Steve Kowit reads his poem "Cherish"
Steve Kowit, leader among the San Diego poets and editor of the weekly poetry column in the Reader since 2006, passed away in his sleep April 2.
The following are among the tributes to Kowit by local poets.
The Last Conversation with Steve Kowit
- 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:
- “Don't cry...
-         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
- Look again...
-         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.
- **Aoyama, p.47-48.
My Steve Kowit
For days, since learning of Steve’s death, I have read the emails and Facebook posts from so many whose lives he touched. I have talked with others — heard the words — generous, kind, funny, loving, poet, teacher, mentor, publisher, friend. He was all of those things, had such an impact on hundreds of students, colleagues, friends. He connected me to so many of you beautiful, gifted poets, writers, friends.
And, yes, when I tell of him, I use those words, too. This is how I knew him.
Steve was my first poetry teacher more than 20 years ago and has been over and over again, at workshops, classes and readings; at The Writing Center, Southwestern College, San Diego Writers Ink; at coffee shops and bookstores and churches. He once asked me to co-teach a class for Seniors and Alzheimer’s patients at St. Paul’s Villa. What a thrill and validation!
His greeting, always, “how are ya? Ya doin’ OK?” in a way that I knew he meant it, he really wanted to know. As we aged together, we are the same age, we began to share news of a bad back or tweaky knees, hearing aids and cataract surgery; how things that used to be easy now took much more energy. Not complaints, but a common bond.
I have not been able to make sense of the reality of his death until today – 4 days since I heard the impossible news. It left me reeling, shocked, devastated – dramatic words I rarely use, certainly never frivolously or cheaply, their meaning so profound.
It has been impossible to conceive of my world, our world, without him in it. Today I write it, think I can wrap my brain and heart around the truth of it. I don’t claim to have been as close to him or known him as well as many. I do not negate others perhaps, even greater feelings of loss. Mine is deep, it is my own. Today I add a word to the list of praise for this man who means so much to me – authentic – he was the most real person I know – an authentic human being. Oh, yes, I’ll also add “cheerleader.” He always wanted us to do well!
I send to all who loved him, and to his beautiful wife, Mary, whom he loved so much and whose loss must be the greatest of all, the wishes, the words he emailed me on my birthday. “Hope it’s a wonderful, fertile, productive, healthy deliciously happy year! Hugs & more hugs, love & more love, Steve.”
Yours in grief and gratitude,
Steve Kowit was my closest male friend. I know many people felt that way, and I was one of them. I remember the first time I met him. I had taken a one day workshop he was giving at the Writing Center when it was downtown. After it was over, I hustled over and pulled his coat.
“Want to go have coffee:”
“No, sorry, I’ve got an hour drive to get home.”
“OK, well, would you ever be willing to look at some poems?”
“You know, whenever people ask me that, I know what they’re hoping for. They’re hoping I’ll say, ‘You’re an undiscovered genius and I will contact my publisher right away’. Instead, what I invariably tell them is, ‘You have some talent, and if you’re willing to work really hard for five years you may have something interesting to say.”