A few of you knew him, and some of you may remember that I’ve written about him before. His was a life of great unhappiness and unfulfilled potential, his brilliance dulled by mental illness nearly his whole life.
Roger was born and raised in the Bronx, and spent his life as a New Yorker. He was one of the smartest kids in the neighborhood, reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover while in elementary school. As an adolescent, he was sufficiently gifted at entomology, and accomplished as a butterfly collector, to work (nowadays, he’d have been called an unpaid intern, I suppose; wouldn’t have mattered to him that he wasn’t paid) for the Head of Entomology at the American Museum of Natural History. One of the senior staff gave him what we’d now call a shout-out in what became a landmark book. He went to Cornell at 16, intending to study entomology, but gradually English took over. In his sophomore year, he won the university’s poetry prize, beating out, if I recall correctly, Thomas Pynchon and Richard Farina. By the time he graduated, he had mastered several languages, including Greek, which he had studied for only a year. By the time he died, he had along the way been able to converse and read in more than twenty languages, though in the end English and Yiddish were his favorites. He went to the University of Virginia, where he won the American Academy of Poets prize for producing the best poem among young poets in the country. By the time he finished his PhD, at 25, he was regarded as the leading scholar, for his age, of Anglo-Saxon poetry and oral-formula composition. Unfortunately, Virginia is where he was first hospitalized, though he was clearly psychiatrically impaired before then. Thus began a lifetime in and out of hospitals, in and out of functioning. My own view is that he was initially misdiagnosed and for many years was treated incompetently by a string of professionals; this was, however, in a relatively primitive time in our knowledge and treatment of serious mental illness Brutally, there was a moment when he had a chance at an upward trajectory in life–he interviewed, and was about to be offered a job at, the University of Michigan when his Department Chair at Virginia, with whom Roger had very little to do, called the people at Michigan and warned them off because of his difficulties. We suspect he was an anti-Semite besides. After that, he had trouble getting a job. He was hired at Nassau County Community College, because they needed PhDs in order to gain accreditation; once they got it, they started the process of forcibly retiring him on disability. It was only downhill from there. He did, however, continue to write poetry and picked up a few more MA degrees. He never married. For the last 25 years he was living in a distantly-supervised apartment in Astoria, with another State Hospital refugee, who has been a devoted friend for whom I am forever grateful. For the last 35 years, I have been solely responsible for his well-being and his care, as well as his finances. It has been a burden which I rarely wore lightly, but which I carried nonetheless.
At the end, my brother spent several days at the Jamaica Hospital Hospice, in Queens. I have only the highest praise for the facility, the staff, and the care he received. It’s my first experience as a hospice client, and it was everything I could have wished for, and more.
If you are interested in some of his poetry, you can find it at RogerFogelman.com and at the online poetry site Innisfree Poetry Journal http://www.authorme.com/innisfree.htm
My wife, Marla, wrote an article about him which appeared in the Washington Post Magazine: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/02/20/ST2009022003192.html
Tomorrow I am going to say the following: My deepest wish is that now, in the world to come, you are granted the peace and happiness you were denied while you were among us.