Our first “Poet’s Club” was held at Kathleen Lynch’s house. Our group included Catherine French (Side Show), Carol Frith, (her latest, two for a journey just came out from David Robert Books), Victoria Dalkey (twenty-nine poems and In the Absence of Silver) Lisa Dominguez Abraham (Low Notes), Mary Zeppa (Little Ship of Blessing and The Battered Bride Overture) Kathleen, of course, (whose book Hinge won the Black Zinnia prize a few years ago, and who I’ve written about in a previous blog), and me—seven women—that was our plan.
Until someone brought up the idea of including Quinton Duval, poet and publisher of Red Wing Press, and a longtime pal to most of us.
Quinton’s poetry is full of duende; it has a great, big heart—and, not surprisingly, so does he. He studied with Dennis Schmitz here in Sacramento, and with Dick Hugo in Montana; his first full-length book, Dinner Music, came out from Lost Roads in 1984 and, after a long hiatus, Cedar House Press brought out another full-length collection, Joe’s Rain, in 2005. Among Summer Pines, his latest chapbook, came out two years ago.
We took a vote: Q, as we call him, was in.
And so we’ve had a great time these past few years, meeting roughly every month or two—celebrating and sometimes pummeling (or both) the books we read and discuss—writing lots of new poems—sipping more than a few glasses of the good grape, and savoring quite a few tasty dishes (like Q’s famous-among-us Savory Bread Pudding).
“Poetry withers without fellowship,” Stanley Kunitz once said.
We have been in the fellowship thick of it. We love each other, nothing romantic—we’re joined at the poem’s hip.
Things changed a few weeks back.
The last time I saw him Q was battling allergies; he was scheduled to be the host for our upcoming meeting but had to postpone it when his doc subsequently diagnosed him with bacterial pneumonia. Shortly after that, we got word that Q was being taken to ER. They put him on oxygen and checked him into ICU. We were asked to hold off visiting until he was stronger.
Then the tests began, and a few days later we were told it was cancer—one of the most aggressive kinds, and it had spread almost everywhere. We felt like our hearts were being ripped from our chests.
Q died on Monday, May 10th. They had sent him home a few days earlier, in an attempt to make him more comfortable. We know his death was peaceful, without pain, and within view of the garden he loved. That helps some, of course.
And Q’s poems are still so alive on the page! —so full of living and breathing and singing. It’s hard not to ache for him, and for ourselves when we read them now (so many of them in his last collection like a long goodbye to life) even as we also take heart from his words.
That word heart keeps coming up when we think of Q. Here is the link to his book Joe’s Rain. You can read a bit about Q here, and sample a few of his big-hearted poems for yourself.
And here is my own tribute to Q, which I was asked to write for our local publication, Poetry Now. The next issue will be dedicated to Q. The poem appears here with their permission. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org/pn.htm)
Letter to Q, May 17, 2010
…a piece of the continent/ A part of the main…
This morning our feisty little dazzler of a hummingbird
dropped by, with the thrum and whirr of those posh
jade wings, and that off-kilter
boutonniere of shy ruby.
Then the local host, aerialist and stickler for tunes,
Mr. Mockingbird, started in a cappella; so of course
I thought of you, and that virtuoso
gang of old choristers, who
by now you must have found. I picture the lot of you
crowded around some infinite campfire’s galactic blaze,
hoisting a few glasses of otherworld wine,
as you cook up that dreamy asparagus
and potato number you nonchalantly served us a few months back.
Even a body without a body as we know it will zero in on
certain basic constellations—
to eat and drink whatever is
offered, of fellowship, good wine, asparagus, and stars. (As you would
say, it’s all nectar.) So I know you’ll stab anything and everything you can
with that strange new beak
of invisible heart. You’ll stir it up,
heat it to boiling, and write a few more great recipes for song.
(Quinton Duval, November 6, 2008-May 10, 2010)