I was saddened to learn this morning that Don Emblen, my first creative writing teacher, died on Friday April 24.
When I was compelled by a lack of resources to attend Santa Rosa Junior College for the first two years of my college education, I made the best of it by hanging out at Don's office. In my whole career as a student, he was one of the two teachers who made the biggest impression on me.
We disagreed about almost everything, and I'm sure he found some of my opinions horrifying, but there was some overlap in our Weltanschauungen. He introduced me to one of his favorite poets, feeling sure that I would love him too. That was Robinson Jeffers, and he was certainly right about my reaction. He had carried Jeffers' Tamar, Roan Stallion, and Other Poems with him throughout his Navy service in World War II.
More than probably anyone I know, Don followed his curiosity wherever it led. He got interested in Peter Mark Roget, father of the Thesaurus, and wrote the first biography of him. He got interested in new Swedish poets, learned Swedish, and translated a bunch of them. When he became interested in Japanese poetry, he taught himself Japanese, translated some more, and taught in Japan.
He claimed to have written over 4,000 poems, but he published none that I know of in conspicuous places. Often he printed them himself in his cluttered-but-neat garage workshop.
When he "retired" (people like him never retire!) he began publishing a newsletter called The Reader's Rejoinder, consisting of letters written to him by his many friends about whatever they were reading. He completed exactly 250 issues, the last being issued posthumously and arriving here last week.
He was in the midst of rereading The Brothers Karamazov (Volkhonsky trans.) when death overtook him at age 90. His wife, Linda, was reading the Constance Garnett trans. at the same time, and when one of them got ahead of the other, he or she had some trouble not giving away what happened next in the story.
He will be missed by a great many people.
I will try to post one of his poems later today.