Fred Moramarco, Al Zolynas and Steve Kowit
Steve Kowit’s home page: stevekowit.com
This excerpt is from Steve’s most recent post on his website before he left us. It so accurately gives us the feeling and spirit of this remarkable and passionate poet. I love hearing his voice in my mind as I read it and it seems like he is still here with us. Steve Kowit passed away in his sleep early on April 2, 2015.
From Steve’s website home page:
Steve Kowit—poet, essayist, teacher, workshop facilitator, all-around no good troublemaker.
Anyone requesting me for a reading or workshop or who wants to buy one of my books or wants to interview or chat with me, can contact me at my email address: email@example.com. Now that I am semi-retired (I’m teaching terrific MFA students at SDSU at the moment) I am more free to do readings and workshops. My poetry writing workshops tend to be very lively and useful. I’m the author of one of the best known texts on writing poetry, In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop. I teach half-day workshops (3 or 4 hours), full-day workshops, and weekend workshops. My readings tend to be lively, entertaining and passionate. A boring poetry reading can, as everyone knows, be more painful than a root canal.
Steve Kowit introducing Billie Collins, D.G. Wills bookstore, 2008 Submitted by Dennis Wills
Steve Kowit introducing Billie Collins, D.G. Wills bookstore, 2008 Submitted by Dennis Wills
The following submissions are in answer to our call for poems and memories about Steve Kowit or poems written in his workshops and inspired by his teaching. In some cases there doesn’t seem to be a direct link to Steve so we are requesting for the writer’s to send us a brief statement about this connection so it is clear to the readers. Thank you!
FROM PATTY MOODY: A link to a video: “Steve Kowit Reads his poem “Basics” vimeo.com/33242833 recored by Patty of Crystal Pyramid Productions
FROM CHARLES HARRINGTON ELSTER:
Villanelle Advertising Shamelessly of Steve Kowit
Teacher, Subversive, Humorist, and Bard
(To commemorate his LOLA Award, January 27, 2001) by Charles Harrington Elster)
A poem should be honest, simple, clear.
It should tell a story. And most of all,
It should make music that we all can hear.
That’s what Steve Kowit teaches, why he’s here.
He writes good stuff. He’s not some know-it-all.
His poetry is honest, simple, clear.
He luridly confesses, without fear,
His lust for passionate journeys, and his call
To find a music that we all can hear.
Steve Kowit’s verse will kick you in the rear,
But never leave you standing in the hall.
His poetry is honest, simple, clear.
So many poems are not what they appear.
Steve Kowit’s verse does not erect a wall.
It’s made of music that we all can hear.
So read Steve Kowit. You won’t have to peer
To make out what he’s saying. Not at all.
His poetry is honest, simple, clear.
He makes good music that y’all should hear.
First, thank LOLA committee members:
Jan Tonnesen, Wahrenbrock’s Book House.
Poet and publisher Kathleen Iddings.
Writer and teacher Karen Kenyon.
Literature librarian Evelyn Kooperman.
KPBS radio’s arts and culture correspondent Dan Erwine.
And LOLA administrator and library circ. manager Pamela Sanderson.
We were delighted to bestow LOLA this year on poet and teacher Steve Kowit, a long-time resident of our county. (third bio graph)
Those are the facts. Now here is the truth.
Steve Kowit is a revered and gifted teacher. He has inspired several generations of talented poets (e.g. Dorianne Laux). He is generous and supportive of other writers, and he has helped many other worthy local poets gain exposure (e.g. Al Zolynas, Terry Hertzler, Loverne Brown). He has also written possibly the best poetry manual around—In the Palm of Your Hand—to help young poets learn their craft and help more experienced poets refine it.
Although he takes poetry very seriously, Steve Kowit doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has long been a champion of clarity in poetry, and his own work is known for its directness, simplicity, honesty, and music.
Above all, music: Steve strives to find “that magical music” in poetry; he calls himself “a musician of the English language.”
Those who have read Steve Kowit know how lucky we are to have this gifted, passionate poet as a member of our community. For those of you who haven’t yet read him, I have taken the liberty of composing a bit of occasional verse to honor Steve . .
FROM KAREN STROMBERG:
On Steve Kowit’s Rorschackian Approach to Criticism
by Karen Stromberg
He said my paper was “goleywled.”
I know I know that word.
I’ve seen it somewhere–
The Hobbit perhaps.
In fact, to be perfectly honest,
I was expecting it;
I knew when I was writing
I was leaning way too far
in the direction of “goleywledness.”
It’s a fault of mine
that recurs like dandruff.
Or perhaps I’m not reading it right,
perhaps it’s actually “golsylubred”
and it well could be:
a word we all know
that possibly refers
to that tendency to go on and on.
God knows, I deserve it
but it does seem harsh.
it could be “galsybed,”
an obvious reference
to my French Huguenot heritage–
detecting that indicates
an almost indecent ability
for close reading.
But, if that first letter were a “q”
instead of a “g”
it might then be “quemybled”
This man has an amazing vocabulary.
I confess my dictionary is not up to it.
I do have a feeling, however
that to have accomplished something
that is either “quesmybled” or “quecybed”
is not all bad,
in fact, I’m quite pleased.
published The Poet’s Tree, May 4, 1997
FROM UNA NICHOLS HYNUM:
Steve started out as my teacher, then became mentor and lastly, friend. When I was in rehab recovering from a broken hip he came to visit. I was so honored I couldn’t think of anything to say. As his wife, Mary, said he was the kindest man I ever knew. I haven’t written a poem in 25 years that wasn’t influenced by Steve. I can still hear him saying if you think you have finished a poem and say ”so what” start again. Here is a poem of mine he liked.
Borrower by Una Hynum
A hesitant knock on the door.
I look out, then down.
The neighbor’s little boy,
I think his name is Christian,
stands staring at his tennis shoes,
faded T-shirt ripped at the neck.
He holds a cup tilted
at a forlorn angle,
I don’t remember
what my mother sent me for,
Standing at the blue door
of a long life,
I can’t remember either.
What did I come for?
What was it I wanted?
Una Nichols Hynum
FROM FRED LONGWORTH:
Others knew Steve Kowit like warp and woof. They knew him as instructor and mentor – and as a close friend. I never took a class from Steve. I knew him and liked him, but if, over time, we were destined to become true friends, that opportunity unfortunately ended with his untimely passing. Though he did publish a poem of mine in Serving House, for which I remain appreciative, my truest connection to Steve was through his poetry and his wonderful guidebook In the Palm of Your Hand.
In an era when indirection, obscurity, obfuscation, esoteric allusions, intentional difficulty, and a disdain for first-pass readability were (and continue to be) arrogated as the “highest poetic art”, Steve was a champion for work that didn’t need to be simplistic in order to be accessible. He also possessed a terrific sense of humor, a rare thing for a poet of stature (Billy Collins and Denise Duhamel notwithstanding) in an artform where the pooest of poobahs are given to devaluing humor as flippant and light.
I fell for his poem “I Attend a Poetry Reading” the first time I read it. I’m still falling. My own submission is therefore an “answer” to Steve’s poem – written from the point of view of the devil at the microphone.
I Do a Poetry Reading by Fred Longworth
Check out that creep with the headphones on,
the invidious smile, the haughty posture,
proud as a .400 hitter on steroids.
He’s plugged into an iPod, trying to impale the entire
reading on my horns, like a North Korean general
flashing a final screw-you to Kim Jung Un.
He imagines he’ll be going home to his family
and his job, and that soon as he finishes that massive
mug of piss, I’ll read my last thousand poems,
invite him to read three of his, and then bid farewell.
His torment for being a truly accomplished poet
is to sit there after his batteries wane,
fumbling with the phones as my voice invades his ears.
And behind him, for scores and scores of rows,
multitudes of his fans are waiting, waiting, waiting,
and waiting for me to finish, the way a severed head
waits to reconnect.
Heretics waited for my minion Torquemada to finish
the day’s tortures, and sit down to a glass of wine.
Little did they expect a second transubstantiation,
heretic blood decanted into finest Cabernet.
But I digress. I only invited you to the podium to give
you a sense of collaboration, of collusion, and then
to dash your hopes, to smash them into micro-shards.
You’re not special. You’re just another stupid fan,
a common toy to be played with until broken.
FROM REGINA MORIN:
My first poetry class taught my Steve Kowit was in 1987 at the old Midway Adult School buildings in the Midway district. His enthusiasm, wit and careful handling of our vulnerable poet selves captured us totally. At the end of the semester, we all walked across the street and mailed our poems off to some unsuspecting editors, laughing and confident of our newly-formed devotion to this God of Poetry, Steve Kowit.
Steve Kowit and Fred Moramarco
FROM AL ZOLYNAS:
A Philosophy of Life by Al Zolynas
—to Steve Kowit
At the dinner party, Contessa, our hostess,
a lovely woman, though with a reputation
for not putting up with anyone’s guff, bluntly
asked our friend Steve to cut to the chase and confess
his “philosophy of life”—mind you, right then
and there among the mushroom paté and roasted artichoke hearts—
that she didn’t have time for niceties or beating around the bush, life was
too short, etc., all this after one of Steve’s characteristically
misanthropic comments on human beings—he likes
to refer to us as homo satanicus, what with our long
history of wars, slavery, cruelty.
To his great credit, Steve took the question seriously,
paused, drew a deep breath, and simply declared himself
a skeptical mystic
or maybe it was a mystical skeptic.
Oddly, or not, this seemed to satisfy our hostess,
Steve not having much of a chance to elaborate beyond
referring to those moments we’ve all had
when everything pauses, or comes together, when all
is seen as connected, non-dual, miraculous, luminous—
whatever your favorite way of putting it.
At that moment, I deeply admired my friend Steve.
Indeed, what other “philosophy of life” could possibly hold up
in this paradoxical and heart-breaking world, this world
of leukemia and lollipops, catnip and catastrophe,
Abu Ghraib and avocados? The skeptic says, “I can’t fully believe
anything you tell me because, really, how
the bloody hell do you know?”
And the mystic says, “Yes, like Rumi’s, Dogen’s, Teresa’s,
and a host of others’, my own experience is all
I can finally rely on, even though
I might be completely mistaken.”
So, when the sun rises over the mountain
and the valley awakens with the mocking
bird’s call and the coyote’s (or wolf’s, or dingo’s, or hyena’s)
last perplexed yip at the vanishing moon,
or when the walls collapse and we fall into
the bottomless black hole of
Stillness and Silence, what else, returning,
is there to say but yes, and yes again.
But, please, don’t take my word for it.
SHJ Issue 12, Spring 2015
Al Zolynas was born in Austria of Lithuanian parents in 1945. After growing up in Sydney, Australia, he lived in Salt Lake City, and in Marshall and St. Paul, Minnesota.
He has a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA and PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. At various times, he has been a poetry editor, resident poet in the schools, Minnesota Out Loud Traveling Poet, volunteer for the Hunger Project, and Fulbright-Hays Fellow to India. Retired from teaching since 2010, he now has emeritus status from Alliant International University, San Diego.
Work by Zolynas has been widely published in journals and anthologies; and his books include The New Physics (Wesleyan University Press, 1979); Under Ideal Conditions (Laterthanever Press, 1994; San Diego Book Award, Best Poetry, 1994); and The Same Air (Intercultural Studies Forum, 1997). With Fred Moramarco, he is co-editor of Men of Our Time: An Anthology of Male Poetry in Contemporary America (University of Georgia Press, May 1992) and The Poetry of Men’s Lives: An International Anthology (University of Georgia Press, 2004), which won the San Diego Book Award for Best Poetry Anthology in 2005.
His works have been translated into Lithuanian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Polish, the last by Czeslaw Milosz. He recently completed translating (from Lithuanian) the memoir, The Parallels of Dita: Surviving Nazism and Communism in Lithuania, by Silvija Lomsargytė-Pukienė and is seeking a publisher for the book.
Zolynas practices and teaches Zen meditation in Escondido, California where he lives with his wife and two cats.
FROM NANCY SANDWEISS:
For Steve Kowit 1938-2015
The teacher poet slashes the air,
darts between tables, barks
urgent cues. He’s a shot of caffeine,
awakens fertile memories.
Throw in colors, street names
specific times, events.
Curls sizzle wild around his face,
faded jeans droop, shirt buttons strain.
Who is this guy, I wonder, put-off
by his unkempt look. He doesn’t
give a damn – it’s all about craft.
Here at this workshop I’m checking
him out: a friend’s all-time favorite
teacher. Students devour his commands:
Recall a friend now gone,
your mother’s perfume.
Their pens race across paper; I watch
more than write. Twenty minutes
later a few rise, brave his strong
opinions to share what he’s midwifed –
strong, vivid word portraits.
In the auditorium later he performs
his own work, transforming
a rueful memory into poetry of raw
contrition – exposing a failure of care:
He shot himself,
I missed his cry.
I feel him clearly now – he’s pierced
my storehouse of regret, mirrors my heart.
FROM JOE MILOSCH:
A poem inspired by one of Steve’s workshops:
If It Wasn’t for Soul by Joe Milosch
In the past, all my cities had night clubs. In one city, the citizens who attended these clubs were invisible until they returned to their homes. Of course, when the citizens were visible, the clubs seemed to disappear among the liquor stores, warehouses and garages.
The male patrons wore suits and ties, and the women wore dresses and gloves as if they were going to see the Motown Review at the Fox Theater in Detroit. It was 1966, and only the naïve believed a mixed couple could purchase tickets at the doors of these clubs.
For an interracial couple, there might as well have been a law that prohibited tickets from being sold within 2000 feet of one of these clubs. Therefore, certain club goers were forced to buy their tickets separately.
One afternoon, a sliver of the moon became visible before dusk, and a young man walked with a young woman in a golden dress. She laughed pleasantly when he told her that he would purchase tickets for them at the door of the club up the street.
It was as if he believed the couple had been transported to another country. The sound of a transistor radio came from a car parked at the curb. Lee Allen’s voice came across the airways. The couple listened.
The disk jockey played Motown and Stax, the Righteous Brothers and James Brown. The man went into the liquor store and purchased a couple of cokes. He returned to share his drinks with her as she weaved in rhythm to the melodies.
On the sidewalk, they danced to a slow number. As they listened to the music, they ignored the people who said, “The trouble with soul music is …,”and meant that it was black music.”
On the other hand, if it wasn’t for soul music, the young couple might not have danced in the open as they listened to the radio. In the end they held hands, knowing, I suppose, they might never feel as free again.
FROM BRUCE GORDON:
Poems inspired by Steve Kowit
He Really Is That Into Me
My husband is writing this down for me
so I can tell you one of my favorite memories.
It’s the one of us sitting on Shelter Island,
where the San Diego Harbor water way takes a turn South
toward the Coronado Islands. If you pass the bait barge,
you’ve gone too far.
I have a disease that will eventually rob me of all memory.
So it is important for me to tell you now, I don’t recall
all the sounds of the harbor:
boat dock bell honk
seal bark open lock.
He was turned toward me, hanging on my every word.
But I was distracted,
in a good way.
The sights of the boat marina escape me
these days, as do the letters that make up words:
shallow shoal hip boots
bait barge big scoop.
I was beaming the way I did
when we first met, because I noticed
passersby looking at him being so into me.
I winked when their eyes met mine.
That is when I teared up and pulled him close
to say, “We have been married 40 years
and out here today, you just don’t see anything
He simply reminded me that when
you have a woman like me
I really am all there is to see.
A Man In The Parking Lot Asks For My Opinion
Would I euthanize a dog?
I sure would.
But, like with people, I would have to hire someone,
who would ride in on a dark horse, wearing a
dirty duster, walking with authority given to him
unwillingly by all the citizens in every town.
But, would I “put down” a Pit Bull
just because it was a Pit Bull? I would not
want to err like the judicial system in Minnesota.
Do you know how many Pit Bulls it wrongly
convicted of murder? You know when I say,
Pit Bull, I mean, those you know are guilty.
But if you hire the extermination done,
it doesn’t have to muss your hair quite so.
Still you hear those stories about a hireling
who grows a conscience and starts to write
a poetry of wonder; did we do the right thing?
I mean, you start to doubt yourself.
The Eyes Have It by Bruce Gordon
When your eyes meet the eyes of a fish,
it remains game. There is no confusion
of boundaries the way it can happen with
a brown eyed buck.
Even though the Dorado mate for life,
their eyes don’t tell you that story
the way a young buck in velvet would
tell you about his family and their preference
for sage at lower elevation, closer to
wheat fields than trees sporting the
thicker bark where red-headed wood
peckers knock out acorn sized divots
for future deposits.
But, I have to say I have grown suspicious
of Dorado and the report that they mate
for life. That story might have been passed
on to me by someone who sees in a fish’s eye
the story I see in the eye of a deer.
FROM PETER J. LAUTZ:
April 26, 2015
I’m remembering that last poem you helped me with, the one about talking
to a girlfriend on Skype being like a long road trip through eastern Europe
in summer with glistening lakes and cobblestoned old towns, and how
you found the noun ‘goodness’ I used to stand for what had happened between herself and me, as ‘ruinous’—your word , not mine—and how your reaction confused me, how in response to your pushing me to be more clear, I tried
to tell you what this ‘goodness’ meant to me.
But I backed off from our dialogue when you persisted in finding my word
as ‘ruinous’ to the poem. Whether it was my fragile ego or a strong sense of what
I wanted to say no matter what you, the accomplished poet thought, I lost
a chance that night to learn how to write verse that sings more powerfully, more
And now, a week later, you’re gone and I didn’t find the time to tell you
this Steve, but you were right that ‘goodness’ didn’t really convey anything real
or true or useful in writing my small story. Yes, we two tired poets up late at our keyboards playing with words had a difficult email conversation;
yet what’s more true is I miss your generous heart and your rambunctious intelligence that threw such sensuous light onto all our lives, your commitment to say it like it is to help a fledging poet say it better, your challenging me to write and re-write until it’s as clear and pristine as that good day at the imagined lake in the Baltics.
Yes dear Steve, you master poet in old blue jeans, you mirthful mensch
with that torn crotch held up by sloppy suspenders, your eyes ablaze with mischief, earthy fierce compassion and the joy of a story well told in poem:
Steve, please know your death has upended us. And, I surely miss what
I will call your goodness now.
FROM MARYAM DAFTARI:
The Conductor by Maryam Daftari
Our Steve, your Steve, my Steve,
relished working with several orchestras.
Maybe we were one of his favorites
though he was our most cherished conductor.
We loved the way he skillfully maneuvered
and cajoled us into playing our own
solo interpretations of every piece,
with his balanced style of conducting —
alternating between demonstrations
of unobtrusive control and gentle guidance
so we could each play our instrument of words.
His genius was that he knew how to play
each one of our instruments as well,
showing us the fine art of composing
and conducting our own words of music.
Sometimes he fine-tuned our instruments
when they were completely off or
encourage us when our version was right on.
He showed us how a group inspired
could work together, learning from one another
even when the conductor’s baton was snatched —
disappearing with him like a flash of lightning.
Maybe our conductor’s soul has somehow
equipped its magical wings to journey earthward
like a hummingbird’s which will hover over us
whenever we meet together, urging us to continue
on this our journey of constant composing,
reminding us that hearts, minds and souls connect,
nourished when we create, gather, read, and share:
a reoccurring celebration of our poetic heritage from Steve.
Maryam Daftari is a retired political science professor specializing in Chinese affairs. She has been writing poetry for the past 30 years. Maryam is also a nature photographer who tries to capture the beauty of nature not only in poetry but in pixels. Her latest poetry book is entitled Like Magic but Real. Her poems also appeared in a recent anthology entitled Sundays at Liberty Station, in Lyrical Iowa and in the San Diego Poetry Annual.
FROM SARAH B MARSH REBELO:
For Steve Kowit-Poet in Charge of the miraculous and sincere.
You unfolded us like a priceless old book,
Tender with the pages. You lived to teach,
to feel every moment of life.
Energy pulsed from each stich of your hand woven
Wooly maroon winter sweater when you entered a room.
You questioned decisions made by politicians
Intrigued us with your interpretation of the Universe.
In your poem ‘Passing Thru’ you say
“How strange it is to be here at all talking to you like this in a poem,
if just for a single brief instant-two spirits momentarily touching.
You are gone now. In your sleep I heard.
You leave us devoid of your raucous laughter,
Your infectious joie de vivre.
Who else could rework a line until it hummed
Like the Tibetan singing bowl on the corner of my desk?
I strike it in memory of you. Feel it vibrate through my heart chakra.
Sit in stillness to honor you.
In my little room, lit by long windows
Open to the fingers of afternoon sun
Your books sit in a neat row on a shelf under K.
I lift them one by one,
Each heavy with the weight of your righteously lived life,
Place them next to a white and yellow orchid in an Oriental basket.
They balance one another well the Yin and the Yang.
You wrapped us up in your love of life,
Taught us how to tease a line, place it on the page.
Bereft of your humor, the teddy bear hugs
You leave us with hungry minds, all the better for knowing you.
Forever grateful for the difference you made.
FROM CLIFTON KING:
Kowit Humor by Clifton King
I’m reading a poem in that little
chapel next to Open Door Books.
That stained glass window
depicting Jesus among his disciples
glows with afternoon light. The room
is filled with Second Sunday regulars.
Seated near the back is Steve Kowit.
I know it’s him, I’d know
that runaway hair anywhere.
I finish my poem and Steve claps
loud and long, but then he does
that for everyone.
The next day, an email from Steve:
Liked your poem, can I get a copy.
So I send one off and jokingly
remind him of the copyright laws.
Later, another email from Steve:
After adding my name to it,
I sold your poem to the New Yorker
for four-hundred dollars. Your
ten percent, minus fees and taxes,
will be in the mail soon. Hugs Steve.
FROM CAROL ARCHIBALD:
My name is Carol Archibald. I have known Steve for over 40 years. I first met him at the Blue Door in Hillcrest, where he was instrumental in starting the poetry movement in San Diego.
I took 3 classes from him and became one of his disciples, following him everywhere. I used to tell Steve he walked on water, but he would shrug his shoulders and say, “no one can walk on water”.
15 to 20 of his disciples work shopped for about 2 decades at the home of Bob and Diana Richards in La Jolla and at my own house in Point Loma. We called ourselves The Point Loma Poets. Steve popped in occasionally and work shopped one of his poems with us. When Bob died, he was there. When Diana went to a nursing home, Steve and I visited her. He loved all of us.
Once at SDSU, Steve mc’d a poetry reading featuring one of the infamous NY Poets. When the reading was over, I told Steve I didn’t understand this poetry, to which he replied “Neither do I”.
Steve and I were “friends of long standing” as my father used to say. He was one of a kind. He was not merely my writing mentor. He was one of the persons who gave my life meaning and direction. He was brilliant, hilarious, kind, giving, caring, deeply concerned and committed to all living things. His poetry brought us to an emotionally-clarifying, honest (sometimes brutally), but mostly loving place. There was not a poem Steve wrote that I didn’t adore. Most of them I know by heart. I loved Steve dearly.
Now I would like to read one of my own poems about grief, as I feel such tremendous grief at the loss of this remarkable man.
Since Steve died in his sleep, I want to read his poem Lullaby, adapted from the poem Lullaby written by the Hungarian poet Atila Josef in 1935 and reflective of the tenderness Steve felt toward his fellow creatures.
It’s time to tuck him in.
GRIEF IS A WOMAN by Carol Archibold
No matter how quietly she comes in,
I always recognize her gait,
the slow decisive steps,
persistent tapping at my door.
I let her in before she lets herself in
like a pesky uninvited neighbor.
Hand her a glass of wine, offer
her my overstuffed chair.
Tonight she picks up my address book,
asks me to speak each name aloud.
On the first page I read Ken Altic,
my brother-in-law, dead at 52.
Then Archibald, both grandparents
crossed out like lists of tasks completed.
My friend Linda Brown, cold
as the tile on her kitchen floor.
Their names linger on my lips,
the taste of syllables.
What’s the use of this I ask,
but she pours another glass of wine.
Puts on Ray Charles, tucks
her black shawl around me Indian style.
And while Ray rasps righteous
I’ll never stop loving you,
she leans her head into mine, hums
to me the way my mother used to do.
FROM CHERYL HEINEMAN:
My memory of Steve,
Although I never met him, I loved his “In the Palm of Your Hand” book, used many of the prompts, and so I wrote to him to buy one of his books, “The Dumbell Nebula”. He sent it to me, along with a copy of “Crossing Borders” with a note that said, “Here’s that book, the other is a gift. Cheers, Steve.”
The following three poems appear in my collection “something to hold on to”
Jesse’s Gorilla by Cheryl Heineman
(a prompt from p. 27 pick an object.)
Inspired by Steve Kowit’s book: In the Palm of Your Hand
My son’s gorilla is something I kept.
All the rest was left behind
with my marriage.
He doesn’t need it anymore, but I do.
I can wrap the furry arms around
my sorry self and remember
when he was little,
how I held him in my arms,
fed him, changed his diapers.
It reminds me of the day
my dad buried his brother,
his best friend.
I waited near him by the bathroom door
as he pulled on his own diapers.
He did not want anything
to ruin his suit at the funeral.
He wept in a little voice “I wish your
mother were still alive and young again
with all you girls.”
He wanted something to hold onto,
anything but the edge of a casket.
Looking for John Lennon by Cheryl Heineman
(a prompt from p. 77 about an old car.)
In Aspen, in the 60’s
I was blonde, with a dog
and a ‘42 Army jeep painted yellow.
With nothing to lose, we cruised
around town feeling cool
meeting other stoned eyes
looking for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
My old decorated submarine
had done its tour of duty.
Maybe carrying wounded brothers.
Maybe creeping along hedge rows.
Maybe bringing love from home.
That summer of love,
the yellow submarine surrendered
its camouflage to the brushes of
a war baby who never bothered
to look under the floor mats for blood.
Michigan Woods by Cheryl Heineman
(a prompt to imitate the style of another poet. P.8)
A hushed, sticky evening
of summer. Two thirteen-year-olds
walk through the woods
one hopeful hand
holding onto the other’s.
White birches line up like pillars
along the shadowy dirt road
between the party and home.
The boy, a tan, brown-eyed
lifeguard wears a preppy
button down shirt like his father wore
The girl, pale, blue-eyed
worries her hair spray won’t hold
has nothing to say that is cool.
Shy like her father.
A hushed, sticky evening
of summer. Two thirteen-year-olds
walk through the woods.
one hopeful hand
holding onto the other’s.
—-Dedicated to Antonio Machado
Cheryl Heineman started writing poetry in high school, inspired by poems she heard at a coffee house in Chicago. Her passion intensified after she moved to the desert where the heat exiled her to a life of writing. She has two collections of poetry: Just Getting Started and something to hold on to. Currently, she is in the MFA Program at SDSU.
FROM ANDREW PEREZ:
Inspired by Steve Kowit
I have nothing left to write,
for it’s all been written.
I have nothing left to say,
for it’s all been said.
I have nothing left to think,
for it’s all been thought.
But I do have dreams.
And in these dreams
Nothing has been written.
Nothing has been said.
Nothing has been thought.
It’s just a blank canvas
for a touch of paint.
A splash of life.
FROM SANDY CARPENTER:
Inspired by Steve Kowit
All in Lines by Sandy Carpenter
Many go their whole lives without writing
even one poem, without once thinking of it.
They sit down around the breakfast table
And pretend as if nothing is amiss
Why is so difficult for folks to see
that without poetry their lives are lines wasted?
They may be witty and urbane, intellect
intact, but they didn’t say what they shouldn’t delay.
There was something one day they meant to get
across and couldn’t. One night a vital word,
a crucial meaning lost, secret code of syllables
misplaced along with the very essence of life.
The hereafter may last oh-so-long, thus
best, tomorrow, to sing that stanza’s song
. . .as Steve did.
Elegy To a Poet’s Poet by Sandy Carpenter
someone so much a part of poetry
is never really gone, his words remain.
Don’t you hear them through a screen of scraping
wind, or was that the scratch of pen on paper?
Outside his room flew the mood of a mantra
and the flock of flutters and rustles, who
knew whether they’re whispers or wild wings
or merely the sense of the sound of spirits?
Could be soft laughter or lapping of water
when someone departs so suddenly.
We are envious, being ones less gifted
and he now knows even those veils lifted.
Did he search gold of the new moon’s growth?
We’d all love to go like that setting sun.
His choice was both.
Old Words by Sandy Carpenter
Circumstances change, death disrupts, denies days,
life takes unexpected turns–yet poetry remains.
For beneath an outer change is moving truth. . .
Rain’s runoff finds its way past a walled woods.
There’s a wobbly, imperfect fit we get
between our words and worlds, making them
unsteady and insecure, just as we ought to be
used to the intricacy of poems or structures.
After all, even the houses we live in,
with their timeworn, elbowed pipes and veins
of wiring, their hides of plasterboard
and joists like wooden bones become
a complicated body that shifts
in close-rooted capers each night when hot
water heaters clank, something scratches
in the walls, or pens squeak without paper,
unbidden by a hand—then there’s pulsing
computers? Anything living or lived in
has a song to sing or sigh under its skin,
just as we poets go on and on, like kin.
Sandy Carpenter, a newspaper columnist and poet for two decades, today leads Oceanside Sr. Center’s poetry workshop weekly and Carlsbad Sr. Center’s LIFE STORY WRITING class.
FROM ANTHONY JESSE III
Inspired by the teachings of Steve Kowit
Blank Page by Anthony Jesse III
Blank white page on my
quiet footsteps in a dark
Good Times by Anthony Jesse III
Two pairs of naked knees;
one red wagon with no brakes on it.
Bottle stopped spinning;
first kiss through lips clenched tight;
street lights coming on now.
Seasick on my Grandpa’s motorboat;
outside the bay.
Sand sears the soft soles
of giddy little feet;
then they reach the green waves.
Speaking of which, those waves
grabbed my ankles,
tugging me in with the silt.
Much like the fragmented thoughts
that take me
when I feel my age today.
Anthony Jesse III is a native of San Diego, and his first formal poetry class was with Steve Kowitt at San Diego Writers Inc. several years ago. My poem, “Surf at Midnight,” is in the form of four, linked American Sentences, a form I learned from Steve in that class. I was sad to learn of Steve’s passing and wish to send my deepest condolences to his family.
FROM JIM MORENO:
I heard Steve speak at a political rally in City Heights on weekend. He walked up to the mic and began a long expose about the Zionist injustices against the Palestinians and how the Palestinians were the Native Americans of the Middle East. The organizer of the event kept coming up to him and telling him to hurry up and Steve looked at the man and said ok and went back to his indictment. This happened at least 5 or 6 times. Then the man said to Steve that his time was up and Steve very innocently said he didn’t get to read his poem. The organizer relented and Steve proceeded to read a long fiery poem in support of the Palestinians. He must have been up there 20 minutes. I was impressed by his tenacity, his skill, and the power of his poem. He was, that day, and always a voice for the voiceless.
The Last Conversation with Steve Kowit by Jim Moreno
A Southern California Buddhist priest
was walking with his wife in a temple
garden that merged with a city path,
He noticed some beautiful wild flowers
growing in the middle of the path.
The Sensei said to himself,
“Those flowers grew where people
walked…they grew silently,
minding their own business,
not to show off…they just grew,
when the time came, they would die.”*
The Sensei felt drawn into talking
to the flowers, just like me,
One of my Sensei’s, Sensei Steve
Has passed away. It was April Fool’s Day,
Even in death he held his sense of humor.
I too wish a last talk with him,
In death, and in life, he would do that for me,
He would not talk as teacher, only as my friend,
Only he did not grow silently, no, far from this,
The way he talked was always vocal,
always on point warrior, always protecting the weak,
the voice for the voiceless, the confident warrior
directing the flow of battle, the pen parrying the sword,
I wonder if his spirit words to me would echo the anonymous
poem on a Japanese CD, entitled “Sen no Kaze”?
(“Breezes Numbering A Thousand”)
They sell it at the Hongwanji Temple:
Please don’t cry before my grave.
I am not sleeping there for eternity.
I have become a thousand breezes
Circling the world,
Sparking like diamonds in the clouds,
And pouring light on nourishing grains
Within gentle autumn showers
I have become a thousand breezes
Circling the world.
When you wake in the morning,
I become a bird
Flying all around you,
And at night a shining star.
You are always enveloped
By innumerable forms of life,
So don’t cry…
Don’t cry before my grave.
I have become a thousand breezes
Constantly by your side.”**
Jim Moreno Spring 2015
*Nembutsu Daze, Tesshi Aoyama, Horin-Kai Publications, Penryn, CA, 2003, p.47.
An Inconvenient Companion: For Mary Kowit
by Jim Moreno
Grief is an inconvenient companion,
In the grocery store line, in the middle of a sentence,
Hanging clothes on the line, it doesn’t care,
It grabs you by your lapels, It grabs you by your throat,
It low blows your gut, It shakes you and shakes you,
Fills your eyes with rain, then suddenly,
It lets you go. Just like that―gone.
It doesn’t care where it flows,
It must gush & flow; return later when you
Least expect it and shake you and shake you…
There’s nothing you can do about it,
There’s nothing you can do but
Ride The Inconvenient Storm…
It helps you weather this rain of loss,
It helps you relax, breathe a little better
With this love loss attack stealing color
Then leaving only black and white,
Making food taste like cardboard,
Hiding your hunger under a small black rock,
Or switching to a memo urging you
To eat all the cookies and sweets.
One day, my beautiful friend, one day
That stab will be a prick,
One day that prick will be an ache,
One day that ache will be a new song,
A lovely, sweet song with teardrops of love.
Your great ocean loss will save you,
Your terrible love loss will serve you,
Remind you, teach you lessons of precious life,
Death teaching Life, Loss amping Love.
You’ll see colors of blue sky & red rose again,
You’ll see rainbow colors of life once more,
Sights and smells of spring and summer
Will sing you as you wake to the soft, pastel dawn,
But not right now, my grieving friend.
Not just now.
Jim Moreno, Spring 2015
Jim Moreno is the author of “Dancing in Dissent: Poetry For Activism (Dolphin Calling Press, 2007) and two cd’s of poetry and music. He is the Poet in Residence for the Juvenile Court & Community Schools and the Aseltine School, a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual, and a teaching artist for Young Audiences of San Diego and San Diego Writers, Ink. Jim lives in City Heights with his Chevy HHR, Little Whale. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FROM KAREN KENYON:
by Karen Kenyon
How To Make a Poem by Karen Kenyon
Inspired by Steve Kowit’s teaching
“Every element in your body is from a star.” Nova/PBS
Tear open your heart — like a giant purse
it will pour out memories
keys to doors you will never open.
And you must read the others
who have also dipped into this world
even if in another language
of the soul.
Take your own broken pen
on trunks in forests.
Feel the pain of those in cities of hospitals,
or in shacks of cold wormwood,
Know they are you also.
Stir Shakespeare’s salt into your bitter tea.
how everything fits together,
though it’s a puzzle
you may wish to dissemble
Be alone in your solitude
so that a blue ink fills you,
Swim in sorrow’s sea,
until you can rise.
in the pink air,
the tangerine clouds,
the salmon floating in the sunset sky.
Know and cherish the one who may come
to share it with you
And lament each one who leaves
here. And remember that
raise our glasses,
empty of wine,
full of scattered
A poet has died today.
-Previously published in SD Free Press.
FROM KEN BHUR:
. . . and the River Flows,
Flows Wide and Deep
such solace and rest
that I willingly stretch
my tenuous body from rock
to nebulous sky,
this timeless moment
neither living nor dying,
. . . Love’s moment—
at once everywhere,
and mine to clasp
deep inside me.
I take possession
of Earth and Sky and Love
who possess me as well,
who with all their glory
who wait for me,
the child they created,
to proceed in tumbling steps,
emit infant smiles,
make sounds, and babble verses,
and share the Land of our dwelling
in solace and in rest.
Ken Buhr resides in Poway CA with his wife of 45 years. He has two sons who work for the California Coastal Commission and three grandchildren. His background is in philosophy (B.A.), theology (S.T. Lic.), and Family Sociology (Ph.D.), and he works as a marriage and family therapist. He began writing poetry in his later 50’s. A poetry critique group meets at his home on the first Wednesday of the month.
FROM JACK WEBB:
I was in awe of Steve Kowit. His poetry was distinctive as a fingerprint – its loops and whorls both hiding and revealing his loving satire of the human race.
Steve himself was a warrior-elf from hobbit land. It was always hard to take your eyes off him, or his fine writing — both his witty poems, and those hard-hitting essays in which he skewered deliberately obscure poetry.
And though I shared his humor and was always willing to share a joke with him, I was also terribly shy / reticent / deferential.
There’s something sacred about very fine writing (think Homer, Holderlin, others who send a chill down the spine, put a twinkle in the eye).
To borrow a term from current politics: Steve was authentic, and remains so today in the minds of those who love him, and in the eye of God.
NOTA BENE: I spent some lovely moments with Steve on TV, where he charmed the television audience as he worked with kids in my Border Voices Poetry Project. Here is a clip from one of those shows, where Steve affectionately quizzes third-grader Nathaniel Pick about how he wrote his poem “Shelf City”:
THE LINK: http://bordervoices.com/97-2/
You can also see several full-length Border Voices TV shows at http://bordervoices.com/97-2/
Please check back for more tributes to come.
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