With the rerouting of campus diners to the Leaf Raker, foot traffic has increased for a new feature on campus: the poetry garden.The Fisher Terrace, dedicated in October 2021, and its poetry garden are located just outside the Leaf Raker. They feature six poems where the pavement meets the flowers, including work from Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Eavan Boland, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, Wendell Berry and Seamus Heaney.
When asked if he noticed the poetry, Xudong Sun, a senior majoring in computer science, immediately pointed out a favorite poem of his.
“The Summer Day,” by Mary Oliver, gave Sun “ideas for how to describe things that I don’t often think about.” Sun himself writes poetry often and appreciates how Oliver “described summer without mentioning temperature or heat, but instead animals and flowers.”
The Fisher Terrace is named after John and Pauline Fisher. John graduated from Goshen College in 1948 with a degree in English and later taught as an English professor from 1953-92.
In 1971, Fisher began leading a course in Ireland on poetry and peace, which is why some of the poems selected have an Irish background. Fisher’s connections helped bring Irish writers to GC’s campus, including Seamus Heaney, a Nobel Prize winner.
Susan Fisher Miller, daughter of John and Pauline and GC class of ‘80, worked with a committee to honor her parents’ love of poetry, “long service as teachers of English literature” and “the decades of Goshen College study terms they led in Ireland.”
Ultimately, Fisher Miller said, “we selected … a range of work from American and Irish authors, a number of the writers personal friends of our parents.”
Todd Yoder, vice president for institutional advancement, gave some background for the Fishers’ donation: “Susan and Margaret, their daughters, came to us with their parents’ estate plans, since GC received a certain amount.” All of the donation came unrestricted, meaning that the college could choose how best to spend it.
Their estate gift went to three areas of the college. An endowed Fisher scholarship is funded in perpetuity, and they also established a Maple Scholars opportunity in the humanities — but, as Yoder said, “they wanted something physical, too.”
Yoder talked about how the name of “terrace,” rather than “patio,” was intentional. “The goal is to provide a space to gather — a bistro-ish feel for conversations, music events, classes or meetings.”
The patio outside the Leaf Raker was already built, and some ideas floated around for how to fill it. None really stuck, until President Rebecca Stoltzfus “came up with an idea for poetry — Irish poetry — to tie in the Fishers’ legacy of connecting poets to GC,” Yoder said. “Becky is a huge fan of poetry and its ability to calm and stimulate.”
Fisher Miller also talked of President Stoltzfus’ “enthusiastic support for a central campus poetry installation.”
President Stoltzfus said she is “extremely fond of the poetry installation on Fisher Terrace, because it reminds me of the Fisher family and it also cheers me up when I need a break from my office.”
Her favorite poem is by Julia Spicher Kasdorf “because she was a classmate of mine at Goshen and the president she describes [in the poem] was J. Lawrence Burkholder, also the GC president of my time.” Stoltzfus hopes “the poetry helps students slow down for a moment, enough to read one poem at a time.”
Fisher Miller loves all six poems, but said that her favorite is “Postscript” by Seamus Heaney. “If you read the poems starting on the north side,” Fisher Miller said, and move southward, “you follow a progression from an invitation into the work through exploration of the natural world and vexing questions about being human. ‘Postscript’ brings all these ideas into a closing poem that ends by affirming wonder.”
Fisher Miller hopes that the poems, “installed in a place for sharing food and fellowship,” will have different meanings for different people, “and something new in subsequent encounters, as students revisit the Terrace.”
Sun appreciated the “bees and butterflies” that flew with him as he read the poetry, and said, “anytime I find art on campus, it’s enjoyable.”
With reporting by Zachary Shields