By Sarah Lehr
Writer-in-Residence P.F. Kluge ’64 can’t just visit a place and move on. “When you’re a writer and you go to any place, you’re always looking for material and you’re not done with the place until you’ve written about it,” he said.
Certain places keep calling him back. “I have therefore been, all my life, in dialogue with four places which I call islands,” Kluge said.
Kluge’s talk this Saturday evening, “The World According to Kluge: Thoughts on Gambier and Other Islands,” will examine these literal and metaphorical islands: Gambier, his home state New Jersey, the Philippines, and the islands of Micronesia where he was stationed during his stint in the Peace Corps. The talk is part of the Kenyon Unique lecture series, facilitated by trustee Matthew Winkler ’77.
To prepare for the talk, Kluge and his wife spent weeks rifling through closets for old pictures, books and miscellany. “The amount of the debris that collected on the tables in our home as a result of the project was obscene,” Kluge said. “It’s been fun. I think that we have been both glad that we were forced to do this now instead of later on.”
“It’s the sort of inventory you do when you retire and move into a smaller house or assisted living,” he said.
But Kluge will not be retiring anytime soon. “I think a lot of the gossip says that this is my sort of valedictory speech. It’s not,” he said.
The speech features a slideshow of Kluge’s rediscovered snapshots. “What always surprises you [are] the pictures of your younger self, he said. Who is that character? Do I know him? Is he still in me? I think he was kind of a nice guy, but maybe not everybody thought so,” Kluge said.
Kluge admitted that his photo archive is limited. “I’ve always been embarrassed by the way that the presence of a camera spoils an occasion [and] somehow subtracts from it,” he said.
On the whole, though, Kluge is a good archivist. He gestured at the wall of his office, which was plastered with clippings and photographs and said, “I have enough stuff.”
There are only a few objects that Kluge regrets not holding onto.
During Kluge’s senior year at Kenyon, he and Professor Emeritus of English Perry Lentz 64 were pallbearers at Professor Denham Sutcliffe’s funeral. Sutcliffe’s widow invited the two students to her home so that they could each pick out one of her husband’s books as a keepsake.
“I picked his copy of Huckleberry Finn, which has his notations all over it in handwriting that I could recognize to this day, a certain slanting handwriting,” Kluge said. When Kluge left for the Peace Corps, he stored his possessions with his father. Kluge remembered, “My father was a big thrower-outer and that book disappeared and I’ve always regretted it.”
Kluge says he feels essentially the same way about Kenyon as he did as a student under Sutcliffe.
“I still like the human connections here,” he said. “I still feel the same mix of love and loyal opposition to this place that I’ve always felt tough love. I felt it then when I was editor of the Collegian and I feel it now when I’m reduced to being its adviser. I think that will come out in the speech.”
If anything has changed it has been the perception of Kluge rather than Kluge himself. “The young iconoclast becomes the old grouch. That’s inevitable,” he said. “But I don’t think that the kid in me has changed that much.”
Kluge remembered the camaraderie of his college years, back when Kenyon was an all-male school of only 500 students.
“There was a sense that we were shipwrecked here,” he said.
“What are we going to do? Well, we made it work like you do when you’re shipwrecked on an island.”
Kluge will present “The World According to Kluge: Thoughts on Gambier and Other Islands” on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Gund Gallerys Community Foundation Theater.
[starbox id=”Sarah Lehr”]