Friday, June 15, 2007

Farewell, John Engels

Today's Burlington paper announced the June 13 death of poet and St. Michael's College professor John Engels. Genial and inquisitive, he nurtured many interests, from photography to music to fly fishing and tying; his book Walking to Cootehill was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Engels's first collection, The Homer Mitchell Place, was published by University of Pittsburgh Press in 1958; his final, eleventh, collection is Recounting the Seasons. My own favorite is Sinking Creek (his tenth), which braids grief, aging, loss, and the possibility of redemption into taut strands of narrative verse that wick the very blood of the hills and rivers. Fearless in his exposure of his own doubts and regrets, he nonetheless transformed them into strength and a lyrical voice. Here's a sample that meets the season:

Eve Overlooking the Garden

The garden has ignited.
It’s feverish. Even the white clematis
flutters with sun,

and the red lilies and coral bells
burn back at it. Windblown petals
of cardinals flash

across the buttery primroses:
a good year for gardens.
Everything shines.

I write this standing at my window.
I don’t go down into the garden.
From here I see everything

at once, all the flowers trapped
in color, in their showy, slow
ignition — petal, pistil, leaf and stamen

separating off. Perhaps
there is a way
out of such fiery

gorgeousness. It must
be wearing. Even at night
when I’ve gone blind

I hear a splendid confusion
of harmonics, what only can be
the sharp yellowing

of gloriosas, the speckle-
throated oranging
of the Canada lilies.

— John Engels
From Recounting the Seasons:
Poems, 1958-2005
, University of Notre Dame Press

The memorial service for Engels will be next month: Saturday July 14, at 2 p.m., on the college campus.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, my family appreciates it.---Matthew Engels said...

Matthew - don't know if you will ever get this comment, but, I have only just learned of the poetic brilliance of your Dad. I came to St. Mike's on a college tour, and was blown away by the tribute that "The Onion" had of him. I was truly moved, and inspired. He sounded alot like someone I needed along time ago to find my voice. Although I did not know him, I shall miss him. Fondly, a 44 year old woman that needs a kick in the ass. PEACE. Katharine