A dear friend and colleague from my days as President of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, Tony Tremblay, sent me a piece he had written for the Fall 2020 issue of the Journal of New Brunswick Studies. In this short piece/reflection he spoke of the singular and inspiring influence of the literary enabler, muse, and advocate Joe Blades, who, Tony persuasively argues, had few equals in Atlantic Canada.
Tony, an English professor, former Canada Research Chair, and an authority on New Brunswick literature and culture, was deeply struck by the humanity and vision of Blades and in his tribute alighted on some items germane for our Covid time. Tony writes:
We must remember—and must work to reinstate—what Joe knew and practiced: that our students and colleagues live and thrive and belong in ”community” as most people would define it; that mentorship and close personal contact are essential not just to what educators do but especially to the development of the young people who are our charges; that, for all the promises of faster bandwidth and better Zoom, technology is no substitute (not even close) for showing up on a stifling summer night to hear nervous young poets read their first poems. When we come together in groups, we learn how to listen, how to speak, and what the common ground is that connects us. I’ve seen it happen countless times in my thirty-years in the classroom.
Endless if earnest discussions of spotty wi-fi and more responsive networking platforms are mere distractions.
It is the human connection that allows us to flourish. Joe Blades, for Tony Tremblay, was “an embodied presence.” It is not the spectral, the electronically mediated, the simulacrum that we need. It is the enfleshed.
We long for its return.