Even the words, the point
of the pen itself as it dances
swirling against the page—No,
jiggling & scraping against
it, reaching for a grace & stumbling, re-
tracing and scratching out—
—From “THE HOUSE,” by Ron Loewinsohn, Goat Dances, Black Sparrow Press, 1976
Ron Loewinsohn, well-known Bay Area writer and teacher, died in Berkeley on October 14 after a prolonged illness. Ron was a significant figure in the younger generation of San Francisco Renaissance poets, a group that included David Meltzer, Richard Brautigan, Joanne Kyger and others.
Ron published several volumes of poetry, two novels, articles and reviews over a career that spanned more than fifty years. He also distinguished himself as an academic, serving as a Professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley from 1970 to 2005.
Ron was born in Iloilo, Philippines in 1937, under the Japanese occupation during World War II. His family moved to the United States in 1945, settling in San Francisco some years later.
After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1955, he gravitated to North Beach where he met the literary circle affiliated with Jack Spicer and other writers who were to influence his own work.
Ron published his first collection of poetry, Watermelons, with an introduction by Allen Ginsberg and a prefatory letter by William Carlos WiIliams in 1959. Richard Brautigan and Ron co-edited and published the magazine Change in 1963, cementing a life-long friendship between the two writers.
In 1960, Don Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry, brought Ron’s poetry to the attention of a wide reading audience and helped lead the way to his several following volumes of verse, including Meat/Air: Poems 1957-69 (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1970), a selection from his previous work. He was awarded a Poets’ Foundation Award in 1963; the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Award for undergraduate poetry and the Irving Stone Award from the Academy of Poets in 1966; and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984-85.
Ron’s career was notable for its unusual trajectory. He spent 12 years working as a printer, frequenting the North Beach art and literary scene, but did not go to college until he was 27. He received his B.A. from Berkeley in 1967 and his Ph.D. from Harvard (on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship) in 1971, where he wrote his dissertation on William Carlos Williams. He was hired as a full professor of English at Berkeley in 1970, where he taught both literature and creative writing.
He introduced a course on the Beat Poets that focused on several writers he had known personally, including Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure and Denise Levertov. Ron was happy to teach about his old friends. His passion for teaching, as well as his witty asides and personal anecdotes, made him a popular, charismatic instructor.
While teaching, he tried his hand at fiction, along with other writing projects. His novel Magnetic Field(s), published in 1983, which won the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for fiction, was one of five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. His book reviews appeared in both The New York Times Book Review and the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review.
After retiring from Berkeley in 2005, Ron continued writing and teaching. He wrote a screenplay for Magnetic Field(s) and began writing a memoir. In 2013, he adapted his course on the Beat poets, offering it to adults enrolled in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkeley.
Ron is survived by his wife, Siv Sandler; three sons by previous marriages, Joseph, William and Stephen; and grandchildren Nicolas, Ryan, Chad and Jane, as well as Siv’s children Nicholas and Jennifer and several great-grandchildren.
Ron and Siv married in 2004 and lived in Kensington for 11 years, where they enjoyed the company of their combined family of children and grandchildren.
In 2003, a poem Ron wrote for Siv was included in the Addison Street Poetry Walk Project (curated by Robert Haas), imprinted on a cast-iron plate and imbedded in Berkeley’s “Arts District,” surrounded by 127 other poems by Berkeley poets, including many of Ron’s early North Beach friends.
and the moment are one thing, contained, the way the shoulder
or that cliff is just slipping back into the mist, the way
the various blues, all of them moving, are marching off
toward the horizon.
—(From “Siv, with Ocean (Pacific)”Ron’s intelligence, humor and infectious laughter will be missed by family, friends and colleagues alike. The family is planning a private memorial to be followed by a public celebration of his life to be announced at a later date.