“Last Will” by Steve Kowit – Former Ocean Beach Poet Passes

by on April 3, 2015 · 1 comment

in Culture, Media, Ocean Beach

steve kowit best

Steve Kowit at San Diego Writers, Ink 2014

Editor: We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Kowit, a well-known poet – and educator – from our area,  a former OBcean and mainstay in Ocean Beach literary circles. In the 1990s Steve moved from OB out to East County.

In Steve’s honor, we publish below a piece he had to say about poetry making followed by a very fitting poem, “Last Will”.

Our online media partner, the San Diego Free Press, is celebrating National Poetry Month by publishing selections of works by San Diego poets, and Steve Kowit was one of those poets.

By Steve Kowit

Poetry, when it is at its most ineffable, transports us to places we had no reason to believe language could take us. What is needed for this task is the most luminous vision, the most receptive spirit and the most crystalline possible clarity of presentation. …

Let us, by all means, have a poetry of the most incandescent verbal pyrotechnics, of the most restlessly experimental and original design. Let us have poems that astonish the reader at every turn. Let our poets attend to making it new with nearly as much fervor as they attend to making it true. But on those occasions when we fail to communicate, let us no longer imagine we have succeeded at something larger and grander.

Let us not blame our failures on the intellectual poverty of our readers, or on their inability to register complex ambiguities, or on their irritable reaching after fact, or on the ineptitude of their teachers, or on the seductions of the media, or on crass materialism, or on the philistine vulgarity of our culture, or on–well, whatever else seems convenient to blame for our own failures.

Let us no longer be gulled into imagining that rhetorical sophistication and verbal panache in the absence of genuine, communicated perception can create a poetry that is genuinely complex, textured, multilayered, exploratory, intuitive and profoundly insightful, a poetry worth careful study. (The Mystique of the Difficult Poem)

[From San Diego Free Press:]

Steve’s poems reflected that “luminous vision.” He astonished us, enabled us to both imagine and to see the landscape before us. Above all, he respected his readers. It is fitting that we should give him the last word here.

Last Will

By Steve Kowit

If I am ever
unlucky enough to die
(God forbid!)
I would like to be propped up
in my orange overstuffed chair
with my legs crossed
dressed in a cashmere sweater & jeans
& embalmed
in a permanent glaze
like a donut
or Lenin
a small bronze plaque
on the door of my study
showing the dates
of my incarnation & death.
& leave the room as it was!
Let nothing be touched in the house!
My underpants stuck on the doorknob
just where I left them.
My dental floss
lying on top of the Bhagavad Gita
next to my socks.
Let the whole of Ebers Street
be roped off
& planted with yews
from Narragansett to Cape May
& left as a monument to my passing.
The street?
No— the city itself?
Let it be known
as the Steve M. Kowit
Memorial Park & Museum.
Better yet
if the thing can be done
without too much fuss
put the whole planet to sleep.
Let the pigeons & busses
& lawyers & ladies
hanging out wash
freeze in their tracks.
Let the whole thing
be preserved under ice
just as it looked
when the last bit of drool
trickled over my chin.
Let the last of the galaxies
sizzle out
like a match in the wind
& the cosmic balloon
shrink down to a noodle
& screech to a halt.
Let time clot
like a pinprick of blood
& the great solar flame
flicker down
to the size of a yertzite candle
leaving the universe dark
but for one tiny spotlight
trained on the figure of me
propped in my chair—
for after my death
what possible reason could life
in any form
care to exist?
—Don’t you see
it would be utterly pointless!
I would be gone!
Look, try to conceive it,
a world without me! Me
entirely absent—
nobody here with these eyes,
this name,
these teeth!
Nothing but vacant space
a dry sucking wind
where I walked
where I sat— where
you used to see me
you would see nothing at all—
I tell you
it dwarfs the imagination…
Oh yes, one last thing:
the right leg
is to be crossed over the left
— I prefer it that way —
& poised on the knee .
Prop the left elbow up
on the arm of the chair
with a pen
in my right hand—
let my left
be characteristically
scratching my skull
or pulling my hair.
If you wish
close the lids of my eyes
but whatever you do
the mouth must remain open
just as it was in life—
open forever!
On that I absolutely insist!

Copyright Steve Kowit

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Terry Hertzler April 4, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Steve was the best poetry teacher I’ve ever encountered, and I am honored to say that he was also a good friend. He was one of the most unpretentious and kind people I’ve ever known. His death is a tremendous loss, not only to his family and friends, but also to the poetry and teaching community across the country. We’ll miss him and will remember him with great fondness and admiration.


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