Passings: Alameda poet laureate Mary Rudge

Passings: Alameda poet laureate Mary Rudge

Michele Ellson
Mary Rudge

Mary Rudge and her daughter, Diana Rudge, at a Meet the Artists reception Saturday at Alameda Museum. Photo by George Hollie.

Mary Rudge, Alameda’s longtime poet laureate, has died.

Rudge typically declined to give her age. Friends said she had suffered a string of medical problems and had been in poor health, and that she passed peacefully on Monday.

Friends described Rudge as a woman who gave tirelessly to her community, raised a family and practiced her art in the face of incredible personal obstacles, traveling the world to spread her message of peace and working locally to boost literacy and access to her chosen form of expression.

“We’ve lost a real champion in poetry,” Natica Angilly, a longtime friend, said. “I don’t think any 25 people can do the work that she has done. She tried to really give of herself, always.”

Rudge was born Mary Woods in Los Angeles and grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, and her love of poetry came to her at a young age, even if it wasn’t encouraged by the teachers who recognized she was academically gifted or her family – led, she had said, by a father whose difficulty finding work during the Depression prompted beatings when young Mary was too noisy. The two books available to Rudge in her early youth were the dictionary and the Bible, she said in interviews, and she was an avid reader.

But Rudge found inspiration when, as a high school student, she attended readings by the poet Langston Hughes and novelist Louis L’Amour, according to a piece in Bay Area Poets Review. And she found it, she said, in Bertolt Brecht’s “To Posterity,” which made a case for the importance of kindness.

Rudge’s first husband died in a car accident, leaving behind her and a child; she and her second, a Navy seaman, divorced after their six children were born, leaving Rudge alone to raise seven children here in Alameda and to once again endure the sting of poverty.

“My mom was an amazing lady,” one of her daughters, Diana Rudge, said.

In addition to being an advocate for peace, she wrote movingly of people who are poor and struggling; she penned poetry for Street Spirit, a newspaper that focuses on the struggles of people who are homeless and poor, that ended up in one of several volumes she wrote and edited.

“She really was a champion for not only children, women – anybody that could use help, she’d try to help,” Angilly said.

Rudge taught art and history at schools in Oakland and Alameda, her daughter, Diana, said; she studied in Mexico and attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.

Angilly said Rudge was first active on the local art scene, but ultimately found hauling art from gallery to gallery to be too grueling. So she returned to poetry.

“She decided to go to poetry because you can carry a pencil and paper and go anywhere,” Angilly said.

Rudge started countless poetry organizations here and traveled the world with her friend Angilly, a dancer, and as a delegate for the World Congress of Poets, sharing the work of Bay Area poets wherever she went, Angilly said. Her 1986 volume, “Water planet: Poems,” included a preface by Leopold Sédar Senghor, the Senegalese president and poet.

For a decade, she edited and published “Poets and Peace International,” which was read in 10 countries; Rudge also co-edited “State of Peace: The Women Speak.”

Here in Alameda – Rudge’s home of more than 50 years – she worked to introduce poetry to students, starting an annual student poetry contest. And she worked to put local poets laureate in place in cities across the Bay Area, joining their ranks as Alameda’s in 2002.

“She was a lovely woman who traveled the world to bring poetry back to Alameda, that was always her goal. She was a real treasure,” said Joyce Jenkins, editor of the Berkeley-based Poetry Flash literary review.

Rudge was also an expert on the life and times of the writer Jack London, who lived in Alameda for a few years of his childhood. She released an update of one book, “Jack London’s Neighborhood,” in September, and she gave a talk on London this past Saturday at the Alameda Museum.

In addition to the poet laureate title, which she held until her death, Rudge earned a string of honors that included the California Federation of Chaparral Poets’ Golden Pegasus trophy, honorary degrees and a “Princess of Poetry” honor in Italy. In May, she received a lifetime achievement award at the Berkeley Poetry Festival.

“Alameda has lost not only a wonderful poet, but a great inspiration,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said of Rudge’s passing. “She was an Alameda treasure will be missed.”

Rudge, a devout Catholic, will be buried at the Dominican Cemetery in Benicia, her daughter said.

An already-scheduled Artists Embassy International event this Saturday at the Alameda Museum will be dedicated to Rudge.


Submitted by Valerie Frescura (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

To repeat the words of our Mayor, "an Alameda treasure" she will be missed.

Submitted by Andrena Zawinski (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

I met Mary Rudge several years ago at the first poetry reading I gave at Alameda Library. She became a fast and enduring friend since that moment.
I found her to be the most compassionate person I have ever met. Her dedication to poetry was matchless as was her wellspring of talent inspirational to so many. I am proud that she loved so much being part of our Women's Poetry Salon. She will be missed.

Submitted by Jan Steckel (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

Goodbye, Mary Rudge. You were a great lady. Thanks for all you gave us. We will miss you.

Submitted by J. Copperwaite (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

I'd like to thank Mary Rudge, on behalf of the Alameda Free Library's "California of the Past" oral history project, for sharing an inspiring but little-known story about her part in her community's campaign to develop Woodstock Park in the 1960s, as seen here on this link. I'll never forget you, Mary!

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Submitted by golfwriter on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

I met Mary Rudge at Mastick Senior Center a few years ago, and we became fast friends. She was an extremely compassionate woman with a vast knowledge of writing, a passion we both shared. I will personally miss her as a treasured friend. Alameda has lost a master, an icon beyond compare.

Submitted by Carol Dorf (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

I've known Mary around the poetry community for many years and have always appreciated her warmth and generosity. Her memory will be a blessing.

Submitted by Jack Foley (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

For Mary Rudge

Mary—can scarcely believe it.
Just back from LA—would have liked to have told you about it.
I lost my Catholicism so many years back,
will never regain it
but I would have gone to church with you.
If anyone had power to bless…
But you would not receive such praise
*We who are luminous*
I loved the hum of your voice
the sweetness of your consciousness
that found good in everyone
*are radiant*
And you were Irish
Oh, Mary,
named for the mother of heaven
Stella maris, star of the sea,
*are 90 % light,*
how you loved ritual, color, dance
how your words
moved to the movement
in homage to spirit inhabiting everything
(as Pagan a thing as Christian)
*Flames loop and leap the arteries*
*There is a core of ember in the womb*
—Can scarcely believe your vanishing
*beyond our brightness*
beyond anything I can know
I remember your sweetness
your love of art
your passion for justice
*in the bodies of strong women*
*reality and dream and memory*
*with hard and thudding rhythms of our love*
my love for you remains
here, on this earth,
under the deep sky of california
passionate and lasting as the redwoods
(like the one planted in 1980 by William Everson!)
and wishing that I am terribly wrong
about heaven
about the afterlife
so that you
might live
in all your dearness
in a house
that is on no corner
of any earthly city—
that you might have
the mansion
denied you
in life

[lines enclosed in asterisks (*) from Mary Rudge’s book, Water Planet]

Submitted by Andrena zawinski (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

An already scheduled Women's Poetry Salon on Saturday Jan 25th is dedicating readings to Mary Rudge in her memory, many of the members reading Rudge,s work.. Mary loved participating in the Salon and was one of its founding members.

Submitted by Carolyn Scarr (not verified) on Wed, Jan 22, 2014

She was a wonderful poet and dedicated to peace. And she was always ready to give another poet a helping hand. This generosity of spirit is by no means universal. She let EPI include her work in our collection, "On the Edge of Peace".

Submitted by Novin Afrouz (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Dear Mary,your memory will always last in my mind. You were always trying to bind people, cultures , looking into the depth of human spirit.
You left a legacy of real Art and Peace that the world needs so much.Blessed be your soul.
Novin Afrouz

Submitted by Vince Storti (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Mary: thanks for saying goodbye the way you did. Thoughtful to the end, you invited me over to gift me some books. A week later, you passed away.
You were a wonderful friend who greeted me when I came to Alameda a few years ago. You introduced me to the community, cheered me on. Bless you for all you've done for poets and non-poets alike.

Submitted by Kazumi Cranney (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

You are a great poet. I'll miss you!

Submitted by Cleo Griffith (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Mary was scheduled to read her poem "River of Words" at "Song of the San Joaquin" Winter Issue on Feb. 1. She has many friends in the Central Valley who will miss her brilliance and compassion. A wonderful woman and role model.

Submitted by Tom Golden (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

"Everything is going to be better when I paint my masterpiece" a poet once said. Such was Mary Rudge's life - a masterpiece that changed everything and everyone for the better. She had the rare courage to accomplish the work she was born to do. Her creativity and caring effected us all and will continue to transverse through the universe and though the people she touched, for long - long time.

Submitted by MARY LOUGHRAN (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

oh, Mary Rudge,
the fire has died out
we search through tinder pages
to spark your warmth anew

Submitted by B.J. Britton (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Mary was a one-of-a-kind treasure and will be dearly missed. May eternal shine upon her and may she rest in peace.

Submitted by Tomye' (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Natica...was it King and Queen of Hearts Promenade, which you and Mary enlivened Washington St., in Old Oakland and certainly I know about the following years of Artistic activities which enriched so many, including me. Mary Rudge left decades o crowning glory!

Submitted by Cherise Wyneken (not verified) on Thu, Jan 23, 2014

I didn't know you personally, Mary, but I honor you for the way you lived your life.

Submitted by Kay Speaks, Liv... (not verified) on Fri, Jan 24, 2014

Generous of heart, poetic mentor to many, a treasured friend. I'm glad to have been part of your successful genealogical research. Your eyes sparkled with joy and happiness the day before your passing, talking about finally fulfilling a life-long dream in your family history research. I'm honored to be part of that journey. Though you are gone, your quiet words of wisdom whisper in my ear. Now you are dancing with the angels! When the clouds form and dance with the wind, I'll think of you.

Submitted by Harry Scott Boggs (not verified) on Sat, Jan 25, 2014

I just can't believe this news, but I have no choice...from Taiwan to Sri Lanka to France to here in Orlando (2002)to the Central Valley and beyond, Mary sent it out there, this lovely aura of peace, this fellowship between strangers and neighbors alike. This will take a little bit of pondering, but she would want us to all continue her international efforts, her striving for co-operation and understanding between perennial foes. All that work of global poetic diplomacy will continue with the help and sacrifice of the younger generations, books under their arm and pen or keypad at their fingertips, great poetry flowing from their lips.

Submitted by Kathleen L. Orosco (not verified) on Sun, Jan 26, 2014

Although I only recently met Mary and her lovely daughter Diana at West end Alameda library, they both made you feel comfortable and at home. Mary welcomed me with a positive goodwill feeling. I will treasure that memory and her literary contributions in poetry. Since I am a Texan, I was particulary charmed by the fact that she lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, early in her life.

I am blessed to have known such a wonderful humanitiarian even if it was for a short time. It took little time to get to know her fine qualities.

Submitted by Elisabeth Eliassen (not verified) on Sun, Jan 26, 2014

Mary was a local treasure. Wherever she was, she encouraged creativity. We all owe her a debt of gratitude! To paraphrase one of her own poems (Poetry on Another Plane, from "Passport Always Everywhere Poems":

She can be at peace now
on a higher plane.
This is how she should be remembered:
Her hand, the pen moving in the circle of light
in the plane moving over the earth.

Bless you, MARY RUDGE!

Submitted by Gloria (not verified) on Sun, Feb 16, 2014

I met Mary from a dear person name Betty Ramero, she was a nice local Alamedan lady, she would walk near the west end of Alameda. Some times I would see her shopping at Walgreens on the west end.