Welcome to the Malcolm M. Sedam Poetry Memorial
~Dedicated to the memory and poetry of Malcolm M. Sedam~
- Life Sketch of Malcolm M. Sedam
- Tribute to Mr. Malcolm M. Sedam
- Miami Memorial Tribute to Malcolm Marcene Sedam
- Mr. Sedam’s Poem to a Girl He Called “The Hill Maiden”
- Poetry Collections: Between Wars, The Man in Motion, The Eye of the Beholder
Life Sketch of Malcolm M. Sedam
The life of the late poet, Malcolm M. Sedam, exemplifies the Socratic command implied in the oft-quoted, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Malcolm M. Sedam served in World War II as a fighter pilot, flying bombing missions in the Pacific theatre. Then he settled down to a life in business and started a family. His war experience served to enervate him, and he began to question the efficacy of devoting his life solely to making money.
Mr. Sedam asked himself, “How many suits can a man wear in one day?” So he decided he had to make his life about more than business and money. He returned to school, and, as William Stafford would say, he revised his life.
Mr. Sedam traded in his life as a successful businessman to become a teacher to make his life more meaningful. He taught American history, English, and creative writing at Centerville Senior High School in Centerville, Indiana, from 1962-1964.
After receiving his M. A. degree from Ball State University, he taught at an extension of Miami University at Middletown, Ohio, until his death in 1976. Miami-Middletown offers a Malcolm M. Sedam English scholarship and awards in creative writing named for the beloved professor, the Malcolm M. Sedam Awards.
But Malcolm Sedam, called Mac by his friends, did not only serve as a teacher; he also wrote poetry and plays. He published three collections of poems: Between Wars, The Man in Motion, and The Eye of the Beholder. His play The Twentieth Mission has been performed at Playhouse in the Park, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and on many college campuses.
“It happened to me”
Mr. Sedam’s second collection of poems, The Man in Motion, brings together an eclectic assemblage from the personal “Nostalgia” to the political “For Reasons Unknown.” The book was published in 1971 by a small now-defunct Chronicle Press in Franklin, Ohio, but it is a smart, handsome publication, and the poems offer a delightful journey into the life of the man who flew fighter planes in World War II and then later became a teacher and poet.
In the preface, Mr. Sedam claims his poetic experience by stating, “Let me speak for my own poetry that it happened to me that I lived, enjoyed or suffered every scene and that these poems are the essence of these experiences.” He was a passionate man, who demanded from himself that he live every moment to the height of its possibility.
Continuing his introduction, Mr. Sedam declares, “Hopefully, for art’s sake, the poems will give pleasure and satisfaction both to the critic and the average reader, but in a test of belief, I seek that man, any man (critic or average reader) who values flesh and blood feelings above clever word manipulation.” He strove always for the authentic, the genuine, to the best of his ability.
Tribute to Mr. Malcolm M. Sedam
Entering my junior year at Centerville Senior High School in the fall of 1962, I was privileged to study with a teacher, Mr. Malcolm M. Sedam, who employed collegiate pedagogical methods. His teaching style fostered critical thinking in addition to learning the facts about the subject.
The subject was American history. Mr. Sedam had served as a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater in World War II. He attributed his worldview that urged him live each moment to the fullest to his war experience; he wanted to pass that urgency on to students. Thus, he felt that critical thinking was the most important practice that high school students needed.
Conducting the required junior year course in American history as a college course, Mr. Sedam discussed each issue in detail with background information, including additional facts not dealt with in the textbook. He connected the dots, so to speak, and encouraged us to ask questions. He also allowed us to respond and make connections during class discussion. He required outside reading as well, with oral and written reports.
Testing consisted of two parts: short identification of five to seven terms and three essay topics; we were required to write on two of the three. This method required us to organize material and make connections to demonstrate that we understood what happened, how, and why—not merely when.
This method also forced us write complete sentences, instead of just selecting answers from a multiple-choice test or merely fill in blanks, as most high school tests were fashioned. This methodology gave us practice in expository writing that usually had to wait until college.
During that same school year, Mr. Sedam often ended a class session by reading his poetry to our class, and a number of students expressed interest in a creative writing class. Mr. Sedam was able to offer that creative writing class the next year, so as a senior, I again sat for a class with Mr. Sedam.
My specialty was poetry; I had dabbled in poetry writing since my grade-school days at Abington Township Elementary School. I had not really thought of what I wrote as poetry, but having a rôle model in Mr. Sedam awakened in me the aspiration to write real poetry. Mr. Sedam encouraged us to write in the genre that most interested; thus, I began my study of poetry, and I have continued studying it, writing it, and writing about it ever since those high school days.
I had the privilege of studying with Mr. Sedam for two years in high school from 1962-1964. Mr. Sedam later became professor of English at Miami University at Middletown, OH. The following is a tribute to Professor Sedam from one of his Miami students; it appears on the Miami page titled 10 Reasons We Love Miami:
Professor Malcolm Sedam was an English professor at Miami Middletown. He taught the art of writing from the viewpoint of a life fully lived, and believed true written communication came from the soul rather than from the end of a pen. Whether he was at the head of the classroom or sharing a table in the student break area, Professor Sedam entertained us with his stories of flying P-51 Mustangs in the Pacific during World War II, his childhood experiences growing up in Indiana, and other adventures. My two years in his classroom became a place to express passionate perspectives – a skill that carried me through college, career, and life. – John Atkins ’79, Stafford, Va.
During my college years 1964 to 1967, I lost contact with my former high school teacher, who during those years was finishing his masters degree at Ball State University. I attended one year at Ball State and then transferred to Miami University, in Oxford OH, from which I graduated in April 1967. Miami at Oxford was about thirty miles closer to my home than Ball State, and I was able to live at home and commute to school.
I was later pleasantly surprised to learn that Mr. Sedam had become Professor Sedam and was gracing Miami students at the extension in Middletown OH with his knowledge and spirit.
Despite the distance of years and miles that separated us following my graduation from high school and into life, his gentle guidance remained with me inspiring my studies; thus I can agree whole-heartedly with fellow Miamian, John Atkins, and it is with great appreciation for Mr. Sedam’s example and encouragement of my writing that I offer this memorial to my former American history and creative writing teacher.
Miami Memorial Tribute to Malcolm Marcene Sedam
To read a wonderful memorial tribute by the Miami Memorial Committee, please visit A Memorial to Malcolm Marcene Sedam
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Mr. Sedam’s Poem to a Girl He Called “The Hill Maiden”
When Mr. Sedam told me that he had written a poem for me, I was thrilled and excitedly curious. . . . As he introduced the poem to me, he said that he struggled with the title. His first inclination was that it might sound as if he were calling me a “Hillbilly.” I thought that was funny, because I was, in fact, a Hillbilly— . . .
THE HILL MAIDEN
(for Linda, over in the valley)
She is moving among the phantom rocks of reverie
Hurtling through by mind bringing days into darkness
Where the pull of growth rings the heart and spurs the soul
Where her wish strings questions in the mysterious night
Of snow bringing a promise that only the hills can sing.
Her smile waits behind a frown of swords that rend her days
In the melancholy of the deep valley of dreams where she lives
Among flowers gathering her moods that may bring peace
Once the sorrow of lonely distance has closed on hands—
The same hands that Zen-like reach to answer each knock
At the door of her heart, broken to be mended by tender time.
Her mind is speeding through a galaxy of intensity where the blood rose
Will speak to her frozen will, all forgiven by decree in warring winds—
The nature of her plight? Without wings, she will still spring into flight.
When Mr. Sedam told me that he had written a poem for me, I was thrilled and excitedly curious. I was only seventeen so my ability to understand any poem was very limited. My favorite poem at that stage of my literary education was Walter de la Mare’s “Silver,” a very accessible but delightful poem. So when Mr. Sedam finally handed me the poem, I remained baffled for many years as to its meaning. I admit that I could not see myself in that poem at all. I didn’t want to ask the pertinent question, “What does it mean?,” only to reveal my ignorance to my well-respected teacher. I knew that he thought I was smart, and asking such a question might reveal me to be otherwise.
As he introduced the poem to me, he had said only that he struggled with the title. His first inclination was that it might sound as if he were calling me a “Hillbilly.” I thought that was funny, because I was, in fact, a Hillbilly—my parents and other relatives were from Kentucky and had moved up to Indiana for their jobs. I was born in Indiana, but we lived out in the country in one of the few areas of Indiana that does have hills. I lived on a hill, walked the hills around my home. Our 33-acre farm is parceled out on three levels.
That my teacher would know enough about me to want to avoid calling me a Hillbilly was interesting. I discovered that teachers know more about their students than those students realize. I thought back to my first grade teacher, Mrs. Amy Helms, mentioning to me one day that I lived over in the valley. I had not been aware that my home was in a valley until she said that. And then Mr. Sedam, a decade later, was also aware that I lived over in the valley, and he added the delicious fact that I lived among the hills.
Through the years, I continued to revisit this title, trying to decipher its meaning, still trying to find myself in it. It was after having lived several decades, completed a PhD in literature and rhetoric, reading and studying thousands of other poems, and studying the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda that I can now boast that I understand the poem, “The Hill Maiden.”
I confess to being a rather Gloomy Gus in high school, and Mr. Sedam fought to overcome in me my doom and gloom. I was always bringing to him philosophical notions that smacked of nihilism, and he would smack each one down with his pure optimistic counterarguments. At the time, it infuriated me, but as I grew in knowledge and that maturity began to “ring the heart and spur the soul,” I could see that Mr. Sedam had been right about everything he said about beauty and order in the world.
I’m sure he must have thought he failed in his endeavor to steer me in the right direction, and one of my particular sadnesses in life is that he died before I could show him otherwise. I gave him a ball point pin for Christmas during my junior year of high school—four months after meeting him for the first time in his American history class; he seemed to like it, called it a handsome pen. He gave me a lifetime of special thoughts and poetry as a place to keep them. And as I cherish the poem he penned especially for me, I realize that important as words are, it is the mystic presence within them that carries the true meaning. Mr. Sedam is responsible for shining a light on the path that led me to that realization.
Linda Sue Grimes, Ph.D.
Ball State University – Class of 1987
Hill Maiden Name: Linda Sue Richardson
Centerville Senior High School (IN) – Class of 1964
For further personal commentary on this poem, please visit “Malcolm M. Sedam’s ‘The Hill Maiden’.”