Members of the Andrew Marvell Society cannot thank Phoebe Spinrad enough for the prescient good will that she had in co-founding (with Mark Heumann) this present society. In the excitement of SCRC’s 2001 spring meeting (its 50th anniversary) at College Station, Texas, she unfolded her plans for an annual gathering of Marvellians and distributed copies of a proposed constitution and by-laws. So well formulated were these documents that they have been but rarely amended over the years.
Now we learn that Professor Spinrad has hung up her academic gown for good and has retired emerita from the Ohio State University in Columbus where she has taught since 1984. Graduating BA from New York University in 1963, Professor Spinrad delayed graduate study to pursue a career first in editing and then in the military, serving as a United States Air Force officer from 1971 to 1980. A Vietnam veteran, she was decorated with numerous medals including the USAF Commendation Medal, 2d oak leaf cluster; Outstanding Unit Award with Valor (Combat Device), 1st oak leaf cluster; Presidential Unit Citation; and National Defense Service Medal.
At Texas Christian University she earned her M.A. in 1979 and her Ph.D. in 1982. Thereafter at OSU she taught no fewer than twenty different undergraduate courses over the years and ten graduate courses on topics as far ranging as the medieval morality play, Shakespeare, Caroline drama, and Vietnam War literature. Valued for her teaching, she was nominated fourteen times as Outstanding Teacher at OSU and was named winner of the honor in 1993. She was named Undergraduate Teacher of the Year in 2005.
Her membership in scholarly societies includes the Renaissance Society of America, SCRC, the John Donne Society, and the Society for Emblem Studies. She is also a Ricardian, among the brave who labor to reconstitute the tarnished name of Richard III. Phoebe Spinrad held numerous positions in SCRC, including the presidency (1990), but she is best remembered for her generation of Discoveries, the SCRC newsletter she licked into shape and edited tirelessly from 1998 to 2005 with grant money from CMRS and her own College of Humanities.
Among her publications, her book The Summons of Death on the Medieval and Renaissance English Stage (OSU Press 1987) remains a solid contribution to drama studies. Her articles on Hamlet (MP 2005), Measure for Measure (TSLL 1984 and MLQ 1999), Dogberry (SP 1992), and Lear (Renascence 1991) have made her an on-going voice in modern Shakespeare studies. Her work on Marvell emerged in PMLA (1982) with a piece on the nymph. Thereafter Professor Spinrad tackled Marvell’s “mystic laughter” in PLL (1984), his “distorting mirrors” in Interpretations (1984), and his “iron gates” in Mass. Studies in English (1984). She has presented or chaired sessions over three dozen times at scholarly conferences where she proved herself a formidable thinker and a resounding apologist of her own creative ideas. Anyone who has witnessed her eviscerative strength knows how formidable a thinker she can be.
But for what will Professor Spinrad best be remembered? Surely her initiative in co-founding the Andrew Marvell Society. Surely her shepherding of Discoveries. Surely her welcomed camaraderie at scholarly conferences. But what of her poetry? How many Marvellians have read her verse? How many are even aware of it? One of her finest pieces is reprinted here (with permission), a poignant poem in which she considers the closing of an air base at the same time as she reveals a side of her sensitivity that many Marvellians may not know exists. Phoebe tells us: “The poem was written after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, but before the site was reopened as a civilian industrial complex. In other words, Clark Air Base is no longer ‘silent,’ but the sounds are quite different–and cause for a different kind of haunting. My old BOQ (‘bachelor officer quarters’), where all those ghosts danced, is now a Holiday Inn. Even the old ghosts may now have ghosts.”
So we note with sadness the retirement from academia of Phoebe Spinrad, god-mother of the Andrew Marvell Society, but we know that her intense spirit will not fade into the sunset from some front porch rockingchair. This creative woman has embers within that are yet to be revealed: “Atria miraria, summotumque aethera tecto; Nec tamen in toto est arctior orbe casa” (Andrew Marvell).
Clark Air Base is closed now,
covered with dust and volcanic ash,
nothing but ghosts now in the silent places.
I should be glad at the closure,
the scene of the nightmare forever gone,
but instead my heart is torn with an unclosed wound.
Somehow it seemed while the base was alive with people
I could go back and understand it all,
explain things to myself or others, redo things.
I know, a foolish thought: the past is time, not space,
but space and time link in the mind; the place gone,
time stops–the nightmare fixed in both, untouchable.
Dust and ash on the road where I watched the refugees,
dust and ash where I watched my own life broken,
dust and ash swirl in the wake of the ghosts:
Ghosts on the chopper pad, ghosts in the terminal,
ghosts of the refugees, ghosts of the wounded,
ghosts dancing in the lounge to a ghostly jukebox,
ghosts flitting up the stairs to my room in the BOQ,
ghosts at my desk, ghosts in the windows, ghosts,
forever untouchable, ghosts in the mind, not in space.
And I hover among the ghosts of the vanished places,
the wounds unclosed, somehow vanished myself, a ghost.
1992 Phoebe S. Spinrad