I would never have dreamed, when they instituted them back in the early 70s, that I would become one," says Ted Blodgett, discussing his most recent honor: his appointment as "University Professor".
The prestigious, life-long appointment was conferred upon Blodgett this year by the University of Alberta in recognition of his contributions to the study of comparative literature and to scholarship at the U of A and in Canada.
Blodgett has been writing and teaching at the University since 1966, when he began instructing courses in English and Romance languages. He brought to Alberta knowledge of many languages and national literatures — as well as a PhD from Rutgers University and the experience of a year at the Universite d'AixMarseille in France.
Since coming to the U of A, Blodgett has taught everything from a long running introductory course in world literature to a class in feminist literary theory. A founder of the University's Department of Comparative Literature (which was recently merged with the Film Studies program and the Department of Religious Studies), he now specializes in courses on Canadian literature and medieval writings.
A prolific research scholar throughout the years, Blodgett has used his knowledge of languages to translate such works as the Carmina Burana, a vast collection of poetry dating back to the 13th century. In 1986 he collaborated on a volume derived from this collection. "We just carved out the largest section which is the love poetry," recounts Blodgett, who undertook the project with University of Wisconsin professor Roy Arthur Swanson.
Their translation is part of the same series in which Blodgett's most recent work will soon be published. That work is a translation of Flamenca, a medieval romance written in Old Provençal, a language which is an early relative of French. His interest in translating the romance arose out of its peculiarity to Provençal culture. It was also a lot of fun, he says. "It seems to have been written in such a way that it exposes all the fun of romances —it's not a very serious romance at all," says Blodgett.
Besides finishing the translation during his study leave this past year, he has also been keeping busy planning a book of studies which will examine the conditions appropriate to writing a history of the Canadian literatures. Over the years, Blodgett's research and scholarly writing has been recognized as being seminal in the development of comparative studies on the literatures of Canada. His work has resulted in books such as Configuration: Essays in the Cariadimi Literatures and Alice Munro and has earned him awards such as the President's Medal from the University of Western Ontario and election to fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada.
Even when Blodgett puts his scholarly writing aside, he is unable to put down his pen completely. The new University Professor has written several volumes of poetry and Robert Kroetsch, '48 BA, the renowned writer and Distinguished Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Manitoba, calls Blodgett's most recent verse collection a "principal text in the history of Canadian poetry." Entitled Da Capo: New and Selected, the collection contains Arché/Elegies, the verse series that won Blodgett the Writers' Guild of Alberta Award for Poetry in 1984.
It's been four years since Da Capo appeared on booksellers' shelves, and Blodgett promises that a newly completed book of verse will be out soon. In the meantime, he keeps his creativity sharpened through poetic dialogue with Universite de Montreal professor and writer Jacques Brault. In a Japanese form known as renga — a linked poem written by two or more people—the two send poems back and forth, each responding to the other's. Brault writes in French and Blodgett in English, and they've made the project even more convoluted by including translations of each other's poems. "It will be a continuous kind of interflowing poem," says Blodgett, adding that the end result will eventually be published.
Blodgett contends that for him, the process of writing involves cultivating an attentiveness to surprise, mystery, and miracle in the world. "Writing is much more passive than the word writer," he says. "I feel more like a written." For him, he says, the writing of poetry is best described as a flowering that "pushes all the words where they want to go until it's all over and you're hardly aware it happened."
Through the years, Blodgett has served the University and other professional organizations in administrative capacities. In addition to having served as the chair of the Department of Comparative Literature, he directs the Canadian division of the Research Institute for Comparative Literature/Institut de recherches en litterature comparee and is a past president of the Writers' Guild of Alberta. He has also been a member of the League of Canadian Poets.
Although Blodgett has been recognized for his many contributions to Canadian literature and its study, he says success can't be measured in awards, salaries, or promotion. "Success is achieving a certain kind of equilibrium," says the 1994 University Professor. And he hasn't lost sight of a pivotal aspect of professorship — being a teacher. Blodgett finds that "some of the most remarkable moments of insight come from discussions with students. I don't think one would learn things that are important to learn if one simply did research. I've always ben partial to research, but the heart of a university is the professor-student relationship. Things go from there."
Published Autumn 1994.