Kind Friends and Companions
Written by Jo Kroeker
I was early.
I walked to the stairs of the white-and-blue house right behind Simpson Dormitory just like she said, didn’t see people, walked back to a tree, regrouped, and decided to go out on a limb, not knowing that my night at 62 Park St. would catch me in a web of friendship that has defined my college experience.
More people filed in, plunking down on well-worn, sagging couches for a tradition I would later learn is called Poetry Friday.
I remember when Micah Meadowcroft, ’16, then a sophomore, stood and interpreted T.S. Eliot’s “The Naming of Cats” without stumbling, even during the tongue-twisting conclusion: “His ineffable effable/ Effanineffable / Deep and inscrutable singular Name.”
I didn’t know if it’d be okay for me to read. I was new, and I probably didn’t know the right poems. Eventually I settled on one that I had just learned and loved dearly for its gorgeous French sounds—“Le Pont Mirabeau” by Guillaume Apollinaire.
Timid, I asked if I could read a poem, but that the poem was in French so maybe I could just read a translation but the sounds are lovely in the original French?
In the deepest voice I ever heard, Wes Wright, ’15, then a senior, encouraged me to read the original, and everyone agreed. Carefully pronouncing the refrain, “Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure / Les jours s’en vont je demeure,” I felt honored to contribute to the magical calm that poetry brings and to be accepted by upperclassmen.
“There’s a reason freshmen are welcomed to these readings,” said Stacey Egger, ’18, who began attending Poetry Fridays her first semester on campus.
It’s because the freshmen will become the upperclassmen who continue the tradition, even now that The Donnybrook stands vacant and shows signs of decay.
Madeline Johnson, ’17, remembers her first reading at The Donnybrook even after graduating. When the off-campus house was condemned her senior year, she began hosting Poetry Fridays at Brooklyn, her quaint yellow house with a white porch and string lights. Every week she sent out an email that began, “Kind friends and companions,” an invitation to join her in the weekly rhyme and tradition she first experienced when Karl Hahn, ’15, revived it in the spring of his senior year.
The line references “Here’s A Health to the Company,” an Irish ballad that kickstarts the night of singing at 10 p.m.
“Kind friends and companions, come join me in rhyme
Come lift up your voices in chorus with mine
Come lift up your voices, all grief to refrain
For we may or might never all meet here again.”
Now the population of the school has been entirely replaced, and The Donnybrook stands vacant, but the traditions remain—treasured threads that weave together those who have graduated five, six, seven years before to freshmen they will likely never meet.
“Some traditions die and new ones replace them, but there’s an amazing kind of continuity when Poetry Friday springs up in some different house every year and the same old Irish songs keep erupting from circles of friends at parties late at night,” Stacey said. “Someone always remembers the next line. That kind of continuity unites the past, present, and future.”
While plans are now being made to move the reading to The Boondocks, a new off-campus house, these threads ensure continuity for Stacey beyond her own graduation date, when she, like the other seniors, will fill her own parting glass.
“So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls;
Then gently rise and softly call
‘Good night and joy be to you all.’”
JoAnna (but everyone calls her Jo) Kroeker exchanged flip flops and eternal sunshine in Fresno, California, for snow-boots and school at Hillsdale. A senior, she studies French and journalism. Former Opinions and current Features Editor of the Hillsdale Collegian, she gives thanks for the coffee and brown sugar Pop Tarts that make it possible. When she’s not writing, she’s tutoring other writers or thinking about writing while doing yoga, baking, or reading.