Elisavietta Ritchie memorializes her close friend, fellow writer, Washingtonian, and Potomac Review contributor, Ann Knox.
When a close writer friend dies, this is a death in our family. We tacitly morn a sibling or cousin, a teacher, a “double.”
Judith McCombs organized a memorial reading to honor Ann Brewer Knox, poet, writer, long-time editor of Antietam Review, and leader of workshops both formal and informal. We gathered in Kensington Row Bookstore, with the keynote speakers Marion Knox, Ann’s daughter and literary executor, and Rona Chang who provided magical photos that echoed the spirit of the poems in Ann’s final collection, Breathing In. Judith, Sarah Browning, Ellen Cole, Martin Dickinson, Greg McBride, Terry Mulligan, Rosemary Winslow and other fellow writers spoke at what was not lugubrious, but a celebration—as Ann would want.
I focused my words for the members of Ann’s family present. They knew Ann in other ways, but perhaps less were aware of her life as a working writer and active member of our large, mostly intertwined, literary community. The latter audience, well aware of the closeness within writers’ groups, might not know other facets of Ann’s life—such as her enjoyment of a dive-dance-fight tavern, continued kayaking and yoga. Though she turned declined to join me in Tai Chi, she explored the Tao and I-Ching.
As Clyde Farnsworth says, Ann had “a way of seeing big things in little things. She lived to the fullest, and maintained a love of adventure—” as when, in her Subaru Outback, with only her corgi, she drove several thousand miles to Alaska. How many in their seventies are this intrepid? In the Yukon, she surely enjoyed Diamond-Tooth Gertie’s Casino & Saloon and dog-sledding. Toward the end of that transcontinental loop, mostly camping, she stayed with us in Toronto and enjoyed a real bed.
Although acknowledging poetry’s impotence to stop armies or wars, on a rainy morning Ann and I took the metro to protest the White House the lack of wisdom of invading Iraq. As Bart McDowell of the National Geographic told me, “They should send not soldiers but anthropologists.” We know in New Zealand that they heard us.
Ann and I had known members of each other’s families since the 1950s, and long before I met Ann, her brother, Mike Brewer, predicted we’d find common interests. In the Knox family’s various distant Foreign Service postings, which make countless demands on a diplomat’s wife, especially one with children, Ann yearned to write and to meet fellow working writers. (I’ve also lived in non-literary communities overseas.)
Ann entered the Washington area’s literary world full force, studying, writing, editing, publishing, helping others, and to the end: discovering. As Cleveland Park neighbors, we often shuttled between Ordway and Macomb Streets with our clutches of poems and hosted literary evenings and workshops at home. Her collection Stonecrop won a Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize, and she became an active volunteer reading manuscripts and overseeing production. She gave generously of her talents, ideas, knowledge and wisdom. Ellen Cole, her student at The Writer’s Center, related how, far beyond what was required of an instructor, Ann wrote long commentaries.
In our peer-group workshops, a handful or one-on-one, we critique each other’s drafts, slash and burn, proof galleys, help to promote what’s published. Strong bonds can develop. We become confidantes, protect each other’s secrets, real or fictional: our dramatis personae are often more alive than even those fellow writers beside us. We suspend judgment despite characters being sociopaths, call-girls, thieves, klutzes. We judge only the work-in-progress, verisimilitude, originality, craft, the words themselves.
“Soul-mates” is a pretentious term, but apt. The French call this tacit communication sous-entendu, or sous le peau. We need not waste spoken words with each other, only tailor them for outsiders. We learn more about each other’s lives than do our families, even our Great Loves. Whatever secrets are shared or merely suspected, whatever is said or read within the walls goes no farther—until the work sees print.
We keep our “normal” friends and relatives: these may provide companionship, grist for our mills. We are responsible for our kind, and likewise for our others.
Yet periodically, in the Adirondacks or northwestern Maryland, Ann sought a cabin with wood stove and a view, despite having to snow-shoe or to kayak from her wilderness. I retreat to the Patuxent. We both cherished solitude as much as family, friends, and whatever odd characters encountered.
We re-learn our interconnectedness when one in our circles loses a child, faces operations, undergoes a divorce, tends a terminally-ill parent, spouse, or ex-spouse—all of which Ann faced head on. A Buddhist appreciation of life lifted her above self-pity. . In today’s me-me-me era, which encourages us to promote ourselves shamelessly (who will tout us, free?), Ann remained, in Clyde’s words, “understated…with a delicate power.”
When the obituary of any creative figure saddens: this individual can produce no more books, concerti, paintings, will no longer provide new work to enrich our lives.
When one of our own circle dies the way many of us would intend for ourselves, had we a choice in the matter— in full possession of faculties, while celebrating the newest book—then through our tears we can only marvel.
Although Ann’s sudden death sparked this “explanation” for her family, it also commemorates too many other close writer friends, among them John Pauker, Howard Roman, Ann Darr, Betty and Hugh Parry, Hilary Tham, Maxine Combs, Elizabeth Follin Jones. The list will go on….
Ann Knox’s work includes award-winning books of poetry – Stonecrop and Staying is Nowhere plus other books of poetry and fiction – Breathing In, Reading the Tao at 80, Late Summer Break and The Dark Edge. Individual poems have appeared in many literary journals including Alaska Quarterly, Nimrod, Poetry and The Green Mountains Review. Ann was editor of Antietam Review for 18 years and a poetry editor of Washington Writers Publishing House until her death. Her work appeared in the Potomac Review issues 33, 34, 35, and 40.
Elisavietta Ritchie’s books include Tiger Upstairs on Connecticut Avenue (due in 2013) and numerous others. She created the anthology The Dolphin’s Arc: Endangered Creatures of the Sea and was the Washington Writers’ Publishing House president for poetry in the 1980s plus president for fiction in the 2000s. Potomac Review has published her work for several decades.