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Gary Lenhart

Published: 4/12/2021 8:07:13 AM
Modified: 4/12/2021 8:07:11 AM

NORWICH, VT — Gary Lenhart - remarkable writer, adored teacher, and beloved friend to many - died March 31 from complications of an aggressive cancer. Ever attentive to his craft, he was working on poems and a book review the last morning of his life. To his devoted wife and daughter he was the fine mind that enlivened theirs, the wry wit that brightened their days, and the heart so true they never felt alone. He lived with deep personal integrity and unfailing courtesy to all. He was, in the words of one friend, the best of men. His broad knowledge and inventive attention to thought and language combined with a profound love of poetry to inform the rich body of work he left behind.

Gary was born in Newark, OH, grew up in Albany, NY, received his BA from Sienna College, his MA in English from the University of Wisconsin (in whose library he found books of poetry by Ted Berrigan and Rod Padgett that changed his life), and completed coursework for a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University. Eager to become a poet himself, he abandoned formal studies, moved to New York City’s Lower East Side, and found work that allowed him time to write. He drove taxi, delivered the Village Voice to newsstands, worked as a recording engineer for Talking Books, was a member of the poetry band Free Rein, attended poetry readings all over town, and lived in a building that had no heat or hot water during the first two winters of his residency. He found a home in the East Village community of writers who celebrated - with incredible zest and resourceful imagination - the New York School Poetics of everyday life and everyday speech. They gathered often for workshops and readings at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, where Gary worked for several years and also hosted a Monday evening reading series. Gary’s two chap books (Drunkard’s Dream and Bulb in Socket) were printed in those early days, and his prose articles appeared regularly from that time on.

During his 20 years in New York, he edited two magazines, Mag City (1977-85, with co-editors Greg Masters and Michael Scholnick) and Transfer (1986-91). He ran the Ear Inn reading series for two years (1978-80), worked as a literary agent handling foreign rights (1982-4), and helped to develop many publications as Associate Director of the Teachers & Writers Collaborative (1984-94). A colleague there remembered: “It was as if he were wrapped in a kind of private sanity that moved out into the room, soothing us all, and making us feel kinder and more centered.”

Gary first taught at Mercy College (NY) and LIU-Brooklyn (1983-5), conducted workshops at the Poetry Project (1989-90), and was a visiting poet at Long Island and Pace Universities. After the birth of his daughter Katie Lenhart in 1989, the family moved to Hanover, NH where Gary’s wife - the painter Louise Hamlin - joined the Studio Art faculty at Dartmouth College. For three years he continued to commute to New York City to work at T&W, and teach at Columbia University. He also began teaching at the Community College of Vermont and the College of Lifelong Learning (NH). In 1993 the family found permanent residence in Norwich, Vermont. Beginning in 1992 Gary continuously taught writing and literature courses to undergrads and graduate students at Dartmouth College until his retirement in 2019. An avid tennis player himself, he was also faculty advisor to the Men’s and Women’s Tennis teams at Dartmouth.

Gary translated poems and essays from French, Spanish, and Italian, and is the author of four collections of poetry: The World in a Minute (Hanging Loose, 2010), Father and Son Night (Hanging Loose, 1999), Light Heart (Hanging Loose, 1991) and One at a Time (United Artists, 1983). “Tender heart, nimble wit, and tough mind radiate throughout Gary Lenhart’s poems of numinous domesticity, poems that are so well made that their craftsmanship is invisible—the ultimate graciousness of art.” (Ron Padgett, 1999).

His published prose includes The Stamp of Class: Reflections on Poetry and Social Class (University of Michigan Press, 2006) and Another Look: Selected Prose (Subpress, 2010). He also edited (with Gregory Masters, Steve Levine, and Bob Rosenthal) Clinch: Selected Poems of Michael Scholnick (Coffee House, 1998), The Teachers & Writers Guide to William Carlos Williams (1998), and (with Christopher Edgar) The T&W Guide to Classic American Literature (2001). He contributed poems, essays, and reviews to dozens of magazines and anthologies (including American Book Review, American Poetry Review, Exquisite Corpse, Poetry Flash, Green Mountains Review, Poetry Project Newsletter, Sagetrieb, Beyond Baroque, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and Roads Taken - an anthology of Vermont poets published in 2017). He was panelist, and his work was discussed, at several literary conferences and symposia across the country.

Reviewing Light Heart, George Butterick wrote that “Language entered a conspiracy with his imagination to make us happy. An epigraph from George Crabbe sets the measure: ‘Can poets soothe you, when you pine for bread...Or glad with airy mirth the toilsome hour?’ Certainly they can, when they write as well as Gary Lenhart.”

Memorial readings are currently being scheduled. Should you wish to make a donation in his honor, Gary was a long-time supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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