The English Department at UTEP was home to an accomplished professor and poet who dedicated his life to teaching his students to love literature as well as realizing his own poetic vision. Originally from Kansas, Robert Burlingame’s pursuit of his academic career took him far from his home state. He obtained his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico. He traveled to England to study abroad as a Fulbright Scholar at Queen Mary College at the University of London. Dr. Burlingame finished at Brown University where he earned his Ph.D. in English Literature in 1954. He focused his doctoral work on the essays and poetry of Marsden Hartley. C.L. Sonnichsen recruited him, and Texas Western College offered him a faculty position the year he graduated. Always drawn to the Southwest, Dr. Burlingame accepted the invitation and spent the next 35 years as a valued member of the English Department at UTEP.
Dr. Burlingame was greatly admired and revered by his students and colleagues. His former student Paul Haeder thanks Dr. Burlingame for mentoring him and helping to develop his love of the written word. “Bob taught me humility, the grace in working with few words, mountains of ideas about simplicity in living, and the idealism of land etched by nature and the unnatural collective flailing of humankind.” Paul Haeder took his mentor’s instruction and went on to become an accomplished journalist, and poet. Dr. Burlingame’s academic guidance, poetry, and friendship so inspired Mr. Haeder that he wrote “Night of Mexican Free-tails with Burlingame’s Poems” shortly after his old friend and mentor passed away. He calls it a “toast to Bob, his essence alive on the page.”
Dr. Burlingame worked to expand the English Department at UTEP during his teaching career, and he taught classes that included World Literature, Introduction to Poetry, Romantic Criticism, and Russian Literature. He retired in 1989. Dr. Burlingame spent his golden years living on a ranch in the “shadow of El Capitan” on the edge of the Guadalupe National Park. He wrote poetry every day. According to his friend and fellow poet, Bobby Byrd, he lived the life of a poet. He “began his day with coffee or tea, sitting in front of his manual typewriter. Taking in the light, listening to bird song, waiting for the visitor.” He wrote what he loved, the Southwest flavor, the landscape, and its creatures. He was equally impressed with the dignity of the human condition, and this theme is reflected in many of his poems. He passed away on September 25, 2011 while working on his final book of poetry.
Dr. Burlingame’s literary accomplishments include publication in the Saturday Review as well as other literary magazines, receiving the Pushcart Prize, and publishing several books of poetry. Perhaps his best work can be found in Some Recognition of the Joshua Lizard published in 2009. The book is a compilation of work that spans 50 years and the poetry he includes draws inspiration from the desert near the Guadalupe Mountains. The work is heavily influenced by Byron, Frost, Lawrence, Thoreau, Yeats, Joyce, Cabeza de Vaca, Li Po, Lu Yu, Poe, Melville, and Basho. He uses the book to revel in desert landscapes, delighting in the creatures with which he communed: lizards, birds, and even the vegetation.
The Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library has the Burlingame Collection for those interested in the life and work of this esteemed professor and poet. The collection includes books and magazines from friends and fellow poets like Bobby Byrd, Michael McCarthy, Chuck Taylor, and Anthony Piccione, some of whom dedicated their books to Dr. Burlingame. There are also correspondences from colleagues, a collection of poems that Dr. Burlingame dedicated to Henry Melville, and quite a few unpublished poems. Perhaps the most intriguing items in the collection are Dr. Burlingame’s journals. Ranging in date from 1965 to 2011, they contain everything from daily thoughts and observations to more copies of his poetry that bear handwritten corrections and revisions.
Some Recognition of Salt Flat, Texas: Robert Burlingame By Bobby Byrd 11/18/2011
El Burro 9/1/1962
http://www.mutabilispress.org/ Eulogizing the Simple Life by Dave Oliphant
“Night of Mexican Free-Tails with Burlingame’s Poems” by Paul Haeder 03/29/2013
Burlingame Collection, Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library
” This Way We Walk” by Robert Burlingame