Ralph Salisbury Passes

It’s our sad duty to announce that Ralph Salisbury, long-time Oregon resident and poet extraordinaire, passed away early last week. This is not only a great loss to poetry in Oregon, but a personal blow to those who knew Ralph. Our thoughts and hearts are with his wife, Ingrid Wendt.

OPA members have shared many thoughts and memories of Ralph. We post a few below.


Quinton Hallett shares the following:


I am hanging on to history

                   A Cento from/for Ralph Salisbury on his 90th Birthday


There will be this noise, maybe

affirmations of transcendent flight

Growing toward ripening

Maybe in love, let’s say

to hold, as much as possible, of all

and not ever long enough, dance.


All lines, including the title: © Ralph Salisbury, from:  Like the Sun in Storm, Blind Pumper at the Well, and Light from a Bullet Hole

Cento ©Quinton Hallett, 2016


Eleanor Berry writes:


In his poetry we see Salisbury as a boy running traplines to get fur pelts for rich people’s coats and hunting out of season to secure much-needed food for his family. We see him as a bomber pilot in World War II—and as a pacifist in all subsequent wars. We see him as son, husband, father, and grandfather, and we come to know him as humane and generous, sensitive to the natural world and highly aware of humans’ dependence on it, critical of a society that is often greedy, intolerant, and short-sighted.

The poems, gathered in nearly a dozen collections, are challenging in both content and style. Their sentences are often long and difficult to parse because they are constructed as embodiments of the complex relationships they describe. Likewise, the images in Salisbury’s poems do not so much evoke emotion as embody connections. These poems cannot be read quickly for the stories they tell, though they do tell stories. Most need to be read carefully several times, to be read aloud, to be pondered. They are complex constructions in language bearing witness to an experience both wide and deep.


Ingrid Wendt shares with us one of Ralph’s last poems, part of a newly-completed manuscript.


A Way


The surge of seed

from soil’s benign rot

into sky’s inscrutability coveys

what is meant by air centuries of poets’

tongues have shaped to pray

that the kindest cessation Creation could conceive

might be their way.



Ralph’s poet’s tongue shaped us some graceful airs indeed.

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