Remembering Margo LaGattuta
My eyes like old glass windows, dusted with lost days, are ready to hold the new light.” — Margo LaGattuta, from “Pretending to Be a Barn”
I found the e-mail from another writer-friend early this morning. It wasn’t unexpected, though I’d learned only two days ago that Margo LaGattuta was suddenly terminally ill.
“Margo died peacefully tonight, surrounded by her sons and sisters and friends….It was quite beautiful and I just know she’s writing a poem about it….”
It’s never easy to lose a mentor or a friend, and the best we can hope for is one last chance to say thank you. Which is why I am grateful to writer Carolyn Walker for contacting me this week — just in time to make it to the hospital to see Margo yesterday morning.
Over the years, Margo became a treasured friend. Whenever we were speaking at the same writers’ conferences, or attending literary events around town, I loved spotting her smiling face and wild bohemian outfits in the crowds of more conservatively dressed journalists and writers who were attending the programs. She always looked every inch the poet — the unbridled creative spirit — that she was.
She interviewed me for her radio show (“Art in the Air”/ WPON) after my first book was published in 1994, and in the process, I learned a thing or two from Margo about book promotion. Later on, it meant the world to me when she agreed to be the keynote speaker at the banquet when my second book, Writing Home, was awarded “Book of the Year” by Think Club Publications in 2006. There was also a time when the two of us wrote columns for the same newspaper, so we’d often chat on the phone when we had trouble navigating the ever-changing seas of print journalism.
But our relationship began as teacher and student. It seems that whenever I was going through a dry spell, or felt lost and blocked, Margo happened to be offering a local creative writing workshop that would shake me out of myself and inspire me to start writing again. In particular, I remember a weekend workshop at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, about 18 years ago, which I attended a month after my father died. That same year, the travel magazine I’d been editing for five years suddenly folded — and I had no idea what to do next. I was blocked and sad.
But after that weekend workshop at Cranbrook, I felt as if the fog had magically lifted. Margo helped me find new ways to express my grief, and best of all, I got back on my proverbial horse and rode off to one of the most productive periods of my writing life.
I know I’m only one of hundreds (or thousands) claiming to be moved and changed by Margo’s “Inventing the Invisible” workshops, not to mention all the students she inspired in her college English classes over the years. Her encouragement launched countless writing careers. And, of course, we all deeply admired her poetry, newspaper columns, and essays. Shocked by her sudden passing, many of us are asking: Where will we find another Margo?
I am going through another rough period now, as my widowed mother is slowing drifting through the foggy landscape of dementia, needing more of my time and care. Once again, I’m at a creative impasse. When I arrived at Margo’s bedside at the hospital yesterday, I desperately wanted to say: “Margo, I need your advice again.” Instead, I simply thanked her for everything — for introducing me to some of my favorite poets, including Billy Collins and Mary Oliver and Margo LaGattuta. I told her I was grateful for all the times she helped rescue and refuel my creative soul. I also told her that Billy Collins had just come out with a new book of poems, and that I didn’t think they were as good as his earlier stuff. She was unable to speak, but she smiled.
Tonight I’ll pull down Margo’s books of poetry from my shelves and reread my favorites. Here is one from The Dream Givers (Lake Shore Publishing; 1990). It’s an early poem that, for me, conjures the light and spirit Margo brought to her work, her students, her creative life:
I CAME BY A RIVER
and the journey flashed
through me like a light
year. Some electric sound
got me moving from
the original place over
mountains and dusty
windows outside of time.
I became a small shadow,
something anyone might have
missed. I began spinning
deep in tomorrow’s orchard.
I came by a river
and the water keeps rising.
I came to begin something wild.
(By Margo LaGattuta; 1990; Lake Shore Press.)
— Top photo: “Morning in Vinsetta Park” by Cindy La Ferle; 2010 —
MEMORIAL POETRY READING
Celebrate Margo and her poetry Wednesday, August 31, 7 – 10pm, at the Lido Gallery in Birmingham. Bring ONE of your favorite Margo poems to read aloud to honor her memory. This event is free to the public.
COMMUNITY LIFESTYLES REMEMBERS MARGO
The September 5 issue of Community Lifestyles, where Margo published her popular “Word in Edgewise” columns, will be devoted to her memory. This issue will include a new piece I wrote, detailing Margo’s influence and impact on the metro-Detroit writing community. Watch for the issue online or in your mailbox if you live in the area.
I’m so very sorry for your loss, Cindy.
I was fortunate enough to have Margo as a teacher at OCC back in 2000. She was an excellent guide and mentor. Her warm smile and kind words will be missed by all. BC
Margo gave so much, to me, others, and the world – thank you Margo – peace with your next journey!
I’m very sorry for your loss too.
Cindy, so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to your friend.
Mary Ellen Warner
Oh what sad news. I loved reading Margo’s local column about her trips north and, of course, all about her cats!
Many years ago I was a student in one of her classes held at the library and always planned on taking another one at the bookstore.
Thanks for all of these comments, everyone. I’m at work on a special tribute to Margo, at the request of the editor of Community Lifestyles, where Margo’s popular column ran for the past few years. My piece will be part of a series of reflections and articles on Margo, and will run in the paper Sept. 5. If you have memories or comments to share, please contact me privately. — Cindy La Ferle
I have a feeling that’s where you and I met, Cindy, at that writing workshop in Thornlea on Cranbrook’s campus. Yet another gift Margo gave me — the first line of a friendship with you that is now many stanzas long. Your loss is mine and vice versa.
I think we’d met at a DWW function prior to that, but I remember we were sitting face to face at a table, at one point, at the Cranbook workshop. And you know what, I recall a moment where we were talking about our writing goals, and you said something like, “I want to be the next Anna Quindlen…” And I said, “Me too!!” And I think that’s the moment when we became friends, don’t you think?
I just returned home from a two-day vacation in Stratford, Ontario, to read the sad news of Margo’s passing. I remember attending one of her workshops at a DWW Writers’ Conference maybe 15 years ago, and she inspired me to higher levels of creativity. Thank you for letting us get a glimpse of the wonderful relationship you had with Margo.
Thanks for all of these wonderful comments. Margo’s death is a loss for many, many people in the writing community. She will be missed more than words can say.
Iâ€™ll never forget getting lost for hours in the Irish Hills of Michigan on the way to a writing retreat. We were in a mystery spot , a vortex which defied normal phenomenon. Time stood still that day and we were connected. We tried to explain to others but they didnâ€™t understand . The time we used your grandson as a writers prompt. I think of baby Marcus now and the youth heâ€™s become. Your sons and grandchildren and how they are immortal in your poems. I remember the red tulips I planted at your house when your mother Betty died and wonder if they still bloom. Margo you are a generous spirit a creative spirit and a gifted spirit which will live on forever in my heart and the hearts of many. Say hello to John, I feel as if I know him.
I look forward to reading poetry in eternity with you. Much love, Lori Solymosi PS I am going to plant 100 red tulips in memory of you
I remember meeting both you, Cindy, and Margo at one of the Rochester Writer’s Conferences.
Margo was such a lively, lovely person who shared our writer’s passion for the written word. She also loved to instruct and help others in that craft.
The fact she did it with wit, tact and such a warm, inviting charm made her a very special person.
I think she will be missed by more people than she ever would have realized.
Cindy, I was sorry to read about your loss of the friend and mentor you had in Margo. It has been heartwarming to read the sincere comments, here and on FB, of those who knew her. My thoughts are with all of you who will miss her ~
Even for those of us who knew Margo from afar, her writings were magically transcending. Each time I read her “Word in Edgewise” column, I found myself eager to take her literary journey, if only for a short time. Thank you, Margo, for sharing your gift.
I just found out today while trying to find her again. I cried so much. She edited my first book that I published during my last year in high school. I miss her already and our meetings at Caribou coffee.
I am so sorry you found out this way. Margo’s death was a shock to all of us, since few people were aware of her illness until the last week. There are several tribute pieces written for Margo in the Sept 5 issue of Community Lifestyles (Rochester edition), the weekly paper that carried her column for years. I am not sure if it’s still available online, but will see if I can find a link and send it to you. Cindy La Ferle
i just found out yesterday that my old friend had passed away. we became friends when we were 8 years old. our birthdays were 1 week apart. she was known as “miggy” in those days & even then so very creative. she was kind, funny, & very intuitive & helped me through some difficult times, including my bout with breast cancer 2 years ago, helped me to put down on paper my most scariest feelings. i’ll miss her so very much but she remains in my heart always. her spirit is with me.