The Poetry Project

On Lewis

Barbara Henning

In 1985, I was sitting in the middle of a small auditorium at Queens College waiting for faculty to gather for an orientation. A tall skinny guy with messy longish hair walked in the door, looked around and then he walked straight over and sat beside me. He introduced himself, Lewis Warsh. Lewis, I said, I have your phone number right here. I pulled out my address book. I had recently moved from Detroit to NYC and George Tysh insisted that I call him. Lewis was also adjuncting at LIU where I had recently applied for a job. Coincidence. A crossing that changed the direction of my life and his, too. We were intimately involved for short of a year, running around the city with our five children (some great memories I have of that time), and then we segued into a lifelong friendship. We worked together at LIU, he published my first book, arranged for me to have my first reading at the Poetry Project; we plotted together to publish Long News: In the Short Century, we plotted together to survive LIU, and various other difficulties; he read most of my manuscripts, especially in the beginning, and I helped him with several United Artist books. It was mutual. We cared about each other. For several years we talked on the phone almost every day, about poetry and poets, students, philosophy, politics, our families and friends, everything. When I’d leave LIU, even last year, I’d pass by his office door, knock and if he was there, we’d huddle and talk.

I feel lucky for all those conversations over thirty-five years. It’s hard to imagine life without Lewis. Yes, he was generous and kind. And he was curious about people; he listened to others, he listened to his students. With affirmation and compassion. And that listening and sharing of secrets with others became part of his way of teaching and of writing. He was a great poet and a dear friend. What now? A remembering memoir, our shared friends, and a shelf of books to reread.

Barbara Henning, November 18, 2020

In Memoriam: Lewis Warsh (1944–2020)