Much of the information used in this article was sourced from the original obituary posted to the University of Redlands website
Over the first weekend of March this year, the University lost a beloved creative writing professor, Ralph Angel. On his work, Professor Angel once articulated that “poetry is the language for which we have no language.” Angel was a man of humility and charmed his friends, students, and colleagues effortlessly.
Angel’s origins lie in Seattle, Washington, born into a Sephardic Jewish family. After attending public school, he pursued an upper-level education at the University of Washington. He later received a Master’s degree from University of California, Irvine, where he ended up settling.
Of his 39-year long career at the University of Redlands, Angel’s colleague Bill McDonald praised Angel’s instruction as, “dramatic, inspirational, personal, self-consciously urban,” showing how his wisdom was not only applicable to everyday experience, but also motivational for other aspiring poets. Besides his instruction at the University of Redlands, Angel inspired students at Vermont College as well, leading them into the depths of the English language as an ancient art form and method of communication.
Angel helped to found the creative writing department at the University of Redlands, helping to sculpt the current curriculum for other professors dedicated to the same thing he was. His final papers and works have been left with the University of Redlands Armacost Library Special Collections, to give students the ability to access more of his writings.
He published many works, the first being Anxious Latitudes (1986), and others include, Neither World; Poems (1995), Twice Removed (2001), Exceptions and Melancholies (containing poems from 1986-2006) and most recently, Your Moon (2014). His work appears in numerous anthologies, and has garnered him many recognitions and awards.
He also translated another artist’s work, the Federico Garcia Lorca collection, Poema del cante jondo (Poem of the Deep Song), which earned the Willis Barnstone Poetry Translation Prize. Of this project, different from his personal collections of poems, he appreciated the lyricism of the work, noting how it “resembled the incantatory medieval singing of the Sephardic synagogue,” where he spent so much of his youth.
Angel’s legacy is one of timeless expression, translating raw experience into a communion of the soul. So many people recognized his talent not because it was untouchable, but rather because it was so tangible and intimate, relating to experiences so uniquely his, yet thematically universal. His words will forever be able to touch the human spirit long after his departure from this earth.
Here is a short poem by Angel.
This by Ralph Angel
Today, my love,
leaves are thrashing the wind
just as pedestrians are erecting again the buildings of this drab
and our lives, as I lose track of them,
are the lives of others derailing in time and
getting things done.
Impossible to make sense of any one face
or mouth, though
is clear, and you are miles
Let your pure
space crowd my heart,
that we might stay awhile longer amid the flying
I swear it,
isn’t going anywhere.
Photograph from Wikimedia Commons.