Earth Notes
3:37 am
Tue July 11, 2006

Jim Simmerman leaves mark

Flagstaff, AZ – Jim Simmerman will be remembered for many things - his passion, his love of stray dogs, music and beer, his teaching style.
But mostly Simmerman will be remembered for his poetry and the way he delivered it.

He gave this reading about two years ago at the University of Arizona.

SIMMERMAN: Huddled inside the birdhouse of the bottle meet me?

CUMMINS: He just sort of could work the crowd the way a musician works the crowd. I mean I was consistently moved by him as a public performer.

Friend and colleague Ann Cummins says his was a unique and honest voice.

Northern Arizona Book Festival director Becky Byrkit agrees. She had been Simmerman's close friend for 27 years.

BYRKIT: It's a huge mark he made on my life and the lives of so many students and friends. I'm glad that I met him when I was so young. You know I'm very grateful for that.

Byrkit recalls a time with Jim when they traveled to the University of Iowa where Simmerman went to graduate school. He found his thesis in the library there, ripped out the pages and threw them away.

BYRKIT: I said what are you doing? Oh my God. He said this is not my book. I don't want it here. He said this is not my mark.

Byrkit says Simmerman's death reminds her of that act.

BYRKIT: I think finally he felt that the life he was destined to continue living was not as he would say his mark. This was not the life he wanted to continue living. It was a life of pain. No more baseball games, no more motorcycle rides, no more karate demonstrations in his futurebecause he was ill.

Byrkit says Simmerman was facing a dismal diagnosis from his doctors. She says the ill person he became was not the way he wanted to be remembered.

Instead friends say he would want his mark to be his poetry and making poetry accessible to everyone.

Again Ann Cummins

CUMMINS: I know he had a huge place in the hearts of Flagstaff educators. And not just at NAU.

Simmerman taught at Northern Arizona University for almost three decades. He initiated the graduate program in creative writing there.

Becky Byrkit says Simmerman likened poetry to rock-n-roll to make it more available to his students.

BYRKIT: I think a lot of people find things like poetry intimidating. And not perhaps possible and he had a manner that suggested possibility for anyone who was up for it.

Simmerman had an academic understanding of poetic forms.

He was not afraid to be playful and experiment with his writing.

SIMMERMAN: I know I talk to much shut up, Simmerman. Shut up!

Simmerman was the author of five collections of poetry. And he received national recognition for his work.

Friends and colleagues are planning a celebration of his life after NAU fall classes begin.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.