Sunday, August 21, 2011


I just learned that poet and friend Scott Wannberg has passed (thanks to Kevin McCollister who emailed me the news along with this link to a great tribute to him—and be sure and read S.A. Griffin's comment/tribute that follows it), way unexpectedly and way too soon.

There are a lot of unique poets and unique characters among the poets I've known in my life, but Scott was more unique than just about any of us.

First of all he was big, not "larger than life" as the cliche goes, but just as large as life truly is. In his presence you felt the fullness of life, of being alive and a human. He was a big man literally, tall and hefty, with a big capacity for friendship and conversation and helpfulness.

As the link will inform you, if you don't already know, he was a fixture in an L.A. area bookstore (Dutton's in Brentwood) for decades. You couldn't miss him when you walked in, if he was there, not only because he was usually taller than anyone else, but also because his presence could be felt like a natural force.

Maybe it was his intense love of books, or at least the ones he loved, which were many, or maybe it was because as someone says in the obituary linked to above, "he didn't have an inside voice," or maybe it was because while most of those working at Dutton's reminded you of booklovers more in the classic librarian mode, Scott came across like a booklover more in the, well, Scott Wannberg mode.

His enthusiasms were contagious, his openness disarming and his thoughtful but insistent truthfulness pretty much inarguable. Though I argued anyway.

I loved the way he always included me in whenever I encountered him, as I tried to do in turn, and how I never once, from the first time I met him, felt anything but deep affection and gratitude for the man, and his work. I've mentioned him before on this blog, for which he expressed his own gratitude and though he was up in Oregon in recent years, I kept in touch as others did through the many poems he would post on facebook and I'd get through email, and he was generous and gentle, as always, in his concern for me after the brain surgery.

He will be sorely missed, and already is. I'll leave you with a poem from a little book he gave me when I was leaving L.A. in 1999 and it had just come out, called EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SLEDGE HAMMER:

get stuff

you get stuff to make you invulnerable
around ten at night
when the sky looks crooked
under the moody light
the kids arranged for you
so you could see yourself
running     scared
as the sweat of the nation
becomes a new ocean
that only a navigator
such as yourself
could handle
you get stuff to ward off
suffering and
it comes in a tube that
is blessed by all the larger than not
religious organizations
perhaps you bumped up against   one
on the rapid transit
when the sun beat down
on the roof
keeping its own peculiar   time
get stuff is what the advertising agency
working out of a stalled camaro
in front of my building
whenever i run out
to become one with non nature
we are nothing but stuff
pretending to be more enriched than need be
perhaps you rode the perfect wave
in your head
the sea that morning
agreed with you
the war held up by traffic
time for once
to enjoy the music
that   may or may not be there
but   it never stops you
from hearing it anyhow

[PS: the photo up top is what he looked like when I first met him back in the early 1980s.]


Anonymous said...

I remember him...he was very helpful when I went in there once, looking for books by you, and Ted Berrigan.
Such a shame Dutton's was closed.
They paved paradise....with a furniture store.


richard lopez said...

i didn't know scott but remember him warmly when the carma bums rolled thru sac a few years back. i bought copies of their books, and marvelled at how such a large man contained such gentleness and cotrolled energy. his death is a shock to the system. the world[s] of poetry is poorer for his absence.

Lally said...

I hear you Suzanne. And yes Richard, Scott was the embodiment of "the gentle giant"—and I don't just mean size, I mean spirit and talent and capacity for generosity as well.