GENE RUGGLES LIFE STORY from an interview,"A room of one's own: Pioneer poet Eugene Ruggles faces hard times with illness, search for a new home" - John Geluardi, Special to The Chronicle Friday, May 28, 2004

He was raised on a Michigan dairy farm and moved to San Francisco after finishing college in the early 1960s. Although he associated with many of the beat poets who hung out in North Beach, his writings are more associated with deep-image poetry, a postwar movement led by academics Robert Bly, James Wright and William Stafford. The deep-image poets had grown bored with the overstructured American poetry of the early 1950s, and they livened up the dry narrative by adding an "irrational passion" that was inspired by South American poets like Pablo Neruda and Frederico Garcia Lorca. Ruggles was the perennial bad boy of the deep-image set. Bly, Wright and Stafford carefully cultivated their academic reputations at prestigious universities. But Ruggles' booming voice was much more likely to be heard in a North Beach barroom passionately arguing poetry and politics than in a university classroom delivering a dubious explication de texte. Ruggles' outsider status did not stop him from writing neat, narrative poems packed with emotional and evocative images of his upbringing on a farm, his love for his children and his strong distaste for injustice. His poetry has won wide acclaim and has appeared in Poetry Magazine, the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly. His 1977 book, "Lifeguard in the Snow," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the highly respected Great Lakes Colleges Association Award in Poetry. His friends say it was Ruggles' overriding sympathy for victims of injustice that led him to develop large-venue political poetry benefits in San Francisco during the early 1970s. "Anyone who knows Gene knows his most astounding characteristic is his heart," said longtime friend and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, former San Francisco poet laureate and owner and founder of City Lights Bookstore. "He really empathizes with the downtrodden and the down-and-out. " The poetry benefits Ruggles organized attracted hundreds of people, which was unusual for a poetry reading. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Ruggles organized about 20 benefits that raised money and generated publicity for organizations such as Amnesty International and political causes such as the 18-month takeover of Alcatraz Island by American Indians in 1969 and the 1972 U.S. bombing of the Bach Mai Hospital during the Vietnam War. Kaye McDonough, who now lives on the East Coast, said Ruggles' strong feelings against the Vietnam War and racial discrimination ignited similar passions in other poets, and the results were highly charged events that bore little resemblance to traditional poetry readings. "Gene was very passionate about these issues, and he was able to tap into the same feeling in other poets. He galvanized them," she said. "It was Gene who made these things happen. " Ruggles was able to attract the best local poets, and others who traveled across the country to read at his benefits. They included Ferlinghetti, Andre Codrescu, Gary Snyder, Jack Hirschman, Kaye Boyle, and the international grand dame of poet activists, Muriel Rukeyser. According to Alex McQueen, editor of the 1973 Bay Area poetry anthology "185," the readings had the energy of rock 'n' roll events. "They were thrilling because they had such incredible meaning in a very frustrating political environment," she said. "And Gene, of course, was the handsome poet, and there were thousands of women."




"His poetry is wise and full of beauty and compassion"
( Lawrence Ferlinghetti, July 4, 1999 in a letter of recommendaton for the post of Poet Laureate of Sonoma County.)

Also from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, May 2011:
"An important contribution to our poetry culture"


"I knew Eugene Ruggles was a very fine poet but reading him now I’m astounded and moved to the word “great.” Like others of us, though I fought it, especially toward the end, I couldn’t entirely separate his aesthetic from his personal tragedy. But Roads of Bread, The Collected Poems is absolutely stunning. Amazing to see how profound he was a nature poet! The fusion of flesh and earth is in almost every poem and is the root of his interiority, his surrealism.Great love poems and many great death ones. I’m left breathless and grateful by his leaps. His politicalness is so fierce, yet without dogma or cliché, that after awhile it seems a profound description of two entirely different species has occurred—those who love life and those who rip it off. Read him now, you too will be astounded. “Those who lose their way/yet dream of the young after them/shall be discovered.” Roads of Bread is for the young, and for all of us from then.
Thank you Gene. You shall be discovered."
(Sharon Doubiago, "My Father's Love, Portrait of the Poet as a Young Girl," "Love on the Streets, Selected and New Poems.")

"It can truly be said of Eugene Ruggles that all of his poems are love poems. Love of the natural world, of women, children, of self and of possibility itself.
Re–reading The Lifeguard in the Snow thirty–one years after its publication, I find Muriel Rukeyser’s words on the back cover remain true:
“These poems have been gathering power and music until The Lifeguard in the Snow is here in full mastery. Intimate, courageous, western, it is a fresh gift to American Poetry.”I suspect it will be a fresh gift thirty years from now. A new collection, or the publication of this poet’s complete work will come as another “fresh gift” to American poetry. This poet of raw, Irish nerve, gifted with language and a vision, dives deeply in his strongest work to a place where disturbance occurs at the core of our emotional status quo. His evocations of nature and of self in their many dimensions are felt viscerally. The images he brings in surprise and unsettle. A startling, original vision is evoked containing both the terror and the beauty of our mortality. His honesty continues to lay bare his soul, and ours."
(Mike Tuggle, Sonoma County, California Poet Laureate 2008–2009)

"He spoke from the utter simplicity and complication of a mind dedicated to truth and justice."
(Delia Moon).

“Gene's most astounding characteristic is his heart,'” said his longtime friend, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. "He really empathizes with the downtrodden and the down-and-out.''
(From the Obituary by Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, June 4, 2004)

"These poems have been gathering power and music until The Lifeguard in the Snow is here in full mastery. Intimate, courageous, western, it is a fresh gift to American poetry"
(Muriel Rukeyser, 1977)

"Eugene Ruggles was a poetry activist most of his adult life, after really discovering poetry while in the Marines. He organized beautiful poetry and reading events in San Francisco, Petaluma and elsewhere— somewhere between fifteen and twenty major poetry readings and benefits since 1968, according to my estimate."
"In 2000, Ruggles presented a benefit at the Phoenix Theater for its arts program, which raised $3000 to upgrade and renovate that historic Petaluma community space. It included performances by Poets Laureate David Bromige, Don Emblen, and ex-San Francisco Poet Laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Let us continue his legacy by expanding the scope and focus of this kind of event. Eugene Ruggles was a major poet writing in English. May his writings be canonized."

(Carl Macki, on his blog):

"He could be a little freewheeling himself, but his poetry was perfectly controlled. He had a perfect ear and a sense of craft, and his poems had a broad heart.''
( Poet Kaye McDonough

"Gene's most astounding characteristic is his heart,''
(Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti)

"He had the ability to reach the essence of people -- the pain, the suffering, the joy -- and write about it so passionately,"

(Sue Kubly)

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"Poetry is one of our oldest arts--it's as old as religion, perhaps even older. It will never die out," he says. "It's part of the human psyche experience, and it's a testament and a witness to all the tragedy and all the triumphs that surround us." --Eugene Ruggles, quoted in the Bohemian