood Apartments faculty housing. Still, the winters could be bitter:
It somehow seems the campus owns no end,
No boundaries save those of season's change.
The students make no bones at fall, but wend
Their leaf-run courses out of shouting's range
And in again, four sheets to compass lawns
Extending, dun on green, toward the rout
Of hill on which this world is built. The tawns
And hint of fawn in autumns hereabout
Extend no hint of leniencies of snow
This winter. There will be the ague to pay:
The weather holds three mortgages on woe
Till March steps in to steal the march on May.
June's like a pregnancy not long conceived:
More wonderful in dreaming than in fact,
Perhaps. Yet, none of pain may be perceived
Except in execution of the act
Of proving life. I must believe the warmth
Is worth the winter, worth this boundless hill.
The third month has transpired. So will the ninth.
Leaves fall no longer and the wind is still —
The blizzard's will is stronger than my own.
This letter wrinkles on and must be done,
For chill has breached the window, scorned the stone
Around my room. December has begun.
While I was still in the navy I had earned a full year’s GED and USAFI college credits, so I graduated from UConn in mid-year of 1958-59 after only two and a half years on campus. Since I still had a full year left on the Korean War G. I. Bill, I applied to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the fall and was accepted. I spent the spring semester at UConn earning six transferable credits as a graduate assistant and part-time instructor of English teaching an introduction to the short story / composition course to sophomores; then, during the summer I spent several weeks as a resident of Yaddo, the artists' colony at Saratoga Springs, N. Y., experimenting with writing unrhymed quantitative syllabic poems, a practice I contnued at Iowa. Many of these were subsequently published in periodicals and anthologies and were eventually included in my second full collection, Awaken, Bells Falling: Poems 1959-1967, Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1968. Paper. O-P, but all poems are collected in Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems of Lewis Turco 1959-2007. “Letter from Campus,” however, was never published in a periodical, but it was gathered in The Collected Lyrics of Lewis Turco / Wesli Court 1953-2004, Scottsdale: www.StarCloudPress.com, 2004, 460 pp., ISBN 1932842004, jacketed cloth, ISBN 1932842012, trade paperback.