Southampton College alumna, former Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Southampton Campus/Long Island University, Executive Director of Southampton Graduate Arts/Stony Brook University
“My words itch at your ears till you understand them”
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Can a place enter your bones? Can a plot of land, a cluster of buildings, a slant of light, a salty breeze, infuse your flesh? There is something about Southampton that catches at our hems and murmurs in our ears – calling to us across oceans and ages. Does it enter our DNA to pull us back like turtles, monarch butterflies, eels? Many have heard the call – the Shinnecocks; the Claflin family; the former owners of the Tucker Mill Inn; the College Committee of Eastern Long Island; the Southampton faculty, students, alumni, and staff; and the many guests and visitors who have stood in the shadow of the windmill.
Southampton first came whispering to me when I was a child. My father, Victor Caglioti, would come each summer to teach in the art department and our family (like many other faculty families) would spend the summer in the dorms. He would join such faculty and visitors as Ilya Bolotowsky, Peter Busa, Willem de Kooning, Robert Mumford, Alfonso Ossorio, Louis Trakis, Esteban Vincente, among others. While he and my mother would be in the art cottages, I and my siblings would roam the surrounding hills in organized (and unorganized) campus activities. We had acting and astronomy lessons mixed in among bicycle races down Peconic Hill and kite flying contests over the tennis courts.
Over these summers, I came to know every inch of this campus and the surrounding hills – from the pontoon boats of the marine station to the attic bedroom of the windmill, from the burnt remains of the Scotch Mist Inn to the frigid water of the outdoor pool, from the wide open gymnasium to all the little hidden places among the bending trees. I would spend mornings with prof. Ral Welker pulling up seines alongside college students, afternoons at Cooper’s Beach playing bocce, and evenings in Wood Hall lining up my quarters on the Bally pinball machine.
When my plans for higher education took an unexpected detour, Southampton called again. I transferred into the English and Writing program and came under the tutelage of Professors Dick Weber and Charles Matz. There were hours spent on the literary magazine (The Scrub Oak Review), outrageous deadlines to meet for the school newspaper (The Windmill), and long nights in the basement stacks of the library. The time devoted to reading and writing paid off and I was awarded a Chancellors Scholarship in honor of George Plimpton. In addition to school work, there were work-study assignments for Dean Timothy Bishop (soon to be named Provost) and summer employment opportunities with the multi-talented Alice Flynn. The sounds of Southampton were all around me, but they reached a crescendo when I discovered the Writers Conference. I was heady with new voices – Siv Cedering, William Heyen, Denise Levertov, David Ignatow, Grace Schulman, Sharon Olds, Louis Simpson, Robert Long.
Since that first summer, the Conference has sung to me. I’ve gone on to take workshops with Louis Simpson, Carl Fick, and Michael Kenyon. I’ve worked with William Roberson, Frank Taylor, David Cutts, Kaylie Jones, Kit Hathaway, and Robert Reeves – all energetic and enterprising Conference Directors. I’ve recorded readings, cut cheese cubes, written introductions, and emptied trash cans. There are stories about flooded windmills and decorated dormitories. Over the months and years, I have listened to Southampton whoop and whisper.
This summer will mark my 25th year with the Conference – I think Meg Wolitzer’s first year was 1987, Robert Reeves was 1993, Roger Rosenblatt 1997, Billy Collins 1998. Grace Schulman will be returning this summer after her first visit some 30 odd years ago. We hear the soft breath of Southampton and know that others do too. The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences is here and flourishes with its research, degree programs, marine science semester, and community lectures. Conserving the call for future generations. The Graduate Arts campus continues to grow steadily with graduate programs in Writing and Theatre, The Southampton Review, arts semester, the Young Artists and Writers project for teens, the community reading series, and the venerable summer conferences. Communicating the call. There are new listeners such as the School of Health, Technology and Management which will be bringing its Doctor of Physical Therapy program to Southampton.
Yes, a place can infuse a person, a program, a school. We see it in the passion of Southampton students, alumni, faculty, staff, and guests. We see it in our politicians, University leadership, community advocates, and benefactors. We see it in the past and present dedication of individuals such as Morrell Avram, Peter Baigent, Laura Baudo, Bill Burke, Timothy Bishop, Barbara Chernow, Elaine Crosson, Chris Gobler, Rick Johnson, Eric Kaler, Kenneth Lavalle, Eric Lehman, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Nick Mangano, Harry Marmion, Robert Reeves, Roger Rosenblatt, Julie Sheehan, Rev. Michael Smith, Samuel Stanley, John Strong, Shirley Strum Kenny, Fred Thiele, Anna Throne-Holst, Lou Ann Walker, Matt Whelan. The list could fill pages. I wish I could include you all. Yes, there have been times when we may have become distracted by the cacophony of competing voices, but take a walk up that hill to the windmill – the higher you go brings calm, clarity, perspective, and then silence. Sit on those millstone steps or stand on the grinding gears and hold your breath. Exhale and you will hear Southampton susurrate around and within. You will feel it in your bones. That tiniest of bones both fragile and complex, but crucial to who we are. That bone nestled in your ears. Listen. Feel. Remember. Scratch that itch.