Friday, May 3, 2019

Remembering: Poet's Garden honors legacy of a fine teacher

Flanked by Andy Schoneberg's bronze of Bruce Kemp Meyers, his widow Christene "Cookie" Meyers
welcomes an overflow crowd to the first of 10 "Bruce Bash" festivals honoring the late professor, in May of 1993.
Famed poet Allen Ginsberg christened the Bruce Meyers
Poets'  Garden in May of 1993, singing, accompanying
himself  on several instruments, appearing at Writer's Voice.



ON A BALMY spring day in May of 1993, poet Allen Ginsberg helped celebrate the life and legacy of Bruce Kemp Meyers.
The famous beat poet paid homage to the popular actor and teacher who once took a workshop from him and taught his poetry for a quarter-century.  It was a day I'll never forget, full of talent, emotion and love.
When my husband, Bruce Meyers, died suddenly of an aneurysm in February of 1992, I vowed to honor his life and contributions to culture and education in some unusual way.
WE WERE in Las Vegas on President's Day weekend, about to interview and photograph Frank Sinatra when he developed chest pains.  He died in Las Vegas at Desert Springs
Hollywood special effects master Andy
Schoneberg and Christene Meyers
at the dedication. Schoneberg did
the bronze of Bruce Meyers. The three
 acted in several theatrical productions.
Hospital on Flamingo Road, not far from where we were staying at our favorite Sands Hotel (imploded to make way for the Venetian.)
As therapy, for 15 months after Bruce's death, I designed the Bruce Meyers Poets' Garden on the campus of Montana State University-Billings.  Bruce taught creative writing and English there for 25 years, after receiving his MFA at Kent State University and "going West, young man."
Architect Ted Wirth, left, and then college president
Bruce Carpenter confer as the Poets' Garden took shape.
WE MET IN 1967, the same year he began his teaching career, at a dinner party hosted by his colleague and my friend Sue Hart, now also sadly gone.  Sue knew we were both musical and enjoyed acting and theater. She hoped we might hit it off.  She was right.  Our 25 years together included global travel and hundreds of plays. Together we acted and performed in more than Billings 50 productions, from "Cabaret" to "Our Town," "Man of La Mancha," "Play It Again, Sam" "Promises, Promises," "I Do! I Do!," "Annie," "The Pirates of Penzance" and many others at Billings Studio Theatre, der Schwartzwald Dinner Theatre and the old Fox, now the Alberta Bair Theater.
Our endeavors helped raise the $6 million to save that building.
Poet Allen Ginsberg with, from left, sisters Christene Meyers,
Robbie Cosgriffe Townsley and Misha Kelly Minesinger.
My musical family and our large circle of theater and arts-loving friends adored Bruce, so I had no trouble assembling a stellar cast 15 months after Bruce's death to christen the garden.  I designed it with the help of celebrated architect Ted Wirth, in consultation with Bruce Carpenter, president of the college and a member of the faculty poker club which met monthly, sometimes at our home.
THE GARDEN took shape, with Ted's creative design incorporating both formal and natural elements -- benches, river rocks, aspen trees, the aspen trees my late husband loved.  I wanted open areas and places for students and faculty to stroll, sit and ponder.  A grassy area would welcome professors and their classes to create art and writing, as Bruce had done with his students in that very spot for many years.

The Cosgriffe clan assembled at Corby Skinner's home
during a reception for poet Allen Ginsberg, who extended
his Billings Writer's Voice stay to be part of the dedication.

I wanted poetry, Bruce's passion when he wasn't acting or teaching. Ted loved my idea of  incorporating engravings of several of the poems on marble and granite.  Sculptor Lyndon Pomeroy would create a metal sculpture of our beloved airedale, Gandalf. Finally, I wanted a bust of Bruce.  I called our mutual friend, now noted Hollywood special effects wizard Andy Schoneberg to do the bronze.
"It was an important way for me to say farewell to Bruce," Schoneberg recalls, explaining how the lifecast he'd made for Bruce was critical to his crafting of the bronze. Schoneberg's lifecast was used by Bruce for 17 performances of the Der Schwartzwald production of "Annie."  Bruce played the role of Daddy Warbucks and Schoneberg made a
Corby Skinner and Christene Meyers finalize the introduction
of poet Allen Ginsberg at the dedication of the Bruce Meyers
Poets' Garden on the MSU-Billings campus, May, 1993.

lifecast to use in crafting a durable latex baldcap for Bruce’s character. "I used that cast later to take key measurements to sculpt the MSU-B bust," Schoneberg said in an interview. He is proud that the bust is on the Smithsonian Institution's Art Inventory.
The Bruce Meyers Poets' Garden
 photographed before flower planting
this April. Geraniums petunias will follow. 
--photo courtesy MSU-B Foundation 

AS THE DEDICATION approached, family and friends made plans to fly in from all over the U.S. A wonderful ensemble of actors, poets, playwrights, singers, dancers and instrumentalists performed for a two-day fete, highlighted by Ginsberg's readings and musical presentations. Writer's Voice Billings liason Corby Skinner recalls, "He wanted to spend a couple days in Montana. We took him to a ranch, and had a wonderful reception at the Castle.  When he heard about the Bruce Meyers garden dedication, he immediately wanted to be part of it."

On the "Godfather" trail in Savoca, Italy, are Cookie and Keller, aka Christene Meyers
and Bruce Keller.  The town is still relatively quiet, but now relies on tourism 
as well as farming for its income.  It also honors Coppola in a dramatic sculpture.
UP NEXT:  Join us on the trail of "The Godfather," in Savoca, Italy, where  the Sicilian towns of Savoca and Forza d'Agro outside of Taormina were used for many of the scenes in Francis Ford Coppola's award winning film. Coppola is remembered fondly by the locals of this still quiet village, which stood in for Corleone, now much too developed to pass for the quiet little "Godfather" town depicted in the film. We'll visit Bar Vitelli and the church Michael was married in. Remember meanwhile to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, the arts, family, health and nature.


  1. Massachusetts VisitorMay 3, 2019 at 6:42 PM

    Wonderful memories, wonderful man. Wow, to recall Ginsberg there. Gives me shivers again!

  2. Boston poetry loversMay 5, 2019 at 10:39 AM

    Amazing. Wow.

  3. Bozeman Followers, Bruce StudentsMay 5, 2019 at 11:06 AM

    We remember...I clipped your wonderful Gazette interview and the subsequent NY Times piece.Lucky Billings!

  4. Musical Theater DevoteesMay 5, 2019 at 11:32 AM

    We both took his excellent classes and I was one of the orphans in your "Annie." He came into our dressing room every night, kissed our heads and said, "Break a leg, kiddos."��

  5. Always a delight to read the "back stories." This one is fascinating. Thank you. He was my advisor, so smart and witty.

  6. Pennsylvania PianistsMay 8, 2019 at 12:06 PM

    You two honor his memory in your life, travelels and love.