University of Redlands Provost Kathy Ogren writes to the University community in the wake of Creative Writing Professor Ralph Angel’s death. Here is the text of her March 9 memo.
It is with deep sorrow that I share with you the shocking news that Ralph Angel, the Edith R. White Distinguished Professor in the Creative Writing Department, passed away unexpectedly over the weekend. Our respected colleague suffered a brief illness and hospitalization in the past month.
Ralph had a tremendous impact on his students over the 39 years he taught at Redlands. As Professor Emeritus Bill McDonald recalls, “Ralph's teaching—dramatic, inspirational, personal, self-consciously urban—attracted and held students. His poetry workshops were legendary, but I want to single out his Literature of Separation course—Rumi, Rilke, Mary Oliver, Raymond Carver—in the Johnston Center. It was life-changing for a number of souls, as testimonies today on Facebook verify.”
Professor Nancy Carrick remembers Ralph’s talent and charm: “Ralph was a memorable reader of his poetry, revealing a haunting vulnerability and empathy that might have surprised many who knew him only casually as a colleague, who knew only the delight of his incomparable charm and bemusement. His talent was considerable, and he wore it lightly.”
Another U of R colleague, Professor Joy Manesiotis, notes Ralph’s many contributions to the University and the field: “Ralph was one of the early founders of the Creative Writing Department at Redlands, and he was visionary in building the department and crafting its curriculum. He taught undergraduates here—and graduate students at Vermont College—and he had strong student followings in both places. A fine poet of depth and originality, and a translator of Federico García Lorca’s experimental poetry, Ralph left a substantial body of work. He will be missed by his colleagues, his students, and a host of poets across the country.”
For Joy, it’s this poem of Ralph’s (Strays, Foundlings Press, 2019) that lingers today:
But here in the city there are signs and crowds in the street
and a girl on the balcony
and cars that have to get through the deep shallows
And there are ashes falling down the sky
from the palace of arms
to the fountain
and upon the whispering aspens
And there are naked feet and white flowers
from their hideaways
an angel comes to me and taps
‘Poetry is the language for which we have no language’
A second-generation American of Sephardic Jewish descent, Ralph was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1951. He attended inner-city public schools there, and, while working freight trains for the Union Pacific Railroad, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Washington. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Irvine, and has lived in and around Los Angeles ever since. In addition to his position at the University of Redlands, he was a member of the MFA in Writing faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Ralph traveled widely in Europe, North Africa, and Central and South America. He commented in the “Afterword” to his translation of the Federico García Lorca collection, Poema del cante jondo: “I come from a household of three languages—Ladino, Hebrew, and English—one that I could understand but not speak, one that I could sing but not understand, and one that is the language of my country, at some distance, always, from my home.” When he came to translate Lorca’s poetry, he noted that he was familiar with the music that the poems paid homage to: “It resembled the incantatory medieval singing of the Sephardic synagogue that I grew up in.”
His spare lyrics are set in an urban landscape that seems timeless, universal, and historical. In his 1996 Los Angeles Times review of Neither World (Miami University Press, 1995) Mark Doty stated: “The Los Angeles that Angel's poetry occupies and creates is never named, and for good reason, since it is not local but broadly American, a version of the psychological landscape of any American city today.”
Ralph’s work has been lauded for its extraordinary abstract lyricism and wry philosophical wisdom. It also has been noted that his collections differ dramatically from one another, about which he has stated: “Poetry is the language for which we have no language. Given that I have only two tools—the language in which I compose and the fact of my reality—it’s my job to find the language that enacts the fact of my reality. If my poems have changed and evolved over the years, they are testimony to how my life and orientation to language have changed and evolved. It’s my job to make immediacy and presence possible.”
His first collection, Anxious Latitudes (Wesleyan University Press, 1986), was widely praised and reviewed. His second book, Neither World (Miami University Press, 1995), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, garnered him national prominence. A third work, Twice Removed (Sarabande Books, 2001), was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. His fourth collection, Exceptions and Melancholies: Poems 1986-2006 (Sarabande Books, 2006), was honored with the 2007 PEN USA Award for Poetry. His most recent collection, Your Moon (New Issues Poetry and Prose) was awarded the 2013 Green Rose Poetry Prize. And his translation of the Federico García Lorca collection, Poema del cante jondo / Poem of the Deep Song, received a Willis Barnstone Poetry Translation Prize.
Another work, entropia, is still in publication with Dark Spring Press and includes the text of a conversation with Ralph, his personal friend artist and educator Dustin Leavitt, and artist and publisher Andy Burgess.
Ralph’s poems have appeared in scores of magazines, both here and abroad, and have been collected in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Poetry, American Hybrid, Poets of the New Century, and Forgotten Language. Other recent literary awards include a gift from the Elgin Cox Trust, a Pushcart Prize, the Gertrude Stein Award, a Fulbright Foundation fellowship, and the Bess Hokin Award of the Modern Poetry Association.
Ralph’s papers have been left to the University of Redlands Armacost Library Special Collections.