April 3, 2015 (Potrero) – Steve Kowit, well-known poet, author, teacher and Potrero resident, passed away this morning following heart surgery Kowit taught at Southwestern College and San Diego State University, mentored many, and inspired a generation of local writers through his teaching, readings and writings.
He was distinguished by his many awards for poetry, which include the National Endowment Fellowship in Poetry, two Pushcart Prizes, the Atlanta Review Poetry Prize, the Ouroboros Book Award, the 2006 Tampa Review Poetry Prize, and most recently the San Diego Theodore Geisel Award.
His collection of poems, The Dumbbell Nebula, was a San Francisco Chronicle’s Notable Book of the Year, and his most recent books of poems, Gods of Rapture and The First Noble Truth have attracted rapt attention and praise from reviewers.
In addition to authoring several books of his own poetry, he has edited a poetry anthology, The Maverick Poets; written several works on the subject of writing poetry, including the highly praised In the Palm Of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop. His writings sometimes encompassed social justice issues, from the journey of immigrants crossing his own property near the Mexican border to turmoil in the Middle East.
Born in Brooklyn, Kowit earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn College, a Master of Arts degree from San Francisco College, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Warren Wilson College. He moved to the San Diego area over 25 years ago and is survived by his wife, Mary, in Potrero’s Coyote Holler.
In his poem, Crossing the River, he once wondered what it would be like when he or Mary died, noting that in eight years, they had not been apart for more than a few days. The poem, which can be read in full on his website, concluded,
there is no sound whatsoever. If things
call to each other at this hour of night
I do not hear them. Vega alone
gleams overhead, thousands of light years
off in the region of Lyra.
The great harp is still.
Jan Hedlun, a member of the Potrero Planning Group, remembered Kowit for his community activism as well as his poetry talent. “He was one of the folks that helped so much against Blackwater as well as being an exceptional, recognized poet," she said.
On Kowit’s Facebook page, friends, fellow poets and students lamented his passing.
Poet Robert McDonald wrote, “Hard to believe he's gone. He's one of those poets who touched many lives. San Diego in particular and the world of poetry at large will really miss him.”
Samantha Sanchez, a student, lamented, “R.I.P. Professor Kowit. Thank you for the inspiration. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for everything.”
Mike Mirarchi stated, “The world lost a great poet today. Very sad.”
Bill Harding left this touching tribue: “The most generous artist in San Diego is dead -- poet Steve Kowit. His poetry was music, the deliberately discordant minor tones jarring with the full-bodied brightness of the major keys: our own Thelonious Monk, by way of Brooklyn and all the bumps between there and here. I loved his wit, his outlandish sense of humor, his keen mind, those halting pauses when he read his poems, the way you could hear the smile in his voice. So many of us loved him as friend, mentor and teacher… I don't think he ever let any of us down. He showed up, always. He has long been an emblem of what the best of us looks like, and will he remain that for me. We've lost a genuine treasure.”
A reading to honor Steve Kowit will be held on April 26th at 4 p.m. at Writers Ink, 2730 Historic Decatur Road, Barracks 16, Suite 202 in San Diego.