Akron to New York City to Long Beach, California
Richard E. Lee was born on March
10, 1922 in Loudonville, Ohio, one of seven children in a Catholic family. When he was 12
years old, he entered the seminary where he obtained an excellent education, learning
Greek and Latin. His poem "Flies"
touches upon a childhood memory at St. Mary's in what seemed a time of innocence, but was
filled with confusion and sadness.
From his youth up until his early adulthood years, Richard lived in Akron, Ohio, which he
referenced in many of his poems. In "Should
Of," written in November 1980, he shares his admiration for the late actor George
Raft, whom he enjoyed watching as the "bad guy" on the silver screen at the
local Majestic Theater. His poems "Expediter"
and "The GI Bill" relate
humorous tales of his experiences during the World War II era as a civilian at Goodyear
Aircraft and as a soldier. Possessing an artistic soul, Richard was not cut out for the
military, nor the demands of a regimented existence.
After serving in the army, Richard ventured away from home, discovering a new life
awaiting him in New York City. In an e-mail written on May
6, 1999, Richard recalled his past upon returning from a
visit to the metropolis:
...I revisited my lost young
adulthood in New York when I was there. I
was just out of the army, newly married to my first wife, living in
cheap quarters in Brooklyn, commuting to New York University in the
village, Greenwich Village -- the Washington Square Park area. When I saw a couple of
weeks ago where I had lived, I couldn't believe it. Could anyone live in such run-down,
dilapidated, outdated apartments? And of course I had lived there and loved it. It was all
a great adventure. My life was ahead of me. So I revisited my past. I am not a native New
Yorker, not by a long shot, just someone passing through on his way somewhere else, but
what a great experience it was, what an education....
New York City impressed upon Richard
something powerful that would remain with him for all his days. In "Self-Interview," Richard
tells of the early influences of his artistic career, beginning at New York University
where he obtained his BA, MA, and PhD degrees in English. Among the people he met in
Greenwich Village during those years was Savya [M. Carol], who became his second wife.
Following his graduation
for his doctorate degree, fate would find Richard departing New York City for a teaching
position at Penn State. He later settled in Southern California, where in 1955 he began
teaching at California State University at Long Beach. With fellow English Department
professor John Hermann, Richard co-founded the university's Creative Writing program. He
commented on those years in an e-mail written on February 11, 2001: "It was an
exciting time for all of us then." (Photo at right by David
Barker shows Richard in CSULB's faculty parking lot,
taken in his earlier years at the university.)
During the 1960s, Richard was involved in the Beat Poetry movement. His poem "The Beat Poets Come to the Nifty
Theater" describes the excitement and anxiety of being onstage at a poetry
reading. The Goosetree Press published Richard's poem "Chant for the Beat
Generation," along with a pamphlet of his poems, The Circumstances of Birds,
named for a poem in the collection. This poem of the same name recalls the style of
Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, whom Richard admired throughout his life. Many of the
works in Birds were subsequently published in As If by CSULB art professor
John Martin's Increase Press. Poems from this book, such as "Summerscape" and "Watch," appear sedate but reveal a
restlessness beneath the surface. Richard may have been "at the end of (his)
lot" among "dying reeds" in this phase of his life, but he was about to
discover a new path -- one that would rejuvenate his spirit.
Richard's story continues...click here.
Special thanks to Savya Lee who provided some of the
information in this biographical sketch.