Monday December 26, 2011 WVU professor is sometimes a teacher, always a writer WVU Law Professor Michael Blumenthal reads from his German collection of poems. by Jake Stump For the Daily Mail Advertiser
Ruffled grayish hair and ocean calm demeanor, Michael Blumenthal sits relaxed in a leather chair reading from a book of poems he'd written.
He recites No Hurry, a piece about getting older and gaining patience with life, in English and then German.
The 62-year-old speaks at a gentle volume. He'd make a soothing psychiatrist.
by Michael Blumenthal
This morning waiting for the paint on the fence to dry
I realized there was no hurry, no hurry waiting for the bus to come no hurry for the sun to set or the moon to rise no hurry, even, to arrive at orgasm, your own or anyone else's. There was no hurry, certainly, for the protoplasm of decline to make its way homewards, no hurry on the divorce decree no hurry for the new marriage certificate no hurry for the blossoms on the butterfly bush outside this window to bloom or the apples to fall no hurry for the ant just now making its way across this room to get to the other side, though thousands of its little brethren are impatiently waiting. There was no hurry, I realized, for these very fingers to make their way over the keys no hurry for the brave little homunculus of the day to reach afternoon no hurry for the wrinkles around my eyes to widen no hurry for impotence bladder problems mutating cancer cells no hurry, darling, for anything to become or not become of us no hurry for the plane to depart no hurry no hurry no hurry since, sooner or later, everything will arrive at breath's finish line and we will all be winners, and all will be still, and everything we had always been hurrying towards will finally be ours.
I realized there was no hurry, no hurry waiting
for the bus to come no hurry for the sun to set
or the moon to rise no hurry, even, to arrive at orgasm,
your own or anyone else's. There was no hurry,
certainly, for the protoplasm of decline to make its way
homewards, no hurry on the divorce decree no hurry
for the new marriage certificate no hurry for the blossoms
on the butterfly bush outside this window to bloom
or the apples to fall no hurry for the ant just now making
its way across this room to get to the other side, though
thousands of its little brethren are impatiently waiting.
There was no hurry, I realized, for these very fingers
to make their way over the keys no hurry for the brave
little homunculus of the day to reach afternoon no hurry
for the wrinkles around my eyes to widen no hurry
for impotence bladder problems mutating cancer cells
no hurry, darling, for anything to become or not become
of us no hurry for the plane to depart no hurry no hurry
no hurry since, sooner or later, everything will arrive
at breath's finish line and we will all be winners,
and all will be still, and everything we had always
been hurrying towards will finally be ours.
"No Hurry is about wanting to see more of the mystery of life when you get older," said Blumenthal, explaining the poem. "You're not as goal-oriented as when you're younger."
He looks void of worry, staring at his concoction of metaphors and prose through chic horn-rimmed eyeglasses.
With a sweater jacket, slip-on shoes and jeans, he has the professorial look down pat. He can pass as Bob Dylan's or Dustin Hoffman's academic doppelganger.
Outside his two-story South Park home, it's a dark and rainy morning — a perfect backdrop for reading poetry.
After the poem and polishing off a cup or two of coffee, he's ready to head to work at the West Virginia University College of Law.
What? You thought he was an English professor?
Blumenthal arrived at WVU in 2008 as the Visiting John T. Copenhaver Jr. Chair of the College of Law.
In addition to his job as a law professor, he's an accomplished poet and writer. Recently, he presented material from his latest book at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest trade fair for books.
Though he has a law degree and teaches at a law school, Blumenthal thinks of himself as a writer first — but only somewhat.
His passion for poetry and prose developed at an early age.
Born in 1949 in Vineland, N.J., Blumenthal was 8 days old when an aunt and uncle — refugees from Nazi Germany — adopted him. For that, he is grateful.
But tragedy struck when he was 10. The only woman he knew as "mom" passed away. His "dad" would remarry, and a somewhat archetypically loveless stepmother entered the picture.
No wonder he named his memoir, "All My Mothers and Fathers."
"It was a complicated childhood," Blumenthal said. "All these sorts of things I had to figure out. Writing was a good way to do it."
Blumenthal's hobby — and coping mechanism — turned into something more. Captured by the works of W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost and Anton Chekhov, Blumenthal knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He ended up at State University of New York at Binghamton to earn a bachelor's degree in philosophy.
Fair enough. History's most prolific writers are considered deep-thinking philosophers, and vice versa.
Soon after his undergraduate career, Blumenthal decided to pursue more education. This time, he went to Cornell University to study law.
Law school served as a diversion, of sorts, and a practical road to post-college employment.
He worked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, then the attorney general of New Hampshire. He even joined the Federal Trade Commission as a lawyer in 1974, before leaving a year later.
His thirst for writing was never fully quenched.
He'd have virtually nothing to do with law for the next 35 years.
"I was obsessed with being a writer more than anything else and knew I would leave law at the time," Blumenthal said. "So I took a job I knew I wouldn't like, which gave me an excuse to leave."
Over that three-decade estrangement from all things law, Blumenthal made it happen. As he soldiered through a diverse assortment of jobs — from editor at Time-Life Books to arts administrator with the National Endowment of Arts — Blumenthal honed his writing and storytelling skills in his spare time.
He had some of his works published and wound up teaching poetry at Harvard University, where he became director of creative writing.
Since the 1990s, Blumenthal landed various academic roles in Israel, Hungary, Germany and France.
None of those positions had anything to do with law.
But his current job at WVU certainly does.
At WVU, he's taught courses in advanced writing, literature and law, Philosophy of Justice, Legal Interviewing & Counseling, and Psychology for Lawyers at the College of Law.
He doesn't teach courses on torts and contracts. That's fine with him, for the most part, though "I wouldn't even mind teaching those," he said.
"I don't teach the traditional courses," Blumenthal said. "There's a lot of law that is rather technical, though very important to a practicing lawyer. I'm lucky enough here at WVU to be able to teach the things that are interesting to me. . . and hopefully to my students as well."
Blumenthal also serves as the college's co-director of its Human Rights and Immigration Law Clinic. The clinic provides legal aid to foreign citizens living in West Virginia and western Pennsylvania facing deportation, asylum and other immigration proceedings.
Blumenthal credits one of his colleagues, Jim Elkins, with luring him to WVU. Elkins, a law professor, edits the "Legal Studies Forum," which publishes creative writing and literature by lawyers. Elkins included Blumenthal's work in one issue. The two writers/lawyers kept in touch, and Elkins invited Blumenthal to visit WVU.
"I encouraged Blumenthal to come to West Virginia because legal education has historically had buried within its many traditions, a liberal arts and humanistic perspective," said Elkins, who previously taught the law and literature class. "I don't know of anyone who is better prepared by sentiment and training than Michael Blumenthal to represent this humanistic perspective."
Elkins called Blumenthal's poetry "sophisticated and as finely-crafted as the work of any poet" he's read.
"What Michael brings to the College of Law is the sensibilities of not only the lawyer and teacher, but the poet and the writer," Elkins said. "Writers think about the world in careful, engaging ways: No one is better at this than Michael Blumenthal."
The courses Blumenthal teaches help 'humanize' law.
"Literature can teach lawyers," Blumenthal said. "In law, you have guilt and innocence and right and wrong. Literature has more of a mixed view of guilt and innocence and right and wrong."
Blumenthal's published works include his memoir, "All My Mothers and Fathers," and "Dusty Angel," his sixth book of poems. His novel, "Weinstock Among the Dying," was published in 1994, and his collection of essays from Central Europe, "When History Enters the House," in 1998.
He has lived in, and taught at universities in Hungary, Israel, Germany and France, mostly as a Fulbright Fellow. He grew "tired of not speaking English," prompting him to return to the U.S.
Before coming to WVU, he was Darden Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
He may have finally found a place to stay awhile. He's in no hurry to leave.
"I got a little bit tired of teaching creative writing and English," Blumenthal said. "I didn't realize how much I'd love being in a law school until I got here. I love Morgantown, WVU, the Law School, the students and my colleagues, and consider being here at the College of Law one of the best things that ever happened to me."
After all the stories, poems, education, jobs and traveling, Blumenthal can say, without hesitation, that you can be a writer in addition to whatever you desire.
"You can be a writer/doctor or a writer/lawyer or a writer/taxidermist," he said. "You can be anything and a writer, as long as you stay interested in what is happening around you."