American poet John Tagliabue passed away yesterday, on Walt Whitman's birthday.

Tagliabue learned much from Whitman, but he took what he learned and went far beyond, into the world and into his own singing world. In fact it would be more accurate to say that he, like Whitman, was inspired by a certain very pure note of spiritual joy.

You would have to go back to the Psalmist for a real comparison. This is not saying too much. Tagliabue's theme was life itself, and all it contains - time, space, suffering, love, joy, beauty & grace, freedom. From the beginning - from his earliest poems from the '40s & '50s - he discovered that in affirmation - in singing a resounding yes to experience - through the artful yes of poetry - his affirmation is doubled, is magnified, redounds on itself, finds its own balance, symmetry and grace. His fellowship is with Blake, Whitman, Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Shakespeare, St. Francis, Marianne Moore, & all the Chinese & Japanese poets he knew & loved... (I hope & expect he is with them right now).

He was born in 1923, in Cantu, a northern Italian town near Lake Como. His first language was Italian; he & his mother rejoined his father a few years later in Jersey City, where his father worked as a chauffeur & eventually ran a restaurant. (Tagliabue later attended Columbia, where he was a student of Mark van Doren.)

I point this out in order to emphasize that there was, in this American poet, something very ancient, a kind of spiritual hilarity. From an early age, Tagliabue was always dancing : his first ambition was to be a ballet dancer. I remember him in his late 60s, prancing around the room to some Indian ragas with his delighted grandchildren. Tagliabue most likely would have felt right at home with those serene, smiling people who emerge from the Etruscan sculpture of his native region. The sweet hilarity & refined exhaltation of his poems is infectious - that is their purpose. He was devoted every day of his life to praise.

In a land obsessed with physical sports (his cousin Paul, by the way, was commissioner of the NFL), this spiritual athlete, with his Italo-Chaplinesque quirks & laughter - with his daily devotion to poetry, meditation & correspondence - was the best of all.

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