John Tagliabue, 82, of Providence, a well-loved American poet, died at Miriam Hospital on May 31st, of complications from pancreatic cancer. He passed away quietly, while listening to family read his poems aloud.
Mr. Tagliabue was a gifted, inspired person, from whom poetry seemed to pour forth with natural grace and gaiety. As his daughter Francesca remarked, "he wrote poems the way other people breathe." Over six decades, he published over 1700 poems, in scores of journals and anthologies. He was the author of six books of poetry, the most recent being a volume of 600 selected poems from the National Poetry Foundation. Mr. Tagliabue's muse was not confessional, but contemplative and world-embracing. He grasped Walt Whitman's magnanimous vision, and set out to bring it to fruition in his own way. As Fulbright lecturer and traveling scholar, he taught and gave readings in Italy, China, Indonesia, Lebanon and Japan; in Greece, Spain and Brazil; at schools, libraries, bookstores and galleries across the United States; and at the Library of Congress. He was deeply engaged with the culture and arts of Asia, spending two years in Japan and seven months in China; many of his poems and theater pieces reflect those influences. His roots also ran deep in the region of his birth, northern Italy. As he wrote : "I cannot help but think / that we Lombards are related to the ancient Chinese / I see it in the face of old peasants / and in their love of rice. . ." Mr. Tagliabue's art, as many writers and former students will testify, does what only great and vital poems do : it performs a metamorphosis. It celebrates the beautiful variety manifest in the universe - and the currents of love and playfulness surging through it. Praise - the central calling of the poet - was the keynote. As poet Amy Clampitt wrote : "John Tagliabue writes out of a deeply sacramental sense of nature and history… It comes to this reader, poem by poem, as a Franciscan act of courtesy and praise." Here is one of his briefest poems, in its entirety:
FOR THE ATTENTIVE TRANSLATOR
if quietly you listen closely enough
you will hear its song
John Anthony Tagliabue was born July 1, 1923, in Cantù, Italy (a small city near Lake Como), to Battista and Adelaide (Boghi) Tagliabue. In 1927, he and his mother joined his father in Jersey City, N.J., where he attended school. He graduated with an M.A. from Columbia University in 1945. In 1946, he married Grace Ten Eyck, of Schenectady, N.Y. He then taught English and American literature at the American University in Beirut (Lebanon) and Alfred University, N.Y., followed by a tenured position at the English Department of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine (1953 to 1989). He retired from Bates as Professor Emeritus. Grace and he moved to Providence in 1998. Mr. Tagliabue also lectured at Tokyo University in Japan, 1958-60; at Fudan University in Shanghai, China in 1984; Jakarta, Indonesia in 1993. His books include : Poems (Harper & Bros., 1959), A Japanese Journal (Kayak Press, 1966) and The Buddha Uproar (Kayak, 1970), The Great Day (Alembic Press, 1984), and New and Selected Poems, 1942-1997 (National Poetry Foundation, 1997). His works also encompass over 30 travel journals, essays, puppet plays, children's books - and, in a lifelong collaboration with his wife, a number of beautiful prints, watercolors and broadsides, in which poems and visual images are married.
Mr. Tagliabue is survived by Grace, his wife of 60 years; a sister, Erica Dorf, of New York City; two daughters, Francesca, of Providence, and Dina, of Torino, Italy; and four grandchildren (Juniper, Tera, Alexander and Phoebe). In lieu of flowers, the family requests the sharing of his poetry. As he said at the very end of his life, "If you are looking for me, you will find me in my poems."