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In Memoriam

State of the Arts


Published June 20, 2007 at 3:00 p.m.

On June 13, John Engels of Williston passed away at 76, after a long and distinguished career as a poet and educator. One of his sons, Matt Engels, says his father died as a result of two heart attacks in the aftermath of a back surgery.

A long-time professor at St. Michael's College, Engels never retired; the college recently gave him an award for 45 years of service.

Educated at Notre Dame and the University of Iowa, Engels published in journals such as Harper's and The New Yorker, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and earned support from Guggenheim, Fulbright and Rockefeller fellowships and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1964, after attending a Breadloaf conference - along with Robert Frost - he decided to move to Vermont "because it was so beautiful," Matt Engels says.

In 2006, John Engels spoke with Seven Days about his just-published, 600-page collection of poems, entitled Recounting the Seasons. "It's really strange to pick that thing up and hold it in my hand and see embalmed in there my emotional history, almost 50 years," the poet said. He spoke of his affection for St. Michael's and his students, saying, "I'll try to teach a class or two as long as I can."

Death was a preoccupation in Engels' poetry. But so was life - often embodied by something as simple as the "fat sugary summer green" of a garden, as he wrote in "Eve Considers the Possibility of Resurrection." He evoked beautiful things with gusto, whether they were flowers or the rainbow-hued fishing flies he made as a hobby and displayed in his home. And he described creation as its own reward. "There comes a moment in the process of a poem where you're flooded by silence," Engels said. "Everything is potential. All you know is, there's an energy there waiting to be formulated, to be given a shape."