Patricia Goedicke, 75; Poet And University Professor

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2006

Patricia Goedicke, 75, whose poetry won national accolades and whose work as a university professor helped build a nest for writers in the northern Rocky Mountain town of Missoula, Mont., died of pneumonia July 14 at St. Patrick Hospital there. She also had lung cancer.

The dark-eyed, dramatic poet wrote 12 books of verse, the most recent one, "As Earth Begins to End," recognized as one of the top 10 poetry books of 2000 by the American Library Association. A decade earlier, "The Tongues We Speak" was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Her work, rich in emotion, memorable rhythms and human relations, attracted a following of younger poets at the University of Montana, where she was first a poet-in-residence and then took poet Richard Hugo's academic position after his death in 1982.

Unlike the two-fisted Hugo's paeans to the working-class life and nature in the Northwest, Ms. Goedicke's work reaches out, open-handed, to those around her. "I've never been able to tell/where we end and earth begins beyond us," she wrote in the title poem of her last book. Critics described her work as long and open-ended, "sharply aware of science and modern culture," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2000.

"One of its pleasures is to see how her work has developed and how even her concerns, while often unchanged, have matured," poet Stephen Dobyns wrote in the New York Times in 1990. "Although not narrowly political, her work shows an attentiveness to the world and where we are in history."

In addition to her creative accomplishments, Ms. Goedicke was a popular teacher, conducting one workshop a year even after her 2003 retirement, said her friend, novelist Deirdre McNamer. Her 13th book, "The Baseball Field at Night," is under consideration for publication at several presses, McNamer said.

Ms. Goedicke "could always be counted on to attend a reading and then dance the night away at a social function," the Missoula Independent newspaper said last week. "She edited poems and facilitated workshops with a sustained tirelessness that was as mesmerizing as it was intimidating."

She was "sassy and rude and flirtatious and wise and proper and wild. She was a diva. She was an icon in the powerful body of Montana writers. Whatever she was, she was never tame," said Jay Stephens, a blogger and fiction writer who lives in Missoula.

Born Patricia Ann McKenna in Boston, she grew up in Hanover, N.H., where her father was the first resident psychiatrist at Dartmouth College. She was an accomplished downhill skier in high school, competing on racing circuits. She graduated from Middlebury College in 1953 and three years later married Victor Goedicke, an Ohio University professor. She earned a master's degree in creative writing from that school in 1965 and divorced in 1968.

While in residence at the MacDowell Colony, an artists' retreat in Peterborough, N.H., she met Leonard Wallace Robinson, a New Yorker writer, Esquire fiction editor and book editor. They moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, married in 1971 and lived there until 1981, when they moved to Montana. Robinson died in 1999.

Ms. Goedicke, who studied under W.H. Auden and Robert Frost, won a Rockefeller Foundation residency at the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy, a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and the William Carlos Williams prize for poetry from New Letters magazine.

Survivors include a stepson, Rick Robinson of Knoxville, Tenn.; and a sister.

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