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Arts & Culture

San Diego's Top Weekend Events: Remembering Poet Steve Kowit

Writer Steve Kowit enjoys a poetry reading in this 2008 photo.
Dennis Wills
Writer Steve Kowit enjoys a poetry reading in this 2008 photo.

In 2015, San Diego lost one of its most beloved and prolific writers.

Steve Kowit was a well-known poet, political activist and professor who inspired generations of writers. To honor his legacy the San Diego Entertainment & Arts Guild created a poetry contest, the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize.

On Saturday, the prize-winning poets will be honored at a public celebration in the Southwestern College Art Gallery.


"This event isn't so much to honor Steve's life but his legacy — a tribute to what he's given us," said William Harry Harding, publisher of the San Diego Poetry Annual and creator of the Kowit Prize.

The top three poets — Molly Larson Cook, Joseph Milosch and David Denny — will receive a cash reward, and many of the contributors will be at the South Bay event to read their poems.

The contest received hundreds of entries from writers from San Diego and beyond. Starting in June, the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize will begin accepting entries for its second year.

"We aren't looking for imitations," Harding explained. "But we're looking for poems that capture the essential Steve — his humor, his pathos, his philosophy."

Of course, when it was time to plan an actual event for Kowit, Harding went directly to one of Kowit's most popular poems for inspiration.


"I Attend a Poetry Reading" is about a hellish poetry reading that never ends. This is the poem organizers had in mind when putting together their own Southwestern College event.

So this reading will also have jazz music, free snacks and a general merriment.

"I'd want Steve to think that this really is what a poetry reading should be," Harding said.

The Garden by Steve Kowit

Years ago we owned two cats who hated each other.

When I said we had better give one away

you wouldn't hear of it - you

were adamant, outraged ...

relenting only weeks later when it was clear

they were going to tear each other to shreds.

I remember the speech you made:

if it came to that we would give away Sluggo,

our lovable Calico,

who could purr his way into anyone's heart.

For in less intolerant hands, Mphahlele,

our difficult, misanthropic gray

might be abused, or abandoned ... or worse — whereas

if he lived with us he would be loved always.

& of course you were right,

tho God knows you have paid dearly

for a compassion as absolute

& unyielding

as the copper sheet of the Mexican sky

rising each morning over that house

high in the hills of Chiapas

that you loved so

with its eleven rooms,

those great hanging bells of datura,

that courtyard, tangle

of wild vines

that you would never let me weed

to begin a garden,

insisting in that quiet way of yours

that every creature

has as much right to live as we had,

& that it was a garden.