Marine Robert Warden (poet and doctor)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Marine Robert Warden (1927-2013)

I was working on my bookshelves this evening and noticed a cluster of books of poems by Marine Robert Warden, a doctor who lived in Riverside and began writing poetry after he stopped his active practice as a radiologist in the early 1970s. A quick search of the internet informed me that Bob died back in 2013, and I felt the pang of delayed knowledge. A fine poet and an exceptionally kind man had died, and somehow I missed his passing. Such an unnoticed passing by the poetry community in Los Angeles would not have happened had Bob died in 1987, at age 60. He had been actively present, if not acutely prominent in Los Angeles poetry, for a decade by then. Given his distance from Papa Bach Bookstore and Beyond Baroque, in fact, Warden was in surprisingly close contact with other poets, including Leland Hickman, Peter Levitt and Kate Braverman, all of whom had been crucial contributors to The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets (1978).

His first collection of poetry, Beyond the Straits, which I published in 1980, contains the core of his work that will remain part of the canon of Los Angeles poetry between 1945 and 2000. “The Great Ground Swell” is a minor classic, and any anthology that would claim to be a comprehensive presentation of Los Angeles poetry during the second half of the 20th century should have at the very least this poem by Warden.

I can’t remember the last time I saw him. It would probably have been some time in the mid-1980s. I had included him in my second anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry,” but I cannot recollect whether or not he was able to attend the publication reading in the summer of 1985. He stopped driving at night due to his glaucoma, and so he made fewer trips to L.A. to hear poets.

One of the last times I heard from him was back in 2007, just after Linda and I returned from Lynbrook, New York, where we lived while I worked as an adjunct at Rutgers, St. John’s and Nassau Community College. He included some brief reviews of his more recent collections as well as excerpts from letters he had written to Leland Hickman (dated 4/24/79) and Peter Levitt (dated 3/17/84). At the bottom of his typed transcript of the letter to Levitt, he wrote, “Have never been able to really live up to this.” Actually, he did live up to it: each time he read a poem that helped him make his own next effort, he lived up to it, and inspired me from a distance to do the same. I will always treasure how he was one of the first enthusiastic champions of our work outside the immediate periphery of Los Angeles.

At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife of 62 years, Lois Anne Warden, three sons, 13 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. I remember that he had a grandchild who drowned in a public swimming pool at the age of six, even though a lifeguard was present. I sent him a poem shortly afterwards, though it hardly rose to the occasion of addressing that tragic accident adequately. Perhaps I will be able, some day, to write a poem worthy of being dedicated to the memory of a man whose modesty was well placed, but nevertheless fell short of acknowledging his value in our community.