In Memoriam: Mary Norbert Korte (1934-Nov. 14, 2022)

I hesitated for a good while to post this, because I thought my small handful of childhood memories about this woman would be viewed as insignificant, petty, overly “precious.” However, as I’ve grown older, I now view any memorable, positive presence of a person in my life, no matter how brief, as something to be treasured.

I met the celebrated, published poet Mary Norbert Korte (who left out the “Norbert” when I knew her) around late 1976, early 1977 in Berkeley, CA. I was nine, possibly newly ten years old. My then step/foster mother S. befriended her, the two having probably met through their mutual involvement in California Poets in the Schools (CPITS, later called CalPoets), a program through the California Arts Council. As a poet, she looked up to Ms. Korte as one of her older female role models. She stayed for a while on Mary’s land in the redwoods in 1978 and wrote poems for her first book.

From around 1979 to 1981, after we’d moved to Grass Valley, CA, I went with S. and my father a few times to Mary’s cabin in the redwoods, where Ms. Korte hosted a gathering of poets over a long weekend. If I remember correctly, we camped out in a tent each time. Before this, while still living in Berkeley, I would see Mary at other weekend-long poetry gatherings and probably at a few poetry readings, me tagging along with my folks. I road in the back seat of her car on at least one occasion.

My memories of Mary Korte are a handful of moments in time, but all are pleasant and comforting. Her voice was clear, strong, gentle, and kind. Her demeanor was always warm and grounded. She spoke to me respectfully and attentively, like I was another worthwhile adult she knew, not some child to be tolerated. All of this I found refreshing and soothing, particularly because so much of my childhood was fraught with emotional instability around me and internally. I’m glad my parents at the time brought her into my life when I could use all the positive, warm presences of others I could get.