Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ed Baker remembered


The poet Ed Baker passed away on March 29 at 12:30 am after living 73 robust winters. He has given to the earth new energies and offered to human beings new sounds and colors, meanings. Google his name, with poetry after – and you will discover only one Ed Baker fitting that accurate description. He was as much as an accomplished painter as a poet, maybe more, although he didn’t offer either for fame or profit. He was content to work at his word-man-ship, drawings and colorings day after day for decades, aiming for the perfection of expression and his favorite subject: love for a woman. Not an unusual topic, yet his approach and characterization were unique fine, alive, even glorious.
Cid Corman introduced me to Ed in an affectionate 1975 letter from Kyoto and John Martone introduced me to Ed in Washington D.C. near the Washington, Monument around 2000. He was driving an old pickup truck and wore a baseball cap over his bald head, magnifying his fluffy white beard. That was the real start of our friendship. After that, whenever I was in Washington, D.C., on three occasions, I would stay with Ed in his antique house on Flower Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland. His son lived on the 3rd floor and his daughter in the basement apartment. He occupied ground level rooms, sharing the dining room and kitchen. He was a deeply caring man toward his grown children, a father and a mother, too, for he even cooked for them. I never heard him raise his voice or utter an inconsiderate word toward them, and they I saw could live comfortably and quietly with him, despite all the eccentricities of a painter and a poet, without which there would be no art, but rather the commonplace.
Ed earned a MFA in creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 1973, specializing in poetry. Already his work was exceptional, reminding me of Ezra Pound, as in Ed’s poem, Hydra, in his book BUTCHER OF OXEN and other poems (1970):
 I think about the great river:
forgetting the sun  I suffer the sun
with birds that drink at the edge
with men who cast their nets.
They came as I was gazing at that sun
I tell you    dressed in white
as I was gazing at that other continent.
Great stones in the hills mark the dead; it is almost impossible to remember
other Greeks
That burned along the shore
Or on the point
Marking midnight            marking nights
that flooded the earth with stars
When ships came,
                                                 And they were good ships
their men             strong men
whose beads made the seasons
whose eyes went straight
guided by stars
that knew where they were.
I think about the river flowing
                                                                like the blood of men
like the blood of men who have known
their fears
& cast their nets into the morning sun.
However, after his divorce, in order to support his children he spent much of the next two decades working at house restoration, some of that experience recorded in Restoration Poems and Restoration Letters exchanged with his mentor Cid Corman, who resided in Kyoto. While restoring houses he was also in process of restoring his own life.
Besides watercolor and oil paintings, examples of which lined the walls of his house, he did abstract wood sculptures. It was one day about 10 years ago that I received word that “Ed had a stroke.” When visiting him last summer, 2016, he told me, “I was working outside under the hot sun, but I wanted to keep going on the sculpture, then it hit me and I was unconscious in the yard.” He survived and recovered almost completely save for high blood pressure for which he took medication. In the winter of 2015 I heard that he has suffered another stroke, and a couple months after his son notified me that he was in the hospital, where not long after his heart gave out.
And a strong and vigorous heart it had been. After his first stroke he worked at recovery by competing in several marathons, even triathlons. But his greatest marathons had been in writing hundreds of outstanding short poems and illustrating them immaculately. Here are some examples:
He had an entire shelf full of his illustrations in carefully dated notebooks. All of his book shelves which filled two rooms were neatly arranged and filled with the classics of modern poetry and spiritual studies as well. Whenever I’d visit he’d conduct an on-going poetry workshop for me: laying before me piles of his own work, like the monumental Stone Girl E-pic, to peruse as well as well as the works of North American poets I didn’t know at all or at least not very well but who I should know, like Irving Layton, and Carl Rakosi. Poetry and painting were his life and he happily shared it with me. Had he been more ambitious his work would have been more widely known and appreciated, but it’s not too late.
Here is an example of his love poems for Fay Ling, from The City (1974)
the still slow war
has gotten beyond me
I imagine yellow flowers
on the wall
A girl in a dress
I have not seen her wear
her loose movement
in a wet dress
as she went up
houston street
These are examples of Ed short poems, and his particular sense of humor, influenced by his  correspondence with Cid Corman and others of Cid’s  school:
…. Sometimes
being myself
Isn’t so easy
(in Postcards from Myou, 2000)
Within and without
red tulip.
(from Things Just Come Through, 2004)
The last night I was in Washington I was walking back to dine and sleep as his guest by  old two-story houses along Flower Avenue when the short grass lit up with a glow my feet, and then again here and there in other yards.  They created briefly a yellow softness, silent and unspoiled.  How many millions of years had the fireflies, “lightning bugs” we Washingtonians called them, been lighting up the plants at night? It seemed to me the most beautifully sublime sight I had ever seen – so silent and gentle, oblivious that this was a dangerous place to be for us humans walking at night. For them life went on in its eternal beauty.  I wish the same for Ed’s soul.
                ~Fred Jeremy Seligson, April 9th, 2016, Seoul

 Blossom Pouting

 Ed Baker

1 comment:

  1. I was at Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars with Ed! We knew each other well & kept in touch intermittently over the years. He was a very dear & special person-- am so very sad to hear of his passing.


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