Keith Wilson: 1927-2009

Joe and Jill Somoza just called to tell us that our close friend poet Keith Wilson has died. Keith had been in a hospice in Las Cruces for almost two weeks. He passed quietly with Heloise, his daughters Kathy and Kerin and his son Kevin at his side. Keith’s been suffering from aphasia for a number of years and he had lost his ability to speak and to be a poet, so it was time for him to catch the boat to the other side. He will be missed. I will miss him.

Keith, as a friend and a mentor, was a very important influence in my life as a poet and as a householder. I first met him and Heloise in Tucson in 1963 where he was a lecturer. Through him and Barney Childs I became involved in the Ruth Stephan Poetry Center, along with my friend Paul Malanga, and was able to hang around poets and poetry. The Wilson household was always full of talking poetry and laughing. Creeley, Snyder, Duncan, Jerome Rothenberg, John Newlove and so many others were always coming through. It was a special time back then. I’ve always felt privileged to know poets and to be part of the special community of those who make poems. Keith was an entry way for me into this special world.

Last year poets in Las Cruces and Placitas/Albuquerque organized celebrations of Keith and his poetry. He was present at each event and enjoyed them immensely. You can read about each of those occasions on previous blog entries here and here where I've included introductions by Joe Somoza (Las Cruces) and me (Placitas) and poems. The picture above I took in December 2005. Keith was still writing, although I suppose the aphasia was probably creeping into his world.

This fall Clark City Press will be publishing his collected poems (1965-2001), Shaman of the Desert. 1100 pages in all, it will include 23 of his books, uncollected poems and his autobiography that he wrote in 1992 for the Gale Publishing Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series.

In my other postings you'll see other poems, but here is one of my favorite Keith Wilson poems, a poem I heard a long time ago back in the day. May Keith rest in peace.

The Gift
--for my daughter Kathleen

This is a song
about the gift of patience

of opening

the need to walk alone
ever, deeper, into

This is a poem
against light

a recommendation
to darkness

Bring a candle
the room is warm

This is a song


Anonymous said...

He was a good guy who listened to me on many occasions and provided valuable guidance in my life. I will miss him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, BB, for saying what we think. Equally empty, equally to be loved.

Anonymous said...

I very much admired Keith Wilson's spirit through his poems. Very few could write about the desert like he could. I never met him but have several of his books. Am especially attached to his Shaman Deer. I've recently become attracted to a poem he wrote years ago, "Desert Cenote."
He'll be missed.

John Macker

Anonymous said...


Thanks for providing the space to reflect upon Keith's life. You might know that I worked with him, as I did with you, at the NMSU Archives. What a fascinating man, with great insight to the human condition. I consider myself fortunate to have met him, and through this meeting also found commonality with a past great love in my life, who also met Keith as a student at State.

God Bless you, Keith.

Bill Boehm
Washington DC

Bobby Byrd said...

Halvard Johnson, in his regular newsletter of poems, sent this announcement out to his list:

Keith Wilson died the other day. He was a friend I've known since the mid-60s,
when I spent some years living in El Paso while he was living in southern New
Mexico: Anthony, right on the Texas-New Mexico border; then San Miguel, farther
north, up the Mesilla Valley of the Rio Grande; and then Las Cruces. Any house
of Keith and Heloise Wilson was full of music and wine and poetry, a caravanserai
for poets traveling north or south, east or west.

Keith, at one stage of his life, often wrote of the sea, and his sea poems were
among the best poems to come out of the Korean War. Here's one that's not
overtly war related:

The Sea

"On the beach
the ocean ends in water.
--George Oppen
The Materials

The crisp line, taut, in all
intimations, thrown out, cork circling
the water, spash, my hand

reaching out

--the call, rightly named, these
Materials, the call is there
simple, demanding

response and a certain
attention to pulse, the
movement of whatever the work

asks of man--is that what
I'm trying to say, a man,
and how, sometimes, he doesn't

drown. Coming up spitting
salt water, safely past the
screws, it is a man
intact who waves

from the calm wake; behind
him the sea clear, oceans
held in place by a line.

And he wrote of dusty New Mexico

The Politicians

come here with full bellies
& shined shoes to the one street
of San Miguel, talking, waving
hands, their harsh gringo Spanish
shouted in the hanging dust
of the square

the men of the town
stand uneasy, aware of their hard
hands, the blue of the stranger's
eyes, their own mudcrusted boots
stiff with clay

they are ashamed these men
whose hands are strong with work & loving.
they listen. then go to the bar,
beer & red wine, juke box Infante songs,
his dead voice singing of a Mexico
which was sad, beautiful, but theirs
--riding free across a green land,
gritos on their lips & dead politicians
fall, one-by-one before their dreaming guns.

--both from Graves Registry and Other Poems
[New York: Grove Press, 1969]

Coincidentally, while 1969 did not mark the first publication of a collection of
poems by Keith Wilson, it did mark the first publication of a collection of poems
by me. And it was Keith Wilson who sat me down on his living room floor and
showed me how to put a collection of poems together. That first book that bore
a epigraph by Keith Wilson: "a sunlit unity / desperately sought" and contained
this poem written on the occasion of Keith's and Heloise's moving from Anthony,
New Mexico, to a big new (well, not new new) house in San Miguel:

Moving Out

for Keith & Heloise Wilson

saying goodbye
is no trouble:

a house is a skin
to be shucked

wriggled out of
room by room

closet by closet
until what remains

is piles of boxes,
a few empty hangers,

a heap of debris
on the kitchen floor

which never seemed so wide,
a neighbor's dog

who come to say goodbye
from a respectable distance.

fr. Transparencies and Projections
[New York: New Rivers Press, 1969]


Bobby Byrd said...

Here's a poem from El Paso poet and song-writer Gene Keller (99names@elp.rr.com) in memory of Keith:


Sir, we have registered your grave
in the valley of a small mesa scarping
on the other side of a grand river.

Of course, any water in a desert
is a grace, a blessing, and therefore, grand, whether wadi or arroyo.

When I once visited a wadi,
I carried this image - you, driving at night through the Sacremento Mountains; you told me there was a wolf loping through the trees, pacing your progress.

I fear that wolf drew you
to a land beyond a green land.

Some say it's a land of nada,
but I expect to see you walking
up a dry creekbed near Cloudcroft,
your tongue lolling.

- Gene Keller

Anonymous said...

Keith Wilson

Overcast and damp. The small birds
sit quietly atop the rose bush, claws
shadowing thorns. The large birds, Doves,
are not doing their usual Watusi wobble
toward the bowl of water on the ground.
They are perched on the power line,
a long row of them, as if waiting
for a funeral procesion to pass.
It is a sad day in Las Cruces, a
sad day in the world, the passing
of a man, generous and loving,
our “Shaman of the Desert.”
Aphasia stole his voice, but
could not take away his smile,
his thumbs up, his open embrace,
his two score of books. If you flip
through his pages, the immediacy
of his poems will draw you in,
and you will understand what is meant
by the Living Word.

Wayne Crawford

Terry Lucas said...


We have never met, but we are related through Keith and his influence on our work and our lives. Thank you for these fitting words. I was at AWP last week and just heard of Keith's passing. I have corresponded with him and Heloise on and off for almost 40 years. See my blog for a poem he sent me in 2000 that uncannily speaks to his translation into another state of being: "When Stepping into Darknness":


Terry Lucas

Terry Lucas said...

Here is Keith's poem, "Stepping into Darkness." Of the three drafts, it is the only one without edits, so I assume it to be the latest incarnation I have. The margins may not come out on this post as he intended (stanzas two and three are significantly indented as Keith's typical half lines).

When Stepping into Darkness

Begin by throwing words
that spread, light,
Darkness is,
after all, only the absence
of light.
on canvas, wood or paper
will do as well as
singing, dancing, sculpting
all colors and meaning
into a blue swirl of doorway,

Anonymous said...

Dear Bobby,
Thank you for remembering Keith and helping us all.

I talked to Heloise yesterday. I thanked her for supporting Keith and providing us all with the opportunity of having him in our lives longer than aphasia usually allows. As you know, Heloise continued to take Keith on outings and to gatherings. The last time I saw them together, not long ago, Heloise was buzzing north on I 25, Keith in the passenger side, face forward, taking the curve toward Kevin’s.
Though Keith’s words became garbled, his message was clear. The poet’s essence transcended his own art form. Without words he kept on making poetry. (Shaman Trick)
I will miss Keith Wilson.
Jane Slagle

Bobby Byrd said...

from Cirrelda Snider-Bryan (artist and co-publisher of La Alameda Press in Albuquerque):

I came to this entry, series of entries, you have written re: Keith Wilson. Please know they have all helped me to honor Keith, which I was not able to do in the big gathering yesterday.

You say it very well, Bobby, about the connectedness that the poetry community brings. Thank you so very much for this.

Kathy Fox said...

Dear Bobby,
Thank you very much for writing about my father. He loved being in the company of fellow poets and friends. The eulogy you gave was beautiful & made me remember him in stronger days.
Thank you and Lee-Bird for being such good friends. I loved seeing you again.
Kathy Wilson Fox

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. Heloise, I am Liana BOTA from Floresti-Cluj Napoca, ROMANIA, a former classmate and friend of Kristin and Kathy and I am sorry for your great loss - Keith, your dear husband. I want to get into contact with Kristin so please send me her e-mail or mail address. I want so badly to talk to her over the internet. My family's deepest regrets and condoleances. God bless you and please give me a sign that you've got this note. My email address is lalabota@yahoo.com.Send my love to Kristin, Kathy, Kerrin and Kevin.

Liana BOTA and her family

Dale said...

Bobby, thanks for your words here.... Dale