Thursday, December 7, 2006

Memories of Poet Michael Novak

Here is a poem by Michael Paul Novak from A Story to Tell (Kansas City: BookMark Press, 1990; I remember editor Dan Jaffe's pride when he published this book).

Taps at Fort Leavenworth

The clear bell of the trumpet
Is a recording, but the cannon shot
That follows is real as death.
It rings in my ears as I keep

Moving in a world at attention.
The saluted flag tumbles
Majestically down as if it were
A symbol, something significant.

In the disciplinary barracks
The prisoners' day is not done.
The sun shines in their cells,
An insult to order.

I'm driving out, observing
The speed limit, like a believer
And hearing for miles and miles
The silence of guns.

c. Christina Novak, Brian Novak

I went to Leavenworth last night for the informal service for this fine poet, born July 6, 1935 and died Dec. 2, 2006. Almost everyone spoke about their connections to Novak. His daughter told how her dad had kept his feelings private, so she expressed to several members of the group how much they had meant to him and how he spoke of them to her. One was a "best friend." One was singled out as "ethical." She used more details, and those who knew the individuals enjoyed the disclosure.

I remembered his role in the community of Kansas poets and writers. He was an active member of the Kansas Writers Association, which was composed of writers from college creative writing programs across the state and professional writers. It was a state-level organization modeled after the national Association Writing Programs He was always funny, darkly so, and greatly intelligent. This photograph comes from that conference. I will miss his spark.

Here is the Kansas City Star obituary Dec. 5, 2006:

Michael Paul Novak
Michael Paul Novak, 71, 200 Seneca, Leavenworth, died Dec. 2, 2006 at Providence Medical Center, Kansas City, KS, after complex medical emergencies and treatment. Retired from the faculty of the University of Saint Mary, Leavenworth, he had taught in the English department for 37 years. Holding a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, Novak received his B.A. in English from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His specializations in teaching included American literature and creative writing. Before coming to Saint Mary, he taught at Eastern Illinois University. Widely published in literary journals, Novak's poetry appeared in four collections, The Leavenworth Poems, Sailing by the Whirlpool, A Story To Tell, and a volume, From the Tower, in collaboration with colleagues, Mary Janet McGilley, SCL, and Susan Rieke, SCL. A mini-volume of short fiction preceded publication of Poets, Poetics, and Politics: America's Literary Community Viewed from the Letters of Rolfe Humphries, 1910-1969, edited by Novak in collaboration with Richard Gillman. Well known in the Kansas City community for poetry readings at the Writers Place and Riverfront Center, Novak was active in politics, public service, and adult education. He served the Democratic Committee for Leavenworth County for many years including a twoyear term as its chair. On the University faculty, Novak taught traditional age students and working adults in degreecompletion courses at Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Wyandotte, and Johnson Counties. He taught degree courses in English in the Correctional Facilities in Lansing and at the Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth. For an extended period, he visited prisoners at the United States Penitentiary and the DB. Novak's library will be given to the Lansing Correctional Facility, with signed volumes reserved for De Paul Library, University of Saint Mary. For 25 years, the Kansas Humanities Council named Novak as available to lead book discussions in the Visiting Scholars Series. Engagements took him to public libraries across the state and throughout eastern Kansas. Returning Oct. 27 from a discussion in Oxford, he was first stricken at a highway restaurant outside Topeka. Novak is survived by his daughter, Christina, her husband, Obed Remy, and children, Alec, Alyssa, and Autumn, of Kissimee, FL; and by his son Brian, of Boston, MS.


  1. Thanks for your poem and rememberance of Mike. I am the one mentioned as "best friend". I miss him terribly. For many years we spent hours together almost every week just enjoying each other's company while playing trivia games and discussing current events and other topics of the day. Mike was everything you said and more. I lost my parents years ago and many other friends family and acquaintances over the years but I seem to be taking Mike's loss particularily hard. I look forward to the upcoming reading of his poetry at the Writer's Place this Sunday. I accompanied him there several times as he did readings during the holiday season. It will bring back very fond memories and give me a chance to hear his words read in public again. KM

  2. My Dad was Richard Gillman and I know that he would be sadden by this news. Prayers to family