Notes to Poem:
"The Janitor Crushed Me Debating on Rodin"

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: Mom said "Whatever you do on New Year's Eve & Day will carry over for the rest of the year." Stayed home and wrote 15 stanzas & 60-lines poem "The Janitor Crushed Me Debating on Rodin" from midnight to 2:20 am on Jan. 1, 2020. Found Professor Elsen's 9-11-1992 letter, 18 pages of notes on his 9-15-1992 Matisse lecture from my journal, and Elsen's signing of my 50¢ torn copy of his first book on "Rodin" that inspired this poem. Scanned 20 images and downloaded 24 images in composing these Notes.

Commentary on Poem: "The Janitor Crushed Me Debating on Rodin"

"Only the janitor is here" Connie tells me.
He says "This is my garden." We've come to
The Gates of Hell at Stanford's Rodin Garden
for Waverley Writers Full Moon Poetry Reading

Stanford Rodin Sculpture Garden
Stanford University, Palo Alto

Gates of Hell
by Rodin (1917)
Connie and I were ballroom dancing at Cubberley Pavilion, when I told her Waverley Writers
is having their 2nd Annual Full Moon Poetry Reading at the Gates of Hell in the Stanford
Rodin Garden. We arrived at 11 pm, and Connie says "Only the janitor is here", he says
"This is my garden." Photo Sources: Stanford Rodin Sculpture Garden (;
Gates of Hell (

from 9 pm to midnight using flashlights,
but looks like all the poets have gone home
on this Saturday, August 15, 1992.
I read "Çacountala" honoring Camille Claudel,

3rd Annual Gates of Hell
Poetry Reading (8-28-1993)

by Camille Claudel (1888)

Camille Claudel
Waverley Writers is a group of poets that meet the first Friday of the month (September-June) at 7:30 pm
at the Friends' Meeting House, 957 Colorado Avenue, Palo Alto. Since there are no readings in July & August,
one of the poets, Jacklyn Marderosian decided to have a poetry reading at Stanford's Rodin Garden on Saturday
closest to the August Full Moon. Waverley Writers 1st Full Moon Poetry Reading at Stanford Rodin Garden
was held on Saturday, August 24, 1991. Beside the usual Palo Alto poets, many Berkeley poets came, and
the readings went to midnight. In 1992, the August Full Moon was on Thursday 13th August, so the Saturday
Reading was on August 15. But nobody was here except the janitor. One of the poems I read was "Çacountala"
honoring Camille Claudel. Other poems read that night: "Under the Apricot Tree I Learned Where We Came
(1-1-1992), "How They Fall" (3-1-1992), "Study of Transformation" (3-31-1992), "Sacred Geometry"
(4-24-1992), and "The M Showed Me" (6-4-1992). Photo Sources: 3rd Annual Gates of Hell Poetry Reading flyer
(; Çacountala (; Camille Claudel (

Rodin's mistress, implying he had stolen ideas
from her after seeing a recent film about them.
The janitor protests "She was just a schoolgirl
when Rodin sculpted The Kiss. I try to impress

Camille Claudel film (1988)
directed by Bruno Nuytten

The Kiss
by Rodin (1882)

The Eternal Idol
by Rodin (1891)
Rodin is one of my favorite sculptors. However, after seeing the film Camille Claudel (1988),
I felt he had stolen ideas from his mistress. When the janitor protested and asked which sculpture,
I got the dates mixed up, and said The Kiss (1882) instead of The Eternal Idol (1891) done three
years after Claudel's Çacountala (1888). Rodin sculpted The Kiss in 1882 when Camille Claude
was just 18 years old. Photo Sources: Camille Claudel film (; The Kiss (;
The Eternal Idol (

him, saying "The Philadelphia Museum is second
in Rodin's sculptures", but he tells me that
"Stanford is now second in size after Paris."
He asks me "Where did you learn art history?"

Philadelphia Rodin Museum
150 pieces of Rodin's Sculptures

Stanford Rodin Collection
170 pieces of Rodin's Sculptures
I had read that Philadelphia Museum had the second largest collection of Rodin's sculptures
after Paris, and brought this fact up to impress him. But the janitor corrected me, saying
Stanford is now second in size after Paris (170 pieces of Rodin's Sculptures).
Photo Sources: Philadelphis Rodin Museum (; Stanford Rodin Collection (

"At Columbia— Hibbard's 'Art 101', Howard Davis'
'Northern Renaissance Art' & Dustin Rice's 'Modern Art'."
He asks "Did Rodin do anything else beside sculptures?"
I reply "He drew watercolors on "Cambodian Dancers".

Howard Hibbard
Art 101 (1961)

Howard Davis
Renaissance Art (1962)

Dustin Rice: Modern Art (1963)
Columbia Daily Spectator, March 7, 1963

Meyer Schapiro
Columbia (1928-1973)
I told the janitor my background in art history at Columbia University. Took Art 101 with Professor Howard Hibbard (specialist in Italian Art), Northern Renaissancee Art with Professor Howard Davis, and Modern Art with Dustin Rice. When the janitor asked whether I've taken a class with Meyer Schapiro, I said he only taught graduate students, and I'm just an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering. To my surprise, the janitor claimed to have taken classes with Meyer Schapiro, one of the world's greatest art scholars. (Learned later, Elsen wrote his doctorate dissertation "Rodin's Gates of Hell" under Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University.)
Photo Sources: Howard Hibbard (; Howard Davis (; Dustin Rice (;
Meyer Schapiro (

"Good for you!" he smiles, as if throwing me a bone
as brownie points after my poor debate performance.
His lady friend says "We enjoyed your poetry,
perhaps you'll come to his lecture on Matisse—

Rodin drawing a Cambodian dancer
in Marseille, 1906

"Cambodian Dancer"
by Rodin (1906)

"Cambodian Dancer
with Snake" by Rodin
I probably read about Rodin's watercolor drawings of Cambodian dancers in Bernard Champigneulle's
book Rodin (1967) when I was at Cornell. Since I liked Rodin's sculptures, I read a lot about him.
When Rodin said, "Compare me with Rembrandt? We should prostrate ourselves before Rembrandt
and never compare anyone with him!", it brought me to tears. Brought my Dad to Musée Rodin when
he visited me in Paris (August 1979). Composed "Rodin's 1906 Drawings of Cambodian Dancers"
(9-8-2001) and typed Rodin's essay on "The Dancers of King Sisowath of Cambodia" (9-8-2001).
Photo Sources: Rodin drawing Cambodian dancer (; "Cambodian Dancer" (;
"Cambodian Dancer with Snake" (;

Oh, let me introduce him— Professor Albert Elsen."
I nearly fainted— the world's greatest scholar
on Rodin— no wonder he knew so much
when I thought he was just a janitor.

Professor Albert Elsen
Stanford University

In Rodin's Studio
by Albert Elsen (1980)

Rodin Rediscovered
by Albert Elsen (1981)

The Gates of Hell
by Albert Elsen (1985)
When the janitor's lady friend introduced him as Professor Albert Elsen, it shocked me that I nearly
fainted. Here is the world's greatest scholar on Rodin whom I'm debating.
Photo Sources: Professor Albert Elsen (; In Rodin's Studio (;
Rodin Rediscovered (; The Gates of Hell (

I went to the Art History Department
and picked up flyers on Elsen's lecture
"Matisse: His Importance to Modern Art"
at 5:30 pm, September 15, 1992.

Cummings Art Building
Stanford University

Department of Art History
Stanford University
The Cummings Art Building is next to Stanford Green Library, where I visited often. I'd use the Mac Computers in the Classics Room and in the Art Library. The most memorable lecture at Anneberg Auditorium was "Michelangelo Rediscovered" by Walter Persegati, Secretary of the Vatican Museum. After his talk on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel Frescoes (10-7-1992), wrote a poem "The Distance of Creation" (10-24-1992). Went to the Art History Department for the $5 ticket, that was all sold out. Told them I realized Michelangelo painted the ceiling for the Pope, but also for the Neo-Platonic initiates "from the many to the one". The art person was impressed by my story, and gave me a free ticket.
Photo Sources: Cummings Art Building (; Stanford Art History Department (;

Felt I could do better— designed two flyers
with Matisse's Polynesia, the Sea (1946)
and France stamp of Matisse's Blue Nudes
swirling in a kaleidoscopic spiral.

Matisse Flyer for
Elsen's 9-15-1992 Lecture

Matisse "Blue Nudes" Flyer
for Elsen's 9-15-1992 Lecture

France 1015: Matisse Blue Nudes
(issued November 10, 1961)
The flyer to Elsen's Matisse lecture was not impressive at all. After taking graphic design at Foothill College,
felt I could do better. Browsed through several books on Matisse, and used Polynesia, The Sea (1946) as one
of the flyers. Used the postage stamp, France 1015: Matisse, Blue Nudes as the second flyer. Having taken
Advanced Adobe Illustator, learned how to arrange items in a kaleidoscopic spiral.
Photo Sources: Matisse's Polynesia, the Sea flyer (; Matisse's Blue Nudes flyer (;
France 1015: Matisse Blue Nudes (;

Sent them to Elsen along with a brochure
of CPITS—teaching kids to write poetry.
His handwritten September 11th letter
is such a heart-warming treasure.

California-Poets-In-The-Schools (CPITS) Flyer
designed by Peter Y. Chou (1992)

CPITS Flyer: Teaching Poetry Writing
designed by Peter Y. Chou (1992)

France B393: "Coco Writing" (12-13-1965)
Sent a few copies of these Matisse Lecture flyers to Professor Elsen, along with a CPITS brochure on teaching
kids to write poetry in school that I designed in QuarkXpress. Used France B393 stamp of "Coco Writing" by
Renoir, imagining an unicorn and writing about this mythical creature. As I was teaching students to write
poetry in the CPITS program, wished to share this activity with Professor Elsen.
Photo Sources: CPITS brochure (; CPITS brochure (;
France B393 "Coco Writing" by Renoir (;

Elsen like Jameel Din's poem in the CPITS
brochure, saying "I wish I had been exposed to
your program as a child. No question it would
have made me a better writer, if not a poet."

Jameel Din's poem
"Life Is Preserved"
from CPITS flyer

Elsen's 9-11-1992 Letter
liking Jameel Din's poem
"The Life Is Preserved"

Elsen's 9-11-1992 Letter
on Camille's influence
on Rodin's sculptures.
There were four poems of students cited in my CPITS brochure. Professor Elsen liked Jameel Din's poem
"The Life Is Preserved" for its "range and simplicity." Elsen was aware of a similar program in New York City.
I didn't inform him that it was started by Kenneth Koch, my freshman English Professor at Columbia (1959-1960).
His Wishes, Lies and Dreams (1970) became a classic in teaching children to write poetry. Elsen's closing remark
touched me deeply— "It was good to meet someone who came out of the same intellectual cradle [Columbia].
I hope my Matisse Talk will repay what I owe you for the beautiful poetry reading in the Garden."
Photo Sources: "Life Is Preserved" Poem (; Elsen's 9-11-1992 Letter & page 1 (;
Elsen's Letter (page 2) (;

Connie came to Elsen's "Matisse" lecture
at the packed Anneberg Auditorium, saying
"With suit and tie, he looks like a professor
and not a janitor." I took 18 pages

Annenberg Auditorium
Stanford University

Professor Albert Elsen
Carleton College (1952-1958)

Professor Albert Elsen
Stanford University (1968-1995)
Professor Elsen's lecture "Matisse: His Importance for Modern Art" on Sept. 15, 1992 filled Anneberg Auditorium to
capacity (350 attendees). Seeing Elsen in suit and tie, Connie tells me "He looks more like a professor than a janitor."
Photo Sources: Anneberg Auditorium (); Elsen at Carleton College (; Elsen at Stanford University (;

of notes with sketches of 120 slides—
Picasso & Matisse were the greatest in 20th century—
"Betweeen 1907 and 1912, they changed art more
drastically than the previous five centuries."

Elsen's 9-15-1992 Matisse Lecture
Pages 1-2 of Peter's 1992 Journal

Elsen's 9-15-1992 Matisse Lecture
Pages 5-6 of Peter's 1992 Journal

Elsen's 9-15-1992 Matisse Lecture
Pages 17-18 of Peter's 1992 Journal
I took 18 pages of Notes in my Journal of Elsen's Matisse lecture, sketching the 120 slides he showed.
It dawned upon me that Picasso and Matisse were the Yang and Yin of 20th century art. While Picasso
stressed the masculine tempo (bulls), Matisse focused on the feminine (women's clothing, curtains in
the home). Elsen closed his lecture saying "Matisse liberated painting using poetry through color. He
showed decorative painting could be made into serious art. He showed modern artists that there is
nothing as finished art. The artist is a continuum that grows and changes— a sense of self, great
reverence in the past. Who am I?— constant reminder to the artist. How do we know that a dead
artist is alive? When his art challenges us when we are most awake!" (page 18 of Notes) (7:30 pm).
Photo Sources: Pages 1-2 of Notes on Elsen's Lecture (; Pages 5-6 of Notes on Elsen's Lecture (;
Pages 17-18 of Notes on Elsen's Lecture (

After his talk, I brought Elsen's first book
Auguste Rodin: Readings on His Life & Work
for him to sign. This $2.95 paperback bought
at Book Sales Gallery in Ithaca (9-21-1969)

Elsen's first book
Auguste Rodin (1965)

Book Sales Gallery
East State Street, Ithaca, NY
Can't find photo of Book Sales Gallery, since it was 51 years ago (9-21-1969)
when I bought Elsen's "Rodin" book. Found photo of Autumn Leaves Used Books at
115 East State Street, Ithaca, that resembles the bookstore when I made the purchase.
Photo Sources: Elsen's Auguste Rodin (; Autumn Leaves Used Books (

was marked down to 89¢ since 1/3 of the
back cover & last page was torn off. I bargained
it down to 50¢. Elsen signed "For Peter
from an admirer of his poetry— Al Elsen."

1/3 of Backcover of book torn
bargained down to 50¢

Albert Elsen signing
50¢ torn copy of his first book

Albert Elsen Memorial Celebration Program
(2-19-1995) honored by former students

Poem for Albert Elsen on
learning he died (2-2-1995)
Albert Elsen's first book Auguste Rodin: Readings on his life and work was published in 1965 when he was a professor at Indiana University. Used copies sell from $15.00 to $35.43. New copy sells for $952.95. My 50¢ torn copy with Elsen's autograph is priceless. Photo Sources: Torn backcover of Rodin book (; Elsen signing his first book (; Elsen's Memorial Celebration Brochure (; Poem on Rodin's Burgher for Albert Elsen after he died (

Afterword: Professor Albert Elsen died on February 2, 1995 at age 67 (
Stanford Obituary 2-3-1995; NY Times Obituary, 2-8-1995). When I saw the news on Stanford Daily, went to Rodin's Burghers of Calais at Stanford's Main Quad, and wrote the poem "The Morning After You Died I Touch a Rodin's Burgher Who Shares My Name". (2-3-1995). Elsen had written a book with Mary Jo McNamara on Rodin's Burghers of Calais (1977). Went to Elsen's Memorial Celebration at the Gates of Hell on February 19, 1995, at 2:00 pm. Tributes by his former students include Kirk Varnedoe, Chief Curator at Museum of Modern Art and William Rubin, Director Emeritus at MOMA. His wife Sharon McClenahan Elsen said had I written earlier, she would have included me on the program, and suggested I read my poem at the Faculty Club reception after the jazz band procession. However, it was too noisy at the reception, so I didn't want to disturb the crowd to read my poem.

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 1-22-2020

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