Campus Life

In memory of William Corbett

Editor's note: William Corbett, an award-winning poet and longtime teacher of writing at MIT, died August 10. 

Sometime in early September, 2010, I showed up early to my first day of poetry class, MIT’s 21W.756, in Building 1. The prior class was still seated within the small room, so I sat down on a bench in the hallway to wait. I don’t remember what I was doing, or how early I was, but a gentleman came and sat down next to me. Turns out he was William Corbett, Bill; he was my teacher and would become a dear friend.

Through some unspoken agreement, Bill and I continued showing up early to class every week to sit on that bench and talk. He told me stories about his wife, daughters, and grandchildren. I told him about my parents, boyfriend, and best friend. He spoke of James Schuyler, Seamus Heaney, Charles Olson, and I of my Mountaineers, love of autumn, and the thrill of MIT. He teased me about “Huggy bear,” the WVU basketball coach. We wrote poems and drank beer. He introduced me to his wife, Beverly, a fantastic human being, and brought Alex and I to a few dinner parties at their famed 9 Columbus Square brownstone.

He invited me to work with him on an art project in collaboration with BU’s MFA program. I was thrilled. Three years later, after two bombs tore apart people and parts of Boylston street, he invited me to help with something else: the creation of For One Boston boxes, an art collection to benefit the One Fund Boston. My poem is in a box along with pieces by Haruki Murakami, Vincent Katz, Don DeLillo, and Bill himself, just to name a few. I’m sure it’s more than my poem deserved, and I was honored nonetheless.

When Alex proposed to me, Bill stepped right up and offered to officiate our wedding. We said yes immediately. Having both Bill and Beverly there was, as Bill would say, tremendous. I believe we were the seventh couple he married. Or maybe the ninth. There are quite a few of us.

He and Bev hosted us in Vermont at Beverly’s family farm, and toured us around Pete’s Greens. Bill even came up to Milwaukee in May of 2017 from Chicago to visit and to meet our youngest daughter. He took me to Woodland Pattern, a jewel I would never have known of if not for him, and, of course, he bought me a book. It was barely weeks thereafter that he was diagnosed with cancer.

There are times in life when we meet someone and instantly know that person will play an integral role in what is to come. Bill was, and is, one of those people to me. From introducing me to famous poets through their work, to-be-famous artists from BU and elsewhere, to his family, and to his ideas, he taught me so much. I am tremendously and terribly sad that I won’t get the pleasure of speaking with him or of opening my mailbox to find his handwriting on a package or postcard any longer. I will think of him fondly and often. And to Beverly I would like to say thank you; thank you for welcoming us in without hesitation. I am incredibly sorry for your loss.

As Bill loved to end emails, “more to follow.” I’ll see you around, friend.

Sarah Whiteside Slocum graduated from MIT in 2011 with an S.B. in biology.