Professor George Guida
» Spring 2013
Professor George Guida, Department of English, delivered the 2013 Scholar on Campus Lecture, “Creativity, Language and Life,” and read from his poetry on April 22. Dr. Guida was selected as this year’s Scholar on Campus by New York City College of Technology’s Professional Development Advisory Council. Each year, the designation Scholar on Campus is awarded a member of the faculty who has demonstrated extraordinary scholarship or creative work that has had an important impact at the College and in the larger community.
“Professor Guida truly exemplifies the ideals of the Scholar on Campus award,” said Pamela Brown, the College’s Associate Provost. “In addition to his impressive publication record, he serves the community through readings across the region and as co-founder of the College Poetry Slam at the Bowery Poetry Club, a competition where poets can read or recite their work.”
A creative writer since age 12, Dr. Guida has taught literature and writing to CUNY students for nearly 25 years. In 1998, he joined City Tech as a full-time faculty member, and now teaches poetry, creative writing and composition; he soon will teach a course on the literature of immigration. Additionally, he is Poetry Editor of the literary magazine 2 Bridges Review, the third issue of which will be published this year.
Dr. Guida, who received his undergraduate degree at Columbia University, interned at The Paris Review and The Hudson Review, two of America’s leading literary magazines, and earned his doctoral degree from The CUNY Graduate Center.
Early in his Scholar on Campus lecture, Dr. Guida noted that he was teaching Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in his spring 2013 Composition I course, adding that the best that could be said of its anti-hero, Victor Frankenstein, was that he meant well.
“Victor’s big problem,” Dr. Guida observed, “is the problem with human beings: We can’t help being creative. We’ve engineered transit systems, invented the microchip, and used stem cells to treat chronic illness. Unfortunately, we’ve also devised ways to burn fossil fuels, discovered nuclear fission, and genetically modified foods that ought not be modified. Maybe Mary Shelley and the Romantic poets were right: We would have been better off taking long walks along sandy beaches and mountain trails, spending our time and mental energy simply marveling at nature’s bounty, not trying to do too much with it. But we just aren’t wired that way. Create we must, and create we do.”
Dr. Guida went on to say that the sword of creativity has two very sharp edges that cut in entirely different ways: “Creativity can attract the company of beautiful minds whose transcendent thoughts and wit make every night on the town an adventure; or it can lead to disastrous relationships with dangerously unstable companions whose whims leave us emotionally disabled for the rest of our lives.”
“The highest beauty and truth of creativity do not reside in its results,” he added, “but in the creative impulse itself. The poet Wallace Stevens claimed that ‘The imagination is the freedom of the mind.’ By this he meant that human beings have the power to imagine possibility beyond reality, to see their resemblances in the projection of their imaginations, and to take pleasure in the projection of imagination. This active projection of imagination is creativity, whether we project in mathematical calculations, in chemical formulae, or in written and spoken language, the métier of writers.”
According to Dr. Guida, most writers will tell you that one of their greatest joys is the process of putting words together on the page or speaking them into the air, to create something that did not exist in the world before. “Those moments are magical, when, one by one, the writer finds the words to complete a sentence that fully fleshes out a character or presents an image that crystallizes an emotion or an idea distilled from the writer's own experience or imagination of an experience. It is moments like these that make us human and that make our human lives worth the trouble of existence.
“I have rarely been happier,” he confessed, “than when I’ve been able to punch through the cardboard wall of my reality to assemble and set down a sentence that enhances or even transcends that reality. A good sentence, or even a good phrase, can accomplish this feat in a number of ways. By using the virtues of language – imagery, music, connotation – to place an object of beauty in the world.
“Sentences can also more modestly enhance reality by pointing out its mutability, its artificial nature, the flimsiness of the prisons we human beings too often build for ourselves, even when these prisons consist of language; and in the process, sentences may also call attention to our visceral need for beauty and truth that too often are buried beneath accreted monuments to the ease of abandoning creativity, our greatest gift.”
Dr. Guida concluded the evening by sharing several of his poems with the audience, including one he wrote ten years after writing his first poem about 9/11. The following is a poem that reflects on experiences with some of his students and that brought him to terms with the distance of the 9/11 experience.
I Won’t Ask You to Remember Them
When you're old enough, class, you'll see
this city the way detectives do.
For now understand that you’re half-blind
as the father of three running through smoke, his flesh
seared to bone, running for the staircase to nowhere.
The authorities believe in walking tours, and I could guide you
through the Battery, through the day's air charged
with screams of civil servants watching brides-to-be
choose between fire and earth as ways to die.
But I would rather you read Hart Crane.
At least you'll get glimpses of prophecy there.
Or would you rather I point to a spot in the sky
and say, That's where we watched the clouds of white dust fall
on our friends, who from then on felt the heat that buckled steel
burn away their breath, leaving them piles of ash.
But when so many others need you, why should you remember them?
Your tragedies, those bullets claiming cousins on corners,
call you as fallen towers’ memories call old men,
whose children, like yours, will never comprehend escape
from the blast, the fall, the fear that the dead will fail to speak.