"Don Emblen Remembrances"

Remembering Don Emblen

Image of DLE, portrait by Cirre Emblen, early '09
Portrait of DLE by Cirre Emblen, late 2008


When someone close to you just goes and dies
despite your prayers and urgencies of will --
a son or daughter, say, or aging parent,
aunt or uncle, neighbor, a long-lived dog
whose soft, sprawled form before the fire had long
become a reassuring hump in the floor plan
of your house of days, we feel betrayed --
again. Lost memories of that first harsh dying,
when the womb's warm promises were torn away,
now carry us off on bitter floods.
We flounder in the black, cry out
for light and buoyancy through leaden nights,
forgetting that we are but fishes
rising to some dimly understood surface
for our modicum of vital, lethal air.
No one promised immortality,
no one but in grief forgets that life
as surely throbs in the close embrace
of dark waters as in the daylight fountain singing,
bright as blood.



Don's memorial was held at 2:00 on Sunday, Aug. 16, in Newman Auditorium (in Emeritus Hall) on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus. Speakers included Gaye LeBaron, local historian, and Marvin Sherak and Bernie Sugarman, two of Don's colleagues at S.R.J.C. Terry Ehret and Jean Hegland, poets and writers and also of the English Department, read poems about and by DLE. Musician friends of Linda Emblen played selections from string quartets, and other music accompanied by Linda. There were several songs as well, sung by Placido Garcia and Jeanne Buckley. Ed Buckley officiated.

The family requests that those who wish to make donations in Don's memory contribute to the Don L. Emblen Literary Scholarship though the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, Calif. 95401.


What follows here is a sheaf of remembrances by friends and colleagues of Don Emblen, who died on April 24, 2009. It is not comprehensive by any means. If you, or anyone you know cares to write a short remembrance of Don, please do so and email it to Art Hofmann by clicking here.


When I joined our department, I was not yet thirty, and Don Emblem was a huge (if middle-weight) presence in our halls. Energetic, incisive, and occasionally intimidating, he taught poetry, composition, and creative writing, advised the college's literary magazine First Leaves (and also was frequently published therein, under the non de plume Bart Reynolds), helped to establish the Work of Literary Merit program, wrote opinion papers in response to department and college issues, debated and championed colleagues, and challenged and inspired students. As I got to know Don better and came to feel more comfortable in his presence, I learned more and more about his warm heart, generous spirit, and unstinting devotion to language and literature, writers and writing. Although he knew many big name poets, and had published several successful books, he knew better than to place any value in the ephemeral opinions of the publishing world. As a consequence, he learned to operate a movable type press and established his own publishing house--Clamshell Press--in his garage, where he hand-set and printed many handsome books and broadsides, thereby encouraging several generations of Sonoma County writers. He was writing poetry until the last days of his life. He was a dear friend to so many people that when he turned 90 last fall, his birthday had to be celebrated over the course of three parties in order to accommodate all of his well-wishers, who read their favorite DLE poem. I consider my life richer for having known Don, and I miss him a lot.

--Jean Hegland, (SRJC English Dept.)


When I started teaching at SRJC, there were only four or five other full-time women in the department, Generally they were totally silent (one even tatted) in department meetings that consisted in general of vitriolic attacks on the administration and each other, and usually disintegrated within 45 minutes into sexist jokes. Young and not easily daunted, I brought ideas to the table anyhow, usually shot down with not-so-polite grumbles and pooh-poohs. Once, I remember, Don called out, "That was a stupid remark!" I was appalled, and wondered how long I could possibly survive here. Years later, when the thing I proposed finally came to fruition, he took me aside and said, "Didn't you propose that years ago?" It took ages for us to admit to liking each other. I discovered that behind the gruff curmudgeon was a colleague who was passionate about teaching, about language, and about books (which the students seemed to know long before I did). I also discovered a loving gentleman, who shared a beautiful poem when my son Isaac was born, offered warm congratulations when I got married, and always greeted me with pleasure whenever I was lucky enough to run into him, whether at the book fair or on his Meals on Wheels rounds. I miss him already.

--Melissa Kort (SRJC English Dept.).


--At the Book Festival a few years ago, I introduced myself to Don and we talked shop about printing---letterpress, offset, lithography, print-on-demand (gasp.) This semester we became "pen pals" of sorts. I knew he was ill and didn't want to bother him, but I mailed him a note about First Leaves. He sent me several poems. I dashed off another note asking if he would mind me revealing his nom de plume in the biographical statements (Bart Reynolds's bio) to appear at the end of First Leaves. He wrote, "Why not? I think it's about time."

--Abby Bogomolny (SRJC English Dept.)


I read Don's wonderful biography of Roget-Mark Peter Roget: The Word and the Man a while back and then portions of a new Roget bio The Man Who Made Lists by Joshua Kendall. I sent Joshua something of interest and learned that Don had given him full access to all Roget papers, records, and interviews laboriously gathered over a five-year period and let Joshua stay at the Emblen home for four days. There were many spirited discussions, and they became close friends. Here is an excerpt of a poem I wrote for Don at the time of his retirement:

The river's deep here, and wide...
I watch, grateful for its presence,
watch the river rolling on and on,
away to some far distant point
where it will give back all
to the single surging sea.

--Phil Forester (SRJC English Dept.)


Don was an inspiration. He showed me by his example that writing, reading and talking about poetry were life-enhancing activities. I don't think that there was a time when we visited and didn't talk about poetry. I remember him as a poet of friendship and friends, and as a local poet who wrote poetry to make human connections and preserve community; he was a real community-builder. One of the main literary battles I fought was for him to be Sonoma County's first poet laureate. ("I thought Don was "the quintessential Sonoma County poet.) His poems about this place are etched in my memory, as are his poems about aging and old age. I dedicated one of my poetry chapbooks to him, and he appreciated that. He began the book on the last page, at the back and proceeded to read backward, going from end to beginning, and so it was only when he finished the book that he discovered that I had dedicated the book to him. He did not always do things in predictable ways. He even did some things backward. In fact, as a printer with a letterpress it helped greatly that he could see and read words backward. Certainly, he always got to where he wanted to go, and he always finished what he started. Now that he's gone, he seems as real and as much of a presence as he always was, and I can still hear the sounds of his printing presses in his shop on California Avenue.

--Jonah Raskin (Rohnert Park, Calif.)


Visiting DE at the hospital last month, I noticed he was still working through two translations of The Brothers Karamazov. When I mentioned it, Don said that his doctor had asked what he was reading, and when told, had said he'd never heard of Dostoevski. We chatted a bit about the education of doctors, the decline & fall of civilizations, and then Don said he was not keeping his reading pace up--from weariness, and the awkwardness of the hospital bed. I suggested he request a Dostoevski intravenous tube. He said, "If they can do that, I'd like to hook up that young doctor."

--Eric Johnson (Sebastopol, Calif)


Don wrote a wonderful poem in his last year that was heartening to come upon in the days after his death. It's one of his back yard poems. Was there ever a better back yard poet? On California Avenue as well as in the Navy, he looked over the taffrail of his craft, as Thoreau put it, with a habit of close observation like Thoreau's, like Darwin's, and the creative imagination, to bring the squirrels, purple iris, figs and plums and apricots, mockingbirds, butterflies, daffodils, tulips, black ants on pears, crows, snails, wisteria, bees, and a cat named Dozy alive into his poems. Don's back yard was a small universe, an inexhaustible source of knowledge and pleasure. The poem I'm thinking of, with a back yard tree and squirrel, is "The Old Man's Climbing Poem.." It is the best evidence that in spite of his tenacious will to go on in this life, Don was more ready than most of us to imagine the parting, the leaving, with an image in which there is humor, beauty, and serenity. He imagines himself as the squirrel, climbing scarily higher from branch to twig to willowy strands, and then...

As I watch, despite my very eyes,
on the last, the highest whip-like stem,
the squirrel (that's me)
turns into a bird and sings all three of us aloft and away.

How many, many friends he left behind, standing in the garden, looking up.

--Bill Booth (Laporte, Minn.)


Our sharing was about poetry and translation, mainly, and, a close second, our interest in birds and the science around evolution. We shuttled back and forth between our houses with books, magazines, newspaper items, surplus produce, homemade jams, baked goods, and odds and ends. "Can you use this?" As an occasional contributor to the Rejoinder, and reader in Don and Linda's afternoon recitals, I was drawn into a larger community.

I thought that I might have steeled myself against his death, having written to so many of his friends via an email list about his declining health. We all marveled at the number of times he pulled out of it at Memorial Hospital and made it back home again. Still, when he died, I felt completely out of tune. I wanted a call on my answering device, rasping, "Hi, Art, this is Don, I have a thing that might interest you. I'll drop it off on my rounds...", or "Could you come over here when you get a chance; there is something I'd like to consult you about..." Everything seemed amok and nothing right. Then, one day I returned home as a late spring rain came on, and I looked at the woodpile, a newly stacked cord, wet again, the dark gray bark of the almond wood, the deep honey color of the heart wood where the sap rushed through for so many years to create good food, and that seemed right. We'll go on.

--Art Hofmann (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

Questions for DLE -- Late October, 2009

I make it a point to ask you questions
because I am at a loss,
despite your irritation with such things,
questions that I pose again and again;
about my weary laughter when I dreamed
that houses grew round as they aged,
lost shape, and began to fall,
and mostly about the old world messenger boy
on his bicycle with his blonde hair combed back.
I think it something he does for money
to amuse tourists - that uniform and all.
Why isn't he excited by his life? the way I was yesterday,
seated in the garden, as the leaves dropped quickly
from the silver maple, puff clouds above,
the sun peeking through, while the woodpecker
gleaned insects from the bark,
working her way up the stout branch,
inch by inch, chased by a titmouse,
who took over the task,
one moist bug after another,
hummingbirds chased one another
in tight formation, and last of the season
butterflies roamed the air.
Right now, I want to ask you this:
What is it that we have on our hands here?
Why are we not excited by our lives?
I will hang on every word of your answer.

--Art Hofmann (Santa Rosa, Calif.)


I joined the SRJC English Dept. three years before Don retired in 1988. We didn't know one another well until a couple of years later, when I became editor of the literary magazine Green Fuse. I published several of his poems over the years and considered him--with his keen powers of observation, attention to detail and deep love of the natural world--the quintessential Green Fuse poet. (He reminded me, more than once, that I had rejected his first submission, which I don't remember and still can't imagine doing.) Don supported my writing and editing in many ways over many years, for which I shall always be grateful. He was a mentor, a faithful correspondent and a good friend. We had a long lunch together in his kitchen two days before he died. I miss him enormously.

--Brian Boldt (SRJC English Dept.)


Words, once my stock, are wanting to commend/So great a poet and so good a friend. --John Dryden

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.--E.B. White

A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman.--Wallace Stevens

Bright is the ring of words/When the right man rings them.--Robert Lewis Stevenson

He was a man, take him for all in all,/I shall not look upon his like again.--Shakespeare

Hail and farewell, most-valued Friend, Poet, Man & More.
Before you so abruptly Ditched us,
you assuredly Enriched us.

--Don MacQueen (Eugene, Oregon)

DREAM SOME MORE: Two poem excerpts

I keep raising my glass and toasting Don
looking toward the sky
until the bottle empties.
Maybe tomorrow I'll work again.
Today, let me dream some more,
embrace that sky.
The deep end of the sky.

Don's last poem was in the Press Democrat.
Sarah woke me from a funk to read it.
We both cried.
It's been raining ever since.

--Timothy Williams (Santa Rosa, Calif.)


for Don Emblen on his 90th birthday

I dreamed last night of a poet's gathering
in a small shed behind your house, smelling of inks
and hand-made paper, cradles of broadsides, drawers of fonts,
letters waiting to be arranged. Tranströmer was there.
Szymborska, too. It seemed you'd invited the living
and the dead from the six directions to share
a glass of smoke or wine or sage or darkness.
The time for fruit was behind me, the autumn light
already shifting into minor key. I stood outside,
peering through a tiny window where the poets laughed and talked,
some in their bodies still, some climbing down from shelves
to raise a toast to you, man of the seas, maker of metaphors.

--Terry Ehret (Petaluma, Calif.)


In August of 1970, after a year of driving cab in Juneau with a bunch of ex-cons on the night shift, I got myself to Santa Rosa, where a friend lived. I liked the place, and it had a junior college: I wanted to return to formal study of literature, and maybe I'd find people who wrote poems. I took a survey of literary genres, English 1B, taught by Don Emblen.

The first day of class, Don played a recording of Dylan Thomas, a poet I adored with great care: I was mainly ignorant but (for instance) I'd memorized Thomas's "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower." Figuring Emblen's playing that record was a sign, I came to the second meeting with some of my poems: after class I introduced myself and gave Don a copy of one poem, probably formally the most accomplished thing I'd thus far made.

Don went into action of a sort I'd never seen before, but the fundamental thing, the thing I got that was like an essential food, arrived in the familiar form of letters. Don wrote long, careful responses to my poems, for many years, and eventually I wrote him, about his poems and his critiques, things he'd said. That is, Don taught me a way to conduct one's most careful talk, or how to find it, speaking intently to a careful soul.

--Richard Speakes, SRJC English Dept.


My memories of Don go back to those childhood days of California hills, winding up the road in a whining VW to the Emblen house and algae-green pool of cold water and sun-browned Don. I remember him rolling cigarettes and his cigarette smell - adult, male, confident beyond challenge. He loved us Booth kids, but held us to a high standard, which meant that he really loved us, but with conditions: "disappoint me and I'll be disappointed." So, how many role models do you get like that in a lifetime? A man's man . . . a man's intellectual man. When someone like Don dies it disorients you because a rock you've been using to guide you is gone.

--Stephen Booth (Laporte, Minn.)


Don was a small man with a big presence, and in his company and in the company of his poems, one felt his true size. His ear, his eye and his heart were unfailing, his focus intense. His very presence in the room engendered a deep level of seriousness and attention, whether he was reading his work or profoundly listening to others. His physical presence will be missed, but his spirit strongly remains.

--Mike Tuggle (Monte Rio, Calif.)


Of the many stories about Don running in my head, I am going to recount a very recent one. Here's the background: Rosemary Manchester (of KRCB's "A Novel Idea") had been interviewing Dr. Mark Sloan about his much-admired book on the history of birthing and in conversation after the program, he asked her if by any chance she knew a writer named Don Emblen. Indeed I do, she said, and he went on to explain that he had come across a wonderful book on Roget (which Don had written some 35 yrs ago!) and would enjoy meeting the author. Rosemary told me about his wish and I conveyed it to Don during one of our precious last back yard conversations, with the tulips dancing behind him. Rosemary and I had wondered if Don would prefer to keep his waning energies for meeting with old friends rather than making new ones and so thought we should clear it with him before giving Dr. Sloan his telephone number.

Hah! We reckoned without the indomitable spirit (and perhaps author's ego?) of Don Emblen. His eyes rather gleamed with pleasure as he told me to have the good doctor telephone him directly to set up a good time to meet...that good time was not to come, as Don's death came first, but still it was good that Don could relish this evidence that his books, no matter how old, could still find good readers and would be a reassuringly sure kind of immortality.

--J.J. Wilson (Rohnert Park, CA)


There is too much to say about the old bard, the brown bear of my heart, Don Emblen. Who could count the many notes and poems-in-progress that came and went through the mail? Besides our "poetry talk" Don liked to be informed about the foxes that come to my barn each spring. Every May, news of the birth of their kits always gave Don absolute joy.

If stuck in my writing, Don would prod me to write a "fox" poem, which often got me going. There was a time once, though, when nothing helped, so Don took from the wall above his desk a photo of a snowy egret. It never failed to inspire him, he said, and mailed it on -"Keep going, plow right through!" he said. That was Don, great advice backed up by his own talisman.

Above my desk there's also an Emerson quote Don banged out on his old typewriter. It reads, " . . . the poet is representative. He stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the common wealth." That seems to me a pretty accurate description of Don Emblen. How rich we are, how blessed by the solid craft and humanity of his poems, his pure generosity, his life.

Yesterday we saw them for the first time. The 2009 litter. Four silver kits with red-tipped ears followed their mother out of the barn, wrestled and sunbathed in the morning's warmth. Don, you would be the first to say, "Here's reason to rejoice!"

--Lynn Trombetta (Santa Rosa, Calif.)


Don was English Department Chair in 1971 when I was hired as one of the developmental-level instructors for the newly designed 100/105 classes. As the years rolled by, he served as my chair, my mentor, and finally my friend. When my turn came to assume the English Department chair role Don was retired, but I sought him out for his advice. His counsel and advice was important to me during my tenure in that position. I'll miss the visits and the copy of the latest obscure sailing book he discovered for me to read.

--Pat Broderick (Santa Rosa)


You were still there
In the shop,
Lining up the letters
Making them into words
As you always did.

You stood in the doorway,
Coffee cup in hand,
Seeing us, over spaghetti and pie
and the luminescent apricot tree.

We were also lining up
Our faces,
Our years,
Our memories
Thinking of you, there on the sill.

You keep lining up the letters
Making the words.
But these are now for other listeners,
Other friends,
Beyond your yard.

July 11, 2009

-- B. Misty Wycoff


When I came to SRJC as a student in 1964, my first college writing assignment was an opinion piece for my English 1A class. It was to have something to do with literary criticism, as I recall. And I ventured a naive and contemptuous opinion - something like "Those who can (produce literature) do, while those who can't, well, they criticize". The paper came back to me with a "D" - the first I had ever received. There was also commentary, which I remember to this day. My teacher, Mr. Emblen, wrote, "It seems you were offended by a critic while in utero. . . " It wasn't my worthless opinion that earned me that "D". As my teacher went on to explain, I had utterly failed to support my opinion with an argument of any kind. Back in the 60's we had no courses entitled Critical Thinking. Don Emblen taught me that subject in English 1A.

-- Joel Rudinow
Department of Philosophy and Humanities
Santa Rosa Junior College


At first his name was only the title of an award I received from Santa Rosa Junior College in the year 2000. Then I heard him read as special guest artist in the Poetry Slam Series sponsored by Actors Theater, and I realized why literary recognition and JC scholarships honored Don L. Emblen. A poet of immense insight and dignity, an impish elder (I did not know him as a young man), a respected teacher, a publisher and craftsman of the letterpress, and a delightful human being.

I have two poetry books of Don's. The inscription in The Kenwood Suite in January of 2000, reads "For Jennie, who does good work" signed by his full name; in By The Dozen in 2004 the inscription is "For Jennie, With love, Don." Thus our friendship progressed steadily to deeper respect and affection. Well, let's face it. I adored the man! We were especially akin in our anti-war stance (his poems on the subject so much better than mine). Little did I think we'd have four wars during the 9 years of our knowing each other.

My most treasured memories of Don are from the summer of 2003, when I worked with him in his backyard printing studio collating and binding a limited edition chapbook of my poems. How thrilled I had been when he asked me to be part of the dozen or so writers in the Clamshell Press "Sampler Series." He showed me how how he hand-set the type, and demonstrated the charms of his several presses. As the birds twitted and fussed in the trees outside, we assembled the books over the course of several afternoons, talking about anything and everything. My fingers were so much more awkward than his at sewing the small signatures into the covers. I was very sad when we finished the 100 copies. No more excuses to spend such exclusive time with Don.

I just pulled out By The Dozen to see what poem I had marked with a yellow post-it as a favorite. Of his probably 10,000 poems written in his lifetime, this one is as lovely as any to quote here, on this very hot August day.

--Jennie Orvino


What I liked best about the Atlantic
was you in it,
slippery as a seal, I found--
you smiling and bobbing in the cool jounce
of the surf where modest summer swells
come curling to nudge your breasts,
and I, nearby, treading water, wishing
I were a fish in each green surge,
discovering you again and again.


I called Don a week before his death.
"Are you up for a visit?" I asked.
"No, I'm on my way to the hospital for some tests."
His voice was weak yet certain that he would not be around.
"You don't sound too well,"I said. "I'm sorry to hear it."
"I'm sorry to report it."
Report it?
The sound of a rifle
The word and the Man
A turn of phrase that seemed just so
Came natural to Don.
Even on the occasion
Of his last words to me.

-- Woody Fridae


One of the projects I loved and still love that Don Emblen published was the "Two Hundred Series,"a collection of chapbooks, printed in celebration of our Nation's 1976 Bicentennial. Don was the Series Editor and each little book cost 75 cents. The covers are delightful block prints or line drawings, and the papers are textured and earthy. Each book was written by an SRJC professor, e.g. John Whitman Bigby from the Speech Department, penning an intro to Walt Whitman's Preface to the 1855 Edition of Leaves of Grass. John quotes the end of Whitman's Preface: "The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." So do we now hold Don Emblen.


-- Lin Marie deVincent (Sonoma, CA)


My perception of Don pretty much matches those of friends who've testified here: frightened and put off at the beginning, soon overtaken by a growing love. Don's many passions (especially for best words in best order), and irrepressible energy, taught us. He took my husband's [Bob Duxbury] play scripts and my own novels and stories with great seriousness, eager to read and respond to new work; the day before he died he asked to read Bob's newest play. When I gave him new books of my own, or books I thought he and other Rejoinder readers might enjoy, he mowed through them all with zeal, and wrote back thoughtful responses and critiques. We always felt - as it's clear Don made most all his friends feel - as though we had a casual yet exclusive, ongoing audience with a kind of literary oracle. I remember giving him Joan Didion's 1975 commencement address to UC Riverside students, in which she urged them to go out and live passionately in the world: "Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. . . . To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. . . ." Didion cited, as one reason, the notorious Andrew Marvell quote, "the grave's a fine and private place / But none, I think, do there embrace." Don responded at once, with something close to vehemence, that that line in particular had always held special power for him. And of course, he'd lived as Didion had urged. And though his life was rich and long, I can't not wish he hadn't left us yet. I can still easily hear his voice on our answering machine - a question about language, or a title or phrase or name. Or the sack of plums or book deposited on our front porch, bound with a cheerful note in his small, neat writing. We'll never stop hearing and seeing him in our hearts. We miss him badly.

-- Joan Frank (Santa Rosa)


Yesterday I went to a Memorial Service for a man who made a difference in so many people's lives with his amazing capacity for words.

Don Emblen was 90 years old when he passed away, but when I worked in the coffee shack at Pacific Market in Santa Rosa, I always thought he was a lot younger, and I wished he was my age because of what he shared with me and the whole world.

Yea, I had a little crush :)

He was a Navy man, an English teacher, a loving husband and father, and what I didn't know is that he played the accordion (so cool!) He was the Poet Laureate for Sonoma County, and the way he connected words was magical.

Don drove for Volunteer Wheels. I loved his blue Volvo! He came by at least once a week. We would chat a bit and then he would take his coffee to a distant table, smoke and write. I loved seeing him sitting down there, solitary - writing something wonderful about a moment in his mind.

One day he came and asked me, "What happens to your hair in the fog?" He came back a few days later with this:


That girl with the carroty hair down her back
walking calmly up the street
may have drifted down from an autumn tree-
a maple or pistachio-
so natural she seems, so unaware;
her mass of curls, crimped tight by the cold,
flames in the foggy air and warms us all.

Through the years Don wrote me some wonderful poems. When I moved to NYC we became pen pals. I would send him little paintings and stories of what I'd experienced that day; he would send me his latest poem. I treasure these gifts, and feel so lucky to have known him.

Yesterday at the Memorial I was taken aback by my emotion. Today as I walk around my apartment and read the poems he wrote me, up on the walls, in journals... it is all flooding back.

Here are a few more:

"The Girl At The Coffee Kiosk"

Her unhesitating smile--
like stepping early
into the garden,
sparkling still with dew,
and a hummingbird
touching flower after flower,
then zooming up
for a mid-air pause
to look at the whole,
the shining, aromatic whole,
this morning in June.


At first I thought I saw
a dance of butterflies--
a flock? a bunch? a gaggle? ...
no; a dance will do--
delaying me on the road to business.
Then it was a fist of marigolds
nodding to a lilting sort of song
as fresh as rosebud scent,
a waft across my way.
It was, in fact, a smiling red-haired girl
reminding me of a garden path
I might have trod.

I feel so honored and blessed to have known him.

-- Nicki Rapp (San Francisco, CA)


On a hot day in the northern California sun
You taught me fence building - not the idea
Of fences, but the building of one,
The measuring, the sawing, the nailing, and,
Finally, the whitewashing. But not
Before the heat got to me
And you realized (I thought a bit late)
That the heat was too much for a boy.
You took me into the cool kitchen
Where you offered a glass of ice water
And a lesson at the teacher's blackboard that always stood
To one side. As I cooled off, you tested me
On the arithmetic behind the project:
How many posts, how long the boards and how many,
Divide the perimeter of the corral by the board's length,
Multiply by four rails high.

It was warm, too, in March, when you took
Laura and me, one at a time, to Baskin-Robbins
And let us pick our flavors from the thirty-one.
It was our birthday, your idea.
Going home, riding on the back of the Honda 90,
The ice cream began to melt in the warm wind.

I will remember all these, and more:
The ringing accordion,
The pouch of tobacco,
The Volkswagen Beetle,
The words of encouragement for struggling poems,
The careful printing of one that overcame its struggles,
The admiration of hummingbirds zooming over Willida Lodge,
The obscure book on Lob Trees arriving unexpectedly in the mail,
Real things
And ideas.

-- Greg Booth
Brainerd, MN
May 6, 2009


Don paid attention. He paid attention to the names of flowers, the branching systems of trees, the way words should sit next to each other on a page, the observations of his best friends and family. He paid attention to 8 year old boys that had no business drawing the interest of a mind so busy and rich with thought. Don gave me my first journalism job. The summer he spent with my parents at the lake in Minnesota, he paid attention and saw a young boy whose interests ranged toward reading and writing and circling the gravel lakeside roads on his banana-seat bicycle. Don figured he could put those three interests to work, and came across an odd technology of newspapering: A gel that could be poured into a page-sized mold, imprinted with a master sheet containing stories and articles written by an 8-year-old and his mentor, and then used as the printing press for a couple of dozen barely-legible newspaper copies. The boy gathered the local news, of potlucks and new outboard motors for rent and the latest vegetable crops, and helped a lifelong journalist of the human condition gather the bits and pieces together onto a page. The real journalist and poet let the pretender feel like he was doing something important. That adults said the poet had once worked for the San Diego Union was the stuff of writers' romance, as heady as Don's tobacco cloud. Best of all was delivering the "news" of the week around the lake on that banana-seat bicycle, my first real bylines, and none since more satisfying. Actually, best of all was my reward at the end of the summer. Don had noticed I had a penchant for collecting books of "Peanuts" character cartoons, leaning toward Snoopy and the Red Baron. When our newspaper closed for the season, he handed me a brown paper sack from the lone bookstore in Bemidji, Minnesota, 23 miles away. Inside was a brand new Snoopy book I didn't have, small enough to fit in my back pocket while I rode the bike to a secret reading hideout in the woods. Don had paid attention once again, and given someone something they really wanted.

Mike Booth
Denver Colorado

A Gentleman and a Poet

I loved Don and was always happy to be around him at poetry events, his readings and the Poet Laureate meetings where he had wonderful and fair input along with his knowledge and humor. He was a gentleman and a poet. When my friend Judy Stedman died he was very kind to our writing group and printed her poetry book on his wonderful press where we all sat and hand sewed Judy's books. Don also printed up a broadside of one of Judy's poems as a nice surprise along with one my my poems too.

I will miss Don and think of him always

Geri Digiorno, Petaluma, CA

Geri includes a poem of hers that Don admired.


Tony and I are looking at property
up around Nevada city
a nice half acre
with a mobile home on it

the realtor in holding a stick
moving it along the ground
both hands seeming to guide it
he's looking for water

he stands in complete concentration
his face half tense half relaxed
he's a man that knows what he's doing
he stops in an open field
full of wild flowers and weeds

there's water here he says
six ten feet down probable
an under ground stream
I'm awed

I never saw anything like this
the stick is moving vibrating
like it's plugged into a socket
we've stepped over to another world
of belief or hope
our city selves standing there in disbelief

like aliens or strangers
wanting to look back to ancient times
to rely on instinct to believe
to listen to the earth