Thursday, October 8, 2009


I first met Will in Washington DC around 1970 or so. He was an older white bearded gentle man (and a gentleman too) with a very frail young wife. Both were so soft spoken at a time when I seemed to be the loudest poet on the block that I felt a mild and quiet criticism of my high octane poetic explosions.

But Will let me know privately and quietly that he appreciated my work and my style, that there was room for all kinds of approaches to the art of poetry we both devoted so much of our lives to.

He even kept in touch, which I became notoriously bad at for a few decades (and can still be sometimes) over the years (he sent me one of his recent books not that long ago, with a sweet note). But don't get me wrong, he wasn't all sweetness and light, he stepped on probably as many toes as I did, only more gently, and maybe even more relentlessly.

This obit is a pretty good summary of what he was about. I like the quote from him at the end so much I'll reproduce it here for anyone who doesn't bother to check out the link to the article (or as I just discovered when I checked the link, doesn't want to sign up to try and read the thing!):

"We live in a time of broken spirits," he said in a 1992 Star article. "We live in a Lazarus age. We're all partly dead, and we need to learn how to raise each other from the dead — without pretending to be Jesus in the process."

"Everybody is broken, but everybody has the capacity to help each other."


tom said...

Good quote and thanks for posting it.

David Ray said...

I'm glad to see this evidence that Will's work is still getting through. With Michael Rattee & Judy Ray I've had the privilege of editing his books, Surfings, Leaps of Hope and Fury, and I Love You Green, Mother. Will's last wish regarding his work was that his once censored Memoirs of an Activist Poet be published, and Minotaur Magazine will now be serializing it. There will also be a memorial celebration of his life and work at the U.A.Poetry Center from 2-4 on November lst. One correction: though he does have an archive at Duke University, another major collection is at UNC-Wilmington library. I hope that scholars, critics, biographers, and others will be exploring the work there, for there is much unpublished, including fiction that will remind some readers of Thomas Wolfe. As poet, activist, friend, and mentor Will will be remembered fondly by all who knew him. He once told me that though he was an atheist he believed in God every time the St. Matthew Passion was played, whereupon another friend suggested that we make a tape loop with that work so he could believe in God all the time. He was also more than irritated when a copy editor changed "god" to "God" in one of his poems. In any case, his work is suffused with love of nature and all things good about humanity, but he was also unstinting about his activism, and proud that he had been a C.P. member back when it was costly to artists of any medium or persuasion. Along with Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, Grace Paley, et al., he was on the frontlines, ever vocal against war and every form of bigotry.
David Ray