Eugene Ruggles -- poet who cared deeply for others
Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2004
and activist Eugene Ruggles, known for his "deep
image'' verse and for organizing large and popular San Francisco poetry
readings and benefits, has died at age 68.
Mr. Ruggles, who was recovering from open-heart surgery, was found dead
on Thursday in his third-floor room of the stately Petaluma Hotel in downtown
Petaluma, where he had lived for 15 years.
In his trademark Pendleton wool shirt and boots, Mr. Ruggles wrote passionately
about his upbringing on a Michigan dairy farm, his love for his children
and his loathing of injustice.
Born Dec. 4, 1935 in Pontiac, Mich., he came to San Francisco in the early
1960s and became a regular in North Beach coffee houses.
"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.''
In recent weeks, he had been battling an eviction notice at the hotel. Unable
to pay rent on his disability and welfare stipend, he recently came to an
agreement to move out.
"I have no place to go and hardly any money,'' he said last month. "All
I need is a river and a good bookstore, and I feel good.''
Just before he died, Ruggles had finally found an apartment in Petaluma
with a view of the river, said his longtime companion Sue Kubly. "We
had planned to move him in next week," she said.
"He had the ability to reach the essence of people -- the pain, the suffering,
the joy -- and write about it so passionately," Kubly said.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Ruggles' organized about 20 large poetry- reading
benefits for such causes as Amnesty International, Vietnam War opponents
and the Native American takeover of Alcatraz Island. His brother, Glenn
Ruggles said one benefit for the Native Americans of Alcatraz raised "$800
and one milk goat."
He served in the U.S. Marines, worked odd jobs and rarely turned down a
glass of red wine. He received occasional poetry grants and frequently appeared
in poetry magazines and journals. His 1977 book, "Lifeguard in the
Snow,'' was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
"He could be a little freewheeling himself, but his poetry was perfectly
controlled,'' said his friend and fellow poet, Kaye McDonough. "He had
a perfect ear and a sense of craft, and his poems had a broad heart.''
In a 1971 poem titled "Traveling Into the Snow,'' Mr. Ruggles wrote: "Driving
west through Montana at dusk/The headlights discover the flakes/Swarming
inside their beams, like pure alcohol/The storm comes into my arms.''
In another poem, he wrote "She has placed the wind about me/Like a
shirt without a seam/and told me that the words/like men, should have weather
He is survived by his children Adam Ruggles of San Anselmo, Benjamen Ruggles
of Kentfield and Sarah Tompson, of Kentfield; his brother, Glenn Ruggles,
sister Mary Ruggles and sister Margaret Walton, all of Michigan. Another
brother, Charles Ruggles, of Michigan, died two years ago.
Services are pending.
Chronicle correspondent John Geluardi contributed to this obituary.