Professor Lewis Warsh was magic.
What I remember best was his way of being startled by ideas. It was as if conversation was a sea of concepts which would swim away if he did not react fast enough. In class we would sit in the round, dialogue bubbling, voices overlapping when Lewis would swing about suddenly, shoulder swinging to one side, hands searching the air to the other as if to grab hold of an idea, and the room would quiet. His eyes would narrow in the momentary silence, his head tilt, and he would ask “why do you say that?”
Some students initially got defensive by Lewis’ abrupt inquiry style, but by the gleam in his eye and the way his body would relax into a sort of slanted thinker pose, we learned not scrutiny but curiosity guided his questions.
I was obsessed with the way he moved his hands—like he was wearing long lacy cuffs—or like one of the flaneur poets he so idolized. When he gestured his hands would tilt up at the wrists, feeling the air as he spoke. He used them like a conductor, gently orchestrating thoughts, as waves lift sand. As he reached his top notes he would direct his voice with his fingers waggling horizontally overhead. It was beautiful, and clumsy, and him. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone carry ideas in their bodies so freely.
He often talked about the Flaneur poets meandering through life without an objective but to be just where they were when they were there. Finding meaning in serendipity. Lewis snuck seemingly incongruous questions into such discussions, “what happens if you move a pail of sand from one side of the beach to the other? What is the point?”
Knowing the beautiful divergent consciousness that was Lewis Warsh made me more free[made me freer?]. He taught us discovery happens when you wander. With Lewis we learned like we live: coming in and out of focus, veering off course, and hopefully having the courage to keep exploring.
JULIANN LAVALLEE’S plays Damned, DisCards: A Shakespearean Reshuffle, and The Culture of Now, debuted at Dixon Place. Discards enjoyed a second run at Manhattan Repertory. The Culture of Now went on to The Acorn. Currently they develop Under Woodside, Pictures of the Dead and Nyad’s Dream.