Thursday, January 19, 2012

Remembering Bro. Kyrin [Ed Powers] CFX

My most inspiring St. John's Prep. (Danvers, MA) lit. teacher was Bro. Kyrin [Ed Powers] CFX who began the 1st-day of Senior English (early SEP.'58) with the command: "Activate the Illumination!" directing the student sitting nearest the light-switch to snap it on.

Sometime that year, he suddenly wrote on the blackboard: "With a Ki-yi-yi... the Emperor of Ice-cream..." (from the eponymous poem by Wallace Stevens), revealing us to a fancifully surreal poetry we'd never imagined: suddenly I saw that poetry could be anything, anything, poetry & was instantly baptised into 20th-century modernism..

So I eagerly went in to Harvard Sq. (by MBTA) & bought him both a paperback & a hardbound copy of William Empson's 7 Types of Ambiguity (Noonday Meridian, 1955) that he had praised, & handed them both to him, much to his surprise. (I have a green-covered 1955 ppbk copy of it sitting on the shelf before me as I type this.)

After I graduated St. John's (JUN '59), Kyrin & I corresponded; the next year, I, as a Boston College freshman, I once advanced the idea that one could derive a theory of drama from Heidegger, theory of poetry from Husserl (who I was reading then.) Kyrin grandly 'tushed' me off.

After he became the principal of Xaverian Prep. (Brooklyn NY), he invited me to go to with him to the White Horse Tavern, Dylan Thomas' 'local' (pub) while he was in NYC, but I was never able to take Kyrin up on it - because I couldn't afford to travel down to NYC from way up in Lynn MA where I lived with my parents (until 1963.)

Kyrin & I lost touch after I graduated Boston College (Summer '63) because my life was in turmoil, partly because of the draft (which I beat by claiming to be gay, a story in itself.) I wrote him many years later that I was grateful that my son Alex was actually gay & so couldn't be drafted. Response: silence; Kyrin was probably closeted, but occasionally burst brightly into flames (see pars.1-2, above.). I owe him my sincerest thanks for his poetic influence. (I've just found out by calling Xaverian Prep that he died in 1982.)


Ann said...

Having read this, your writing style now makes perfect sense!

Bill Costley said...

It does?

KellyO said...


I found this not eh web... Bill McDonald's reflections:

Kyrin was my friend, too. I miss him!

Best, Kelly
Ok, now maybe you can see why I didn’t get an ‘A’ in Brother Kyrin’s English class? He always stressed that in our writing we should be very colorful and descriptive but never get verbose or use neologisms.
It is precisely because of my Baroque writing style that I put a caveat in the dedication to Brother Kyrin that I added to one of my publications just before he died. I wrote as follows: “This work is dedicated to Ed Powers, a high school English teacher . . . whose genius should not be judged by the work of his students.”
Brother Kyrin is the only connection to St. John’s that I kept up. We exchanged Christmas cards for many years. Then in 1994 my daughter got a job in New York City. That year I put a note in my Christmas card to Kyrin. I told him my daughter was living in New York and that we would now be able to see him during one of our visits.
By then Brother Kyrin was no longer Brother Kyrin. He had been the Headmaster of the Xaverian high school in Brooklyn. But by that time, he had left the Xaverian order and was working for the City of New York in some educational position. He was using his family name, Ed Powers.
The next year flew by and in my Christmas card to Ed I made excuses for not getting around to seeing him, saying we had been busy but that we hoped to see him during the year ahead. But the following year also flew by without seeing him. When Ed’s Christmas card arrived that year it contained one word, “When?”
Well, that did it for me. So, finally we got together with him at a nondescript Italian restaurant in lower Manhattan. Not surprisingly, my wife, Irene, my daughter, Lisa, and my soon-to-be son-in-law, Bob, all fell in love with Ed immediately. He regaled us with a dozen funny stories about things that had happened to him.
The one I liked the most was about the time he was invited to a dinner in honor of Joe Di Maggio. He got to the hotel ballroom early and sat at one of the empty tables which were all unassigned. A few minutes later George Steinbrenner and Henry Kissinger walked up and asked Ed if they could sit at his table. Of course he welcomed them with his usual Irish wit.
A few minutes later news reporters were buzzing around. They thought Ed was Joe Di Maggio’s brother. He told them he wasn’t. But they didn’t believe him. They begged him to step to the mike and make a statement. So he did. He got up, composed himself, cleared his throat, looked squarely into the cameras, and said, “I am not Joe Di Maggio’s brother.”
We invited Ed to my daughter’s wedding in Italy. He was sick with cancer by that time and we knew he couldn’t make it. But it was the thought that counted. He gave Lisa and Bob an unusual wedding present that – in my mind – perfectly captured the amalgam of high-brow and low-brow that the New York, Irish Catholic, former Xaverian Headmaster was, a set of crystal beer glasses!
I am so fond of my memories of Ed Powers and appreciative of what I learned from him and the other Brothers that, ever since reconnecting with him, I have I followed a practice in my classes at Georgetown. In each class meeting I call on one or two students. I ask where they are from and if they would like to recognize one of the teachers whom they had prior to coming to the University.
Many of them have had a Brother Kyrin, a teacher they are happy to remember and tell us about. Last semester one of the students emailed me over the Christmas holidays to say that she had gone back to her high school and told her teacher that she had acknowledged her to the class at Georgetown. Her teacher was surprised and delighted. You could say that Brother Kyrin had touched that teacher’s life.
When we graduated from the Prep, Jack Kennedy was president. We were thrilled that a Catholic had been elected President of the United States for the first time.

Ken Fitzpatrick said...

He died in 2001- not 1982. What kind of research did you do??

Unknown said...

He left xhs in Brooklyn in 1982.

And not only was he closeted, he was a pedophile. Rumors were always flying around about it, but in 2013 a letter arrived at my home, and an article appeared in the new york post about it.

Nobody. said...

He left xhs in Brooklyn in 1982.

And not only was he closeted, he was a pedophile. Rumors were always flying around about it, but in 2013 a letter arrived at my home, and an article appeared in the new york post about it.