Tuesday, March 07, 2006

In Memoriam

On Friday, February 22, J. Mel Smith passed away. She was the treasurer of the Ina Coolbrith Circle at the time of her death. More importantly--to me, anyway--she was an outstanding poet.

Mel hated her given name: Jean (pronounced the French way: Zhon) Melville (a family name--she was related to Herman Melville). Her husband, who preceeded her in death, was a professor of history at Stanford University and at the University of California, Berkeley. His specialty was Japanese history and they lived for several years in Japan in the 1950's. She collected frog pins and loved hats.

Her poetry was dry and witty; her rhymes clever and often unexpected. Many of her poems dealt with every day life: love, motherhood, being a wife. She was generous with her praise and with her laughter.

Mel told me that she most enjoyed my "mommy" poems--the ones inspired by the antics of my children. She was working on a chapbook (a small, privately published book of poetry) that was going to feature her "domestic" poems. The book was going to have as a title the Japanese word for "Playing House" (Mama Deska? I wish I could remember...). And she was going to dedicate it to me.

I was--I am!--extremely flattered. But, unless the manuscript is going to be published posthumously, it will only be a memory that Mel shared with me.

There's more about her on the Ina Coolbrith Circle website.

Mel was one of those women of my mother's generation whose devotion to family and whose contribution to society is often overlooked or disregarded by modern feminists. After all, she was just a stay-at-home mom who followed her husband halfway around the world and back, who helped proofread his books and articles, who raised two children, who stuck by her husband through his descent into Alzheimer's, and who kept writing until the end.

I'll miss her.