Farewell, Fran

With this issue of Perspectives we bid a fond adieu to our longtime Poetry Editor, Fran Fike. The name of Francis G. Fike first appeared on the editorial masthead in the April 1995 edition, which means that Fran has worked on over 100 issues of Perspectives even as he has seamlessly transitioned through several different configurations of our board. As such, Fran has been a source of continuity across the years, helping new editors find their way and welcoming new members to the wider board with his characteristic warmth and enthusiasm.

Those of us who have worked with Fran admire his breadth of learning and his vast recall of poetry and literature. At various points in our board retreats, Fran could be counted on to come up with just the right quote to fit a variety of occasions. At times the wisdom he drew from poems was strikingly apt and helped the board to work through a given question. At other times Fran came up with just the right word to get everyone rolling with laughter. At a recent board meeting in late-April, a number of us were lamenting the post-Easter snowflakes swirling outside the window. It took Fran only a moment to retrieve from memory a haiku that fit this unhappy eruption of snowfall in spring–a haiku that ended with the poet’s startled bewilderment at a sudden springtime swarm of “albino bees”!

Fran also did much to contribute to the conviviality of the Perspectives board meetings. For some years I volunteered to whip up what gustatory delights I could for our traditional Monday night soiree/dinner–gourmet feasts impossible to prepare without some volunteer sous chefs to lend a hand. On every occasion Fran was the first volunteer in the kitchen, donning an apron and grabbing a knife to dive into the prep work. Whether cleaning up a frenched rack of lamb, deveining some shrimp, or working with some other ingredient that Fran would frankly admit he had never before heard of, Fran was a source of great help and sparkling conversation.

But it was his stellar work as our Poetry Editor that is Fran’s enduring legacy. Readers of Perspectives know that every month the magazine contains two or three beautiful poems. On Fran’s editorial watch, only excellent verse made it onto our pages. However, what is invisible to our readership are the countless hours Fran spent selecting which poems to publish (and which tactfully to reject). Ever the teacher, however, Fran often did not merely reject an aspiring poet’s submission but took the time painstakingly to go through such poems in order to flag where the problems were and how the poem could be improved.

Many times this resulted in lengthy correspondences as poems were returned to the author with suggested changes, resubmitted to Fran, re-critiqued, returned again, and so on. Frequently, poets whose work ultimately appeared in Perspectives these past ten years succeeded in getting published only because Fran Fike took them in hand, nurtured what he discerned to be a budding talent, and so turned what had been substandard work into something we were proud to publish. Here and there Fran endured some angry diatribes from poets who saw nothing wrong with their work, but some who were the most upset with Fran initially later wrote back to express their enormous appreciation for Fran’s expert instruction. In short, Fran Fike did not merely edit and publish poems–he cultivated poets.

Fran will remain on the board for a year of transition as he helps to bring in our new Poetry Editor, Rhoda Janzen of the English Department at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Rhoda is an accomplished and published poet in her own right whose work has appeared in the pages of Perspectives and in many other journals and poetry anthologies. In 1999 she received the honor of first prize in the William Butler Yeats National Poetry Competition. Since Rhoda was Fran’s top pick for the job, we at Perspectives know she will continue our tradition of excellence in poetry, and we welcome her to our board.

To our colleague and friend Fran Fike, members of the editorial team past and present thank him for his outstanding work and for his wonderful presence in our midst these past years. In a society increasingly filled with altogether too many words and too much talk, Fran took care each month to remind us that through poetry–through the few words that are well chosen–our humanity is awakened and our spirits are quickened. This has been Fran’s gift to us all. Thank you, Fran!

Scott Hoezee is the director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and co-editor of Perspectives.