The Poetry Project

Remembering Lewis Warsh

Michael Grove

When I first stepped into his classroom, Lewis' minimalist pedagogy made me wonder about his methods, but as I spent more time with him, I realized that, with every interaction, he was weighing interventions, finding a way to nudge people on a new course with just the right bit of feedback. He had a way of studying people without judging them, looking at a person, and their writing, and finding the interesting things in it, things to celebrate and share, without chastising them for the mistakes they made along the way.

He helped me overcome a deeply held fear of public speaking and performance, and helped me learn to try to see the beauty in every piece of writing I encounter: to salvage the good, and save the rest for later, because you never know where a line is going to fit. His focus on building community helped draw me out of my shell, and helped me find a cadre of like-minded weirdoes, but what's more, he always encouraged me to try to work to bring new faces, new ideas, and new voices into that community. In short, Lewis taught me to be less of a judgmental prick, and to just love life more in general.

His loss leaves a tremendous gap in the world: he was such an enormous font of generosity and creativity. I feel like we, as his students, are left with a mantle of responsibility to uphold legacy, to create and sustain communities that celebrate the values that Lewis embodied in life. I've never seen anyone with as much fame and clout who was so unconcerned with fame and clout himself. Lewis always had time for a conversation with anyone who really wanted to talk. I'm going to miss sipping whiskey with him at the edge of readings, catching up on juicy gossip from the literary world, or hearing about the latest LIU related drama. Lewis was the kind of mentor who taught you to become the person you want to be, and to befriend your idols, because, if they're worth spending time around, they'll want to be around you too.

If it doesn't feel real, if it doesn't quite feel like Lewis is gone, it's because the community he built is still here, doing all they can to forward the ideas he championed. I think of something Lewis said about reacting to poetry readings at least once a week, and it feels appropriate for this occasion: there are three responses you can have to a piece of writing: laughter, tears, or silence. Why not go for laughter?

In Memoriam: Lewis Warsh (1944–2020)