Friday, June 26, 2009
James Baker Hall, RIP
photo by Louis Bickett
While I'm, believe it or not, currently listening to an early demo version of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Until You Get Enough," it's too bad that former Kentucky poet laureate, James Baker Hall, decided to up and die on the same day as the fallen king of pop. Jim, as those who knew him called him, certainly was a nurturing force in the literary scene of Lexington, Kentucky, both on and off campus.
I personally had two classes with Jim, during my sort of wildest angry young man period as a student at the University of Kentucky, and we kept in touch over the years. He used to always introduce me to people as having "the most piss & vinegar" of any artist in town. I would always gently protest this statement to Jim and the individual to whom he would be introducing yours unruly.
Jim was one of those rare birds who could actually write and teach. He had the gift. I saw him personally inspire many people to their maximum potential as scribes. While he was reverent to the power of language, he was not a man of pretense. I recall him saying, "Being a writer and being a student of literature are two separate things."
So yesterday I got the news of his passing right on the heels of the Jackson/Fawcett news. It was something of a blow to hear about Jim. I knew his health had been in decline. Although last I saw him was a little under a year ago at Stella's deli, and he laid a big warm hug on me and we conversated for a good fifteen minutes, he seemed just as serenely full of jubilant energy as ever.
Alas, the common end, she does take us all. While Jim may have not qualified as a Transylvania Gentleman in the strictest sense, he was a true gentleman. He had class. And for many in the central Kentucky area (and beyond) engaged in writing/art, Jim was a lamplighter, a true mentor.
I light a smoke, ponder the imponderables, and then, following, ponder Jim's legacy, his words, as well as the personal loss of his friendship to me. He will be missed.