On Monday, 21 November 2022, at around 11 PM EST, Michael Rothenberg left the world. Even though he had told me that he had cancer and I had recently heard that he went into hospice care, the news of his death that arrived yesterday devastated me. Michael was a close friend, a relationship first built online and then cemented in person at the 2015 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC) World Conference in Salerno, Italy. Over the years we communicated online by text and voice. He would send me poems he was working on, and I would send him my drafts. We each reviewed works-in-progress of the other—often as not arguing over lines and words in the spirit of making the work stronger. We spent time together when I had the honor of being in a 100TPC writer’s residency in Tallahassee, Florida, where he and his wife Terri Carion moved to from the Bay Area of California. We shared work, giving each other feedback during the day. And we explored the area, ate in local restaurants and visited local bars to hear local music, often with Terri Carion, his partner.
That week 17 high school students were murdered and others injured in Parkland, near Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Michael, as he seemed wired to do, responded both with outrage and with a plan to use poetry to respond. I recall sitting next to him as he began to plan work with others online and I shared ideas and contacted others to arrange 100TPC poetry readings in response, focused on the Parkland shootings but also all other gun violence and the need for socio-cultural change to stop the killings. And soon there were others organizing readings for Parkland, independent of our efforts—synchronicity at work. Of course, mass gun killings haven’t stopped. Neither has poetry or protest against it.
As I write this, there have been two mass shootings this week, the second last night—Colorado Springs, CO, and Chesapeake, VA. And it’s only Wednesday. I seem to hear Michael’s voice in my head, “What are we going to do?” He insisted that others join him to fight oppression, war, the climate crisis, social injustice in any form. And he included himself in his urgings—What are we going to do?
Michael, of blessed memory, and his partner, Terri Carion, founded 100 Thousand Poets for Change in March 2011. In 2014, Jamie Dedes, of blessed memory, our founding editor, began an online 100TPC event for those who wanted to participate but were homebound or distant from in person events. At the Salerno conference, those of us present decided to focus globally on three interrelated issues: peace, environmental sustainability, and social justice. When The BeZine went from monthly to quarterly, we chose to use these three themes in our rotating quarterly themes, adding life of the spirit and activism to make four. We see life of the spirit (broadly defined) as being integral to supporting our activism, our art, our lives, and our values. Michael, z”l, Terri, and 100TPC have influenced and supported the mission of The BeZine.
Michael also founded or co-founded Big Bridge, Poets in Need, Read a Poem to a Child and many other events and projects. In recent years he has worked as the poet behind the Ecosound Ensemble, a poetry and music performance group based in Tallahassee. He wrote many books of poetry. He painted. He collaborated with many. He grew orchids and bromeliads. He enjoyed friends. He mentored many, argued with all, and loved people.
We will miss Michael Rothenberg at The BeZine. I will miss my friend. His poetry and activist spirit will live on, though, this I believe.
—Michael Dickel, 23 November 2023
All photos from Michael Rothenberg’s FaceBook page. Copyright belongs to original copyright or photographer, or to Michael Rothenberg’s estate. Text ©2023 Michael Dickel