By Mel Goldberg
When death finally comes
can she be in the form of that woman
wearing the black bikini
walking toward me
on the beach at Guayabitos.
Death finally came to Jim Tipton, Lakeside’s premier poet, on Wednesday, September 16, at 9:45 AM. One can only hope she wore a black bikini to escort him to the next chapter of existence. The poem, among other things, evokes his great love for women as the embodiment of beauty.
Born in 1942 in Ohio of Quaker ancestry, Jeemie, as he was fondly known by his Mexican friends and neighbors, did not speak for the first three years of his life. Once he understood the power of words, he became captivated. He wrote his first story, “The Phantom of Hutchin’s Parlor,” when he was in the twelfth grade.
After receiving his Master’s Degree from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, he became a professor of English at Alma College in Michigan and continued to write and publish stories and poetry. During his thirteen years of teaching, he was able to take sabbaticals and travel to increase the depth of his understanding of people and literature.
He made extended trips to South America and visited Israel, Turkey, and the Greek islands of Rhodes and Crete. He also participated in the fine arts community of San Francisco in the 1960s, spending time at the famous City Lights bookstore founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems.
On one of his journeys to the Middle East, he experienced the poetry of the 13th century Sufi, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, known in the West simply as Rumi. He often quoted Rumi, who wrote about life, death, and women. On a trip to Peru, he read Paula, a memoir by Chilean writer Isabel Allende, about the darkest experience of her life, the death of her daughter.
Immensely touched by the tragedy, Jim began writing to Isabel and sending her poems and stories. They became good friends through the correspondence. They met several times and Isabel wrote the introduction to his collection of poems, Letters to a Stranger. The book won The Colorado Book Award for Poetry in 1999.
He left teaching after several years to pursue full time his passion for beekeeping. He moved to the small town in Colorado, and then to a cedar cabin in the high desert of Western Colorado. “I kept bees and the bees kept me,” he said about his small honey-producing company. For thirteen years, from 1992-2005, he lived in solitude with no neighbors for miles around. There in his mountain retreat he was able to find out “who I really was.”
During his lifetime, he had traveled to Mexico many times and his ability to speak Spanish was an added bonus when he decided to move to Lakeside in 2005. Here he met a young Mexican woman, Marta Alcantar, who had a three-year-old daughter. Jim fell in love with Marta, they married, and he became father to little Gabriela.
Jim was an Associate Editor on the staff of the Ojo del Lago and for years he endeared himself to the community with his monthly column “Hearts at Work.” Jim wrote over 1,000 poems, short stories, and book reviews. His writing has been published in such journals as The Nation, South Dakota Review, Southern Humanities Review, The Greensboro Review, Esquire, Field, and American Literary Review. He was also included in an anthology, Aphrodite, by his friend, Isabel Allende, which includes poems and stories from ancient medieval literature, tidbits on the sensual art of food and its effect on amorous performance, tips on reviving flagging virility and beautiful, evocative writing about ordinary, everyday subjects.
Jim was a gentle man. We have all observed his caring touch when members of our community suffered loss, pain, or distress. And he expressed whole-hearted enthusiasm sharing the joys of other’s successes. If there is one word that best describes Jim Tipton, it is LOVE. Love for his friends, an unthreatening and protective love for women, and an exuberant love for life.
His last book, published just before his death, is The Alphabet of Longing, edited by local poet Margaret Van Every. The volume contains many of Jim’s published poems as well as the new “The Alphabet of Longing.” About the poems in this book, Isabel Allende wrote, “They remind us that, yes, there is pain in our lives, but there is also astounding goodness and beauty. These are luminous healing poems to be read over and over.”